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One of the earliest sources used to study social ideology among Irish authors is John Sloan. In his article "Oscar Wilde's Critical Ideology", Sloane proposes that, politically speaking, Wilde was partial to the ideology of his own mother, Lady Speranza Wilde: a staunch Irish nationalist and (some say) radical political figure, who was thought to be influential in the calling of an armed revolution in Ireland.
For this reason, Wilde had a tendency to claim (though not necessarily to embody) a penchant for socialism and a disdain for all things British. This led him to analyze socialism through an Individualistic perspective in his treatyThe Soul of Man Under Socialism.One of the salient excerpts of this treaty suggests,
Upon the other hand, Socialism itself will be of value simply because it will lead to Individualism.
Socialism, Communism, or whatever one chooses to call it, by converting private property into public wealth, and substituting co-operation for competition, will restore society to its proper condition of a thoroughly healthy organism, and insure the material well-being of each member of the community.
Keep in mind, however, that this treaty was published in 1891, a time period that proved quite dire in the life of Wilde. The Picture of Dorian Grayhad been published the year before, receiving sanctimoniously bad reviews. His playSalomewas also being criticized for its content, and the hypocritical Victorians were literally making a pariah out of Wilde. This was before his actual famous period in 1895 where he was king of all playwrights.
This being said, Wilde had ulterior motives for praising Socialism: he despised the British because of their prudishness and because of their treatment of him. Additionally (and in typical Wilde style), his supposed love for Socialism was a reaction to the writings of the prominent Russian writer, and idealist of anarcho-communism, Pyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin. The latter was quite popular, and even friendly, with contemporary authors such as GB Shaw and the epitome of Victorianism, architecture and designer William Morris.
However, Wilde did not live like a socialist. In fact, three years before his imprisonment he indulged in such hedonistic, greedy and extreme eating, drinking, and spending practices that it is hard to correlate the words written by the 1891 Wilde to the life of the Oscar of 1895. Yet, it was established during his trials that, money aside, Wilde did believe in an overall equality among men of all ranks and backgrounds. That he enjoyed himself when those of rank praised him, there is no doubt. But, had Wilde never had any exposure to the decadence of the 1890's period, his story may have very well been one of prudence, hard work, and the equal treatment of everybody.
Conclusively, Wilde's 1895 credo of hedonism (seeking every single pleasure) clashed tremendously with his 1891 philosophy of socialism. We know that it was the hedonistic nature of his behavior what ultimately led him to his final chaos. Yet, it is as clear as water that Wilde did follow (at least in his heart) the beliefs and views that he saw through his mother's activism in politics while raised in Merrion Street, Dublin.
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