An epigram is a short, witty statement in prose or verse. Wilde is famous for his epigrams, and the novel furnishes many examples, almost all of them uttered by Lord Henry Wotton. “A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies,” he tells his friend Basil. The humorous effect is gained by a reversal of the expected meaning, since it would be natural to expect to hear “friends” instead of “enemies.” The reversal creates a comic surprise. Lord Henry uses the same reversal of expectations when he says, “The only way to get rid of a temptation is...
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