Aestheticism In Oscar Wilde
The Aesthetic Movement, based on Conclusion written by Walter Pater, was the idea that all art should focus more on aesthetic value rather than experience and should focus only on the beautiful aspects of the world. Pater explains this movement as such: “Of this wisdom, the poetic passion, the desire of beauty, the love of art for art’s sake has most; for art comes to you professing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for those moments’ sake.” (213)
This idea generated a change in vision in the fine arts because it gave way for artists of all types to appreciate and dwell in the moment’s beauty rather than the social goings-on. It leaves room for appreciation of the world around us — “High passions give one this quickened sense of life, ecstasy and sorrow of love, political or religious enthusiasm, or the ‘enthusiasm of humanity.’” (212).
Earlier Victorian texts focused on the changes in scientific (specifically in medicine) and religious differences and the uncertainty that future advances would cause to their world. Early and mid-Victorian fine arts were dark because of this uncertainty. The Aesthetic Movement brought peace, love, and joy back into the fine arts, and, in turn, back into society’s views. It allowed Victorians, and the generations following, to appreciate and value the beauty in the world and to not focus solely on the advances that terrified them. This was an interesting movement to end the century with because it lessened society’s worries and doubts and replaced them with hope and joy.
For example, Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest takes many Victorian norms and makes jokes about them. Audiences see this early in the play with the topic of marriage. Algernon jokes about such things as flirting (which the Victorians could be strict about with those who were unwedded) when he says, “My dear fellow, the way you flirt with Gwendolen is perfectly disgraceful. It is almost as bad as the way Gwendolen flirts with you,” or later when he says, “The amount of women in London who flirt with their own husbands is perfectly scandalous. It looks so bad. It is simply washing one’s clean linen in public.” Jokes like these that Wilde makes show how, at the end of the century, Victorians were becoming lenient with their views. For if they were not, Wilde’s play would not have been successful because of the types of jokes he makes regarding the stricter cultural norms—which is probably why it is a comedy for serious people.