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The	Vital	Importance	of	Wilde’s
bons	mots
Emily	Eells
CREA	(Centre	de	recherches	anglophones)
Université	de	Paris	Ouest	Na...
Absinthe
After	the	first	glass,	you	see	things	as	you	wish	they	were.	After	the	
second,	you	seem	them	as	they	are	not.	Fi...
Il	n’y a	qu’une sorte d’amour,	mais il y	en a	mille	différentes copies.
Nos	vertus ne	sont,	le	plus	souvent,	que	des	vices...
Philip	E.	Smith	
II	and	Michael	
S.	Helfand,	
eds.	Oscar	
Wilde’s	Oxford	
Notebooks:	A	
Portrait	of	the	
Mind	in	the	
Maki...
“Leading	a	double	life	is	the	only	proper	
preparation	for	marriage-”
“I	don’t	know	any	Duchess	who	could	
be	described	as...
Beauty “Rien n’est vrai que	le	beau.”	
La	beauté	est	parfaite
La	beauté	peut	toute	chose
La	beauté	est	la	seule	chose
au	m...
“dans	la	vie	morale	il	est	beau	de	quelquefois	faire	naufrage”
Joseph	de	La	Font		Le	Naufrage ou la	pompe funèbre de	Crisp...
Lord	Henry	The	Picture	of	Dorian	Gray (chapter	17)	‘Yesterday	I	cut	an	
orchid,	for	my	button-hole.	It	was	a	marvellous	sp...
“The	buttonhole	in	particular,	the	only	
socially	acceptable	form	of	male	floral	
adornment,	became	a	charged	site	in	
Wil...
Sentiment	is	all	very	well	for	the	button-hole.	But	the	essential	thing	for	a	necktie	is	style.	A	well-tied	tie	is	
the	fi...
Lord	Henry	:		“	I	hate	vulgar	realism	in	literature.	The	man	who	could	call	a	
spade	a	spade	should	be	compelled	to	use	on...
To	The	Spade	of	A	Friend	by	William	Wordsworth
Composed	while	we	were	labouring	together	in	his	Pleasure-
Ground.
Spade!	w...
Whenever	the	necessities	of	life	are	dearer/	cheaper	than	the	
luxuries	of	life	the	community	becomes	uncivilized.	Bread	s...
“I	love	the	theatre ;	it’s	so	much	more	real	than	
life”
“The	world	is	a	stage	but	the	play	is	badly	cast”	
Lord	Arthur	Sa...
“[…] the literary fact of the matter is that the axe which is
keenest, the one which is still most capable of shattering t...
The Importance of Being Earnest - Eells
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The Importance of Being Earnest - Eells

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The Importance of Being Earnest - Eells

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The Importance of Being Earnest - Eells

