Critical Overview

(Short Stories for Students)

Even before the scandal of Wilde's trial for homosexuality and subsequent imprisonment (1895-1897), critics had a difficult time separating Wilde's life from his works. Indeed, Wilde's credo of ‘‘life for art's sake,’’ or sometimes ‘‘art for art's sake,’’ encouraged the comparison. Proponents of this school of thought believed that the creation of beauty is the moral purpose for both life and art. The French author Andre Gide believed that Wilde achieved artistic greatness through his life rather than his literary achievements. James Joyce, the renowned Irish novelist, saw little to appreciate in Wilde's literature, but nonetheless saw him as a martyr to art.

More recently, critics have come to appreciate the merits of Wilde's stories. Many suggest that Wilde reinvented and interpreted his life through his works. Philip Cohen, in his book The Moral Vision of Oscar Wilde, views Wilde's life in the 1880s reflected in ‘‘The Canterville Ghost.’’ First, Cohen notes the coincidence of dates: ‘‘The Canterville Ghost'' is set in 1884, the year Wilde married, and three hundred years after Sir Simon murdered his wife. This ‘‘correspondence of dates’’ marks the story as "the transformation of life into confessional art.’’

Cohen argues that here, as in many of his stories, Wilde ‘‘depicts a radical discrepancy between the self—or, more accurately, selves—he paraded before the public, on the one hand, and his private self, on the other.’’ Like the Ghost, Cohen argues, Wilde suffers beneath a mask-like exterior. Wilde was hiding a...

(The entire section is 653 words.)