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BOOK: The Wisdom of Oscar Wilde
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The Importance of Being Earnest

Lady Bracknell:
No woman should ever be quite accurate about her age. It looks so calculating …

The Importance of Being Earnest

Lord Augustus:
I prefer women with a past. They’re always so demmed amusing to talk to.

Lady Windermere’s Fan

Cecil Graham:
Why, I have met hundreds of good women. I never seem to meet any but good women. The world is perfectly packed with good women. To know them is a middle-class education.

Lady Windermere’s Fan

Always! That is a dreadful word. ... Women are so fond of using it. They spoil every romance by trying to make it last forever.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

As for conversation, there are only five women in London worth talking to, and two of these can’t be admitted into decent society.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Women defend themselves by attacking, just as they attack by sudden and strange surrenders.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

With the abolition of private property, marriage in its present form must disappear.

“The Soul of Man under Socialism”

MEN

A sentimentalist… is a man who sees an absurd value in everything, and doesn’t know the market price of any single thing.

Lady Windermere’s Fan

It is only the superficial qualities that last. Man’s deeper nature is soon found out.

“Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young”
Similarly in
The Importance of Being Earnest

By persistently remaining single, a man converts himself into a permanent public temptation.

The Importance of Being Earnest

After a good dinner one can forgive anyone, even one’s own relations.

A Woman of No Importance

Discontent is the first step in the progress of a man or a nation.

A Woman of No Importance

There is nothing like youth. The middle-aged are mortgaged to life. The old are in life’s lumber-room. But youth is the lord of life....

A Woman of No Importance

What you have to do at present is simply to fit yourself for the best society. A man who can dominate a London dinner-table can dominate the world.

A Woman of No Importance

A well-tied tie is the first serious step in life.

A Woman of No Importance

Lord Illingworth:
But the happiness of a married man, my dear Gerald, depends on the people he has not married.

Gerald:
But if one is in love?

Lord Illingworth:
One should always be in love. That is the reason one should never marry.

A Woman of No Importance

The world has been made by fools that wise men should live in it!

A Woman of No Importance

Lady Windermere:
Are
all
men bad?

Duchess of Berwick:
Oh, all of them, my dear, all of them, without any exception. And they never grow any better. Men become old, but they never become good.

Lady Windermere’s Fan

My father would talk morality after dinner. I told him he was old enough to know better. But my experience is that as soon as people are old enough to know better, they don’t know anything at all.

Lady Windermere’s Fan

It’s most dangerous nowadays for a husband to pay any attention to his wife in public. It always makes people think that he beats her when they’re alone.

Lady Windermere’s Fan

He thinks like a Tory, and talks like a Radical, and that’s so important nowadays.

Lady Windermere’s Fan

A man who moralises is usually a hypocrite, and a woman who moralises is invariably plain.

Lady Windermere’s Fan

Cecil Graham:
What is a cynic?

Lord Darlington: A
man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Lady Windermere’s Fan

Nowadays all the married men live like bachelors, and all the bachelors like married men.

The Picture of Dorian Gray
Similarly in
A Woman of No Importance

When a man says [he has exhausted life] one knows that life has exhausted him.

The Picture of Dorian Gray
Similarly in
A Woman of No Importance

A man can be happy with any woman, as long as he does not love her.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

I like men who have a future, and women who have a past.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Whenever a man does a thoroughly stupid thing, it is always from the noblest motives.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

The bravest man amongst us is afraid of himself.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Young men want to be faithful, and are not: old men want to be faithless, and cannot: that is all one can say.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

It is only in voluntary associations that man is fine.

“The Soul of Man under Socialism”

The true perfection of man lies, not in what a man has, but what a man is.

“The Soul of Man under Socialism”

Once at least in his life each man walks with Christ to Emmaus.

De Profundis

The emotions of man are stirred more quickly than man’s intelligence....

“The Soul of Man under Socialism”

For he to whom the present is the only thing that is present, knows nothing of the age in which he lives.

“The Critic as Artist”

If you meet at dinner a man who has spent his life in educating himself—a rare type in our time,... you rise from table richer, and conscious that a high ideal has for a moment touched and sanctified your days.

“The Critic as Artist”

Man can believe the impossible, but man can never believe the improbable.

“The Decay of Lying”

The value of an idea has nothing whatsoever to do with the sincerity of the man who expresses it.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

And the mind of the thoroughly well-informed man is a dreadful thing. It is like a bric-à-brac shop, all monsters and dust, with everything priced above its proper value.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

If a man is a gentleman, he knows quite enough, and if he is not a gentleman, whatever he knows is bad for him.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

The only way a woman can ever reform a man is by boring him so completely that he loses all possible interest in life.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Algernon:
All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.

The Importance of Being Earnest

Cecily:
And of course a man who is much talked about is always very attractive.

The Importance of Being Earnest

Gwendolen:
The home seems to me to be the proper sphere for the man. And certainly once a man begins to neglect his domestic duties he becomes painfully effeminate, does he not? And I don’t like that. It makes men so very attractive.

The Importance of Being Earnest

When man acts he is a puppet. When he describes he is a poet.

“The Critic as Artist”

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.

“The Critic as Artist”

The man who regards his past is a man who deserves to have no future to look forward to.

“The Critic as Artist”

ART

Art should never try to be popular. The public should try to make itself artistic. There is a very wide difference.

“The Soul of Man under Socialism”

One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art.

“Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young”

The true artist is the man who believes absolutely in himself, because he is absolutely himself.

“The Soul of Man under Socialism”

Technique is really personality. That is the reason why the artist cannot teach it, why the pupil cannot learn it, and why the aesthetic critic can understand it.

“The Critic as Artist”

Modern pictures are, no doubt, delightful to look at.... But they are quite impossible to live with; they are too clever, too assertive, too intellectual.

“The Critic as Artist”

It is through Art, and through Art only, that we can realise our perfection; through Art, and through Art only, that we can shield ourselves from the sordid perils of actual existence.

“The Critic as Artist”

For who is the true critic but he who bears within himself the dreams, and ideas, and feelings of myriad generation, and he to whom no form of thought is alien, no emotional impulse obscure?

“The Critic as Artist”

For the meaning of any beautiful created thing is, at least, as much in the soul of him who looks at it, as it was in his soul who wrought it.

“The Critic as Artist”

The Philistine element in life is not the failure to understand Art. Charming people such as fishermen, shepherds, plough-boys, peasants and the like know nothing about Art, and are the very salt of the earth.

De Profundis

Beauty has as many meanings as man has moods.

“The Critic as Artist”

The true tragedy that dogs the steps of most artists is that they realise their ideal too absolutely. For, when the ideal is realised, it is robbed of its wonder and mystery, and becomes simply a new starting-point for an ideal that is other than itself.

“The Critic as Artist”

Art is not something that you can take or leave. It is a necessity of human life.

“House Decoration”

Noble and beautiful designs are never the results of idle fancy or purposeless daydreaming. They come only as the accumulation of habits of long and delightful observation.

“House Decoration”

Bad art is a great deal worse than no art at all.

“House Decoration”

All archaeological pictures that make you say “How curious!” all sentimental pictures that make you say “How sad!” all historical pictures that make you say “How interesting!” all such pictures that do not immediately give you such artistic joy as to make you say “How beautiful!” are bad pictures.

“Lecture to Art Students”

For an artist to marry his model is as fatal as a
gourmet
to marry his cook: the one gets no sittings, and the other gets no dinner.

“London Models”

Nor do I accept the dictum that only a painter is a judge of painting. I say that only an artist is a judge of art; there is a wide difference.

“Mr. Whistler’s Ten O’Clock”

The English public, as a mass, takes no interest in a work of art until it is told that the work in question is immoral....

“Mr. Wilde’s Bad Case”

A great artist invents a type, and Life tries to copy it, to reproduce it in a popular form, like an enterprising publisher.

“The Decay of Lying”

Art is our spirited protest, our gallant attempt to teach Nature her proper place.

“The Decay of Lying”

To look at a thing is very different to seeing it. One does not see anything until one sees its beauty. Then, and then only, does it come into existence.

“The Decay of Lying”

If we wish to understand a nation by means of its art, let us look at its architecture or its music.

“The Decay of Lying”

The only portraits in which one believes are portraits where there is very little of the sitter and a very great deal of the artist.

“The Decay of Lying”

In a very ugly and sensible age the arts borrow, not from life, but from each other.

“Pen, Pencil and Poison”
Also in “The Decay of Lying”

Neither art nor science knows anything of moral approval or disapproval.

“Pen, Pencil and Poison”

Popularity is the crown of laurel which the world puts on bad art. Whatever is popular is wrong.

“Lecture to Art Students”

But, you will say, modern dress, that is bad. If you cannot paint black cloth, you could not have painted silken doublets.

“Lecture to Art Students”

Art has no influence upon action. It annihilates the desire to act. It is superbly sterile. The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame. That is all.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

The moment that an artist takes notice of what other people want, and tries to supply demand, he ceases to be an artist, and becomes a dull or an amusing craftsman, an honest or dishonest tradesman.

“The Soul of Man under Socialism”

Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has ever known.

“The Soul of Man under Socialism”

In Art, the public accept what has been, because they cannot alter it, not because they appreciate it. They swallow their classics whole, and never taste them.

“The Soul of Man under Socialism”

In France, in fact, they limit the journalist and allow the artist almost perfect freedom. Here we allow absolute freedom to the journalist, and entirely limit the artist.

“The Soul of Man under Socialism”

Whenever a community or a powerful section of a community, or a government of any kind, attempts to dictate to the artist what he is to do, Art either entirely vanishes, or becomes stereotyped, or degenerates into a low and ignoble form of craft.

“The Soul of Man under Socialism”

A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. Its beauty comes from the fact that the author is what he is.

“The Soul of Man under Socialism”

A fresh mode of Beauty is absolutely distasteful to [the public], and whenever it appears they get so angry and bewildered that they always use two stupid expressions—one is that the work of art is grossly unintelligible; the other, that the work of art is grossly immoral. What they mean by these words seems to me to be this. When they say a work is grossly unintelligible, they mean that the artist has said or made a beautiful thing that is new; when they describe a work as grossly immoral, they mean that the artist has said or made a beautiful thing that is true. The former expression has reference to style; the latter to subject-matter.

BOOK: The Wisdom of Oscar Wilde
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