  1. 1. The Vital Importance of Wilde’s bons mots Emily Eells CREA (Centre de recherches anglophones) Université de Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense
  2. 2. Absinthe After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you seem them as they are not. Finally you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world. (“Reminiscences” by Ada Leverson) Zola, Emile M. Zola’s characters … have their dreary vices, and their drearier virtues. The record of their lives is absolutely without interest. Who cares what happens to them? In literature we require distinction, charm, beauty, and imaginative power. We don’t want to be harrowed and disgusted with the account of the doings of the lower orders. (“The Decay of Lying”) Karl Beckson, 1996.
  3. 3. Il n’y a qu’une sorte d’amour, mais il y en a mille différentes copies. Nos vertus ne sont, le plus souvent, que des vices déguisés. “everyone was repeating his ‘mots’”. Ada Leverson, Letters to the Sphinx “Every writer of any individuality has, so to speak, his trademark; but there are times when the output of Mr Wilde’s epigram factory threatens to become all trademark and no substance. » (William Archer on An Ideal Husband, Pall Mall Budget 10 January 1895) “his one-liners had the perfect pitch and promise of a struck tuning-fork, but they issued from an imagination in which far deeper harmonies were latent and constantly in search of more resonant forms of expression.” Seamus Heaney
  4. 4. Philip E. Smith II and Michael S. Helfand, eds. Oscar Wilde’s Oxford Notebooks: A Portrait of the Mind in the Making, 1989. Ian Small, Oscar Wilde Revalued 1993. You can’t make a fool of a person unless he is a fool already To enter married life with a man incapable of deception would augur ill for a happy future. A woman should know nothing before marriage, and less afterwards. I have never sown wild oats : I have planted a few orchids.
  5. 5. “Leading a double life is the only proper preparation for marriage-” “I don’t know any Duchess who could be described as the thin edge of any wedge-”
  6. 6. Beauty “Rien n’est vrai que le beau.” La beauté est parfaite La beauté peut toute chose La beauté est la seule chose au monde qui n’existe pas a demi [sic]
  7. 7. “dans la vie morale il est beau de quelquefois faire naufrage” Joseph de La Font Le Naufrage ou la pompe funèbre de Crispin Si vous voulez, malgré l'orage, Voguer encore en ce beau jour, Que ce soit sur la mer d'Amour : Il est beau d'y faire naufrage. L'Amour en quittant le rivage, Promet toujours un heureux sort ; Avec lui, jusque dans le port, Il est beau de faire naufrage.
  8. 8. Lord Henry The Picture of Dorian Gray (chapter 17) ‘Yesterday I cut an orchid, for my button-hole. It was a marvellous spotted thing, as effective as the seven deadly sins.’ Algernon. I never have any appetiteunless I have a buttonholefirst. “Ones [sic] buttonhole may be allowed to be romantic in feeling, but ones [sic] necktie should be distinctly classical both in style and treatment.” (manuscript note)
  9. 9. “The buttonhole in particular, the only socially acceptable form of male floral adornment, became a charged site in Wilde’s and the fin de siècle’s homoerotic imagery. Associated with dandies, Aesthetes and Decadents, the exotic boutonnière was a sign of questionable masculinity. The insertion of flowers into eyelets, furthermore, functioned as a symbol of and precursor to sexual activity.” Alison Syme, A Touch of Blossom : John Singer Sargent and the Queer Flora of Fin- de-Siècle Art.
  10. 10. Sentiment is all very well for the button-hole. But the essential thing for a necktie is style. A well-tied tie is the first serious step in life”. Lord Illingworth in A Woman of No Importance, act 3. An Ideal husband Beginning of Act 3 Stage directions : LORD GORING enters in evening dress with a buttonhole. […] LORD GORING Got my second buttonhole for me, Phipps? PHIPPS Yes, my lord. [Takes his hat, cane, and cape, and presents new buttonhole on salver.] LORD GORING Rather distinguished thing, Phipps. I am the only person of the smallest importance in London at present who wears a buttonhole. PHIPPS Yes, my lord. I have observed that, LORD GORING [Taking out old buttonhole.] You see, Phipps, Fashion is what one wears oneself. What is unfashionable is what other people wear. A really well-made buttonhole is the only link between Art and Nature. “Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of Young” The Chameleon Oxford, December 1894
  11. 11. Lord Henry : “ I hate vulgar realism in literature. The man who could call a spade a spade should be compelled to use one. It is the only thing he is fit for." “The Decay of Lying” (1891). “If […] we regard Nature as the collection of phenomena external to man, people only discover in her what they bring to her. She has no suggestions of her own. Wordsworth went to the lakes, but he was never a lake poet. He found in stones the sermons he had already hidden there. He went moralising about the district, but his good work was produced when he returned, not to Nature but to poetry. Poetry gave him ‘Laodamia,’ and the fine sonnets, and the great Ode, such as it is. Nature gave him ‘Martha Ray’ and ‘Peter Bell,’ and the address to Mr. Wilkinson’s spade.”
  12. 12. To The Spade of A Friend by William Wordsworth Composed while we were labouring together in his Pleasure- Ground. Spade! with which Wilkinson hath till'd his Lands, And shap'd these pleasant walks by Eamont's side, Thou art a tool of honour in my hands; I press thee through the yielding soil with pride. Who shall inherit Thee when Death hath laid Low in the darksome Cell thine own dear Lord? That Man will have a trophy, humble, Spade! More noble than the noblest Warrior's sword. With Thee he will not dread a toilsome day, His powerful Servant, his inspiring Mate! And, when thou art past service, worn away, Thee a surviving soul shall consecrate.
  13. 13. Whenever the necessities of life are dearer/ cheaper than the luxuries of life the community becomes uncivilized. Bread should be always dearer than flowers. Manuscript note
  14. 14. “I love the theatre ; it’s so much more real than life” “The world is a stage but the play is badly cast” Lord Arthur Savile's Crime Il est bien plus intelligent de dire des sottises que d’en écouter, c’est également beaucoup plus rare. It is much cleverer to talk nonsense than to listen to it, my dear fellow, and a much rarer thing too.” Algernon 4 act version
  15. 15. “[…] the literary fact of the matter is that the axe which is keenest, the one which is still most capable of shattering the surfaces of convention, is […] the hard-edged, unpathetic prose that Wilde created […] in dramas like The Importance of Being Earnest. His heady paradoxes, his over-the-topness at knocking the bottom out of things, the rightness of his wrongfooting, all that high-wire word-play, all that freedom to affront and to exult in his uniqueness - that was Wilde’s true path to solidarity. The lighter his touch, the more devastating his effect. When he walked on air, he was on solid ground.” Seamus Heaney

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