The Decay of Lying | Study Guide

Oscar Wilde

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The Decay of Lying | Quotes

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1.

The infinite variety in Nature ... is not ... in Nature herself. It resides in the imagination, or fancy, or cultivated blindness of the man who looks at her.


Vivian

Vivian points out that nature is a poor source of inspiration for art and that it is the mind that houses ideas for the creation of true art. Nature is characterized as commonplace and old-fashioned in Vivian's estimation.

2.

One of the chief causes ... for the curiously commonplace ... literature of our age is ... the decay of Lying as an art, a science, and a social pleasure.


Vivian

The essay's title becomes clear through Vivian's assertion that the commonplaceness of the modern novel causes an erosion of the imagination and creativity that literature should be derived from. Vivian characterizes this as "lying."

3.

The ancient historians gave us delightful fiction in the form of fact; the modern novelist presents us with dull facts under the guise of fiction.


Vivian

Vivian uses the comparison between the mythology of the ancient world and the modern novel to argue for lying in art. Mythology is made up of the beautiful lies that Vivian feels art should consist of, but the modern novel—while fiction—includes commonplace facts from real life. He believes this causes the "decay of lying."

4.

There is such a thing as robbing a story of its reality by trying to make it too true.


Vivian

The seemingly paradoxical sentiment Vivian expresses suggests that the "lying" that gives an artwork coherence is threatened by writers who attempt to include "reality" in their works. The illusion created by art must come from the imagination to convey a sense of internal reality within the work.

5.

What is interesting about people in good society ... is the mask that each one of them wears, not the reality that lies behind the mask.


Vivian

Vivian reiterates the assertion that the commonplace world of facts and reality is not an interesting source of material for subject matter in art. His point is that it is the lies people tell that make them interesting, not the truth behind the lies. This extends to lying in art. Lies provide much richer source material than facts in Vivian's estimation.

6.

I quite admit that modern novels have many good points. All I insist on is that, as a class, they are quite unreadable.


Vivian

Modern novels in Oscar Wilde's time tended toward realism which sought to depict accurate representations of life in real-world circumstances. This is the reason why Vivian takes issue with these works. He feels that the boring world of commonplace facts does not belong in novels.

7.

To art's subject-matter we should be more or less indifferent. We should ... have no preferences, no prejudices, no partisan feeling of any kind.


Vivian

Vivian's attitude illustrates the Aesthetic ideal of "art for art's sake" and the assertion that art should serve no moral, utilitarian, or didactic purpose.

8.

If ... we regard Nature as ... phenomena external to man, people only discover in her what they bring to her. She has no suggestions.


Vivian

Art derived from nature is dull and unimaginative in Vivian's estimation because nature only reflects the artistic influences people have already encountered. Nature thus has no original ideas to provide people with inspiration for art.

9.

Paradox though it may seem ... Life imitates art far more than Art imitates life.


Vivian

Vivian establishes the paradox that life imitates art. This is counterintuitive considering that it would seem that inspiration for art comes from life.

10.

The Greeks ... set in the bride's chamber the statue of Hermes or of Apollo, that she might bear children as lovely as the works of art.


Vivian

Vivian very much appreciates the ancient Greeks' idealization of form. He also contends that life's imitation of art can be seen in the ancient Greeks' desire to be like the works of art crafted at the time rather than their art being crafted in imitation of real people.

11.

Scientifically speaking, the basis of life ... is simply the desire for expression, and Art is always presenting various forms through which this expression can be attained.


Vivian

Vivian reiterates his point that life imitates art. He insists that life turns to