Oscar Wilde (essay date 1889)
SOURCE: "The Decay of Lying," in De Profundis and Other Writings, edited by Hesketh Pearson, Penguin, 1973, pp. 55-87.
[In the following excerpt, originally published in 1889 and reprinted in 1973, Wilde laments Reade's decision to abandon his sense of beauty in order to write realistic social-problem novels.]
I do not know anything in the whole history of literature sadder than the artistic career of Charles Reade. He wrote one beautiful book, The Cloister and the Hearth, a book as much above Romola as is above Daniel Deronda, and wasted the rest of his life in a foolish attempt to be modern, to draw public attention to the state of our convict prisons, and the management of our private lunatic asylums. Charles Dickens was depressing enough in all conscience when he tried to arouse our sympathy for the victims of the poor-law administration; but Charles Reade, an artist, a scholar, a man with a true sense of beauty, raging and roaring over the abuses of contemporary life like a common pamphleteer or a sensational journalist, is really a sight for the angels to weep over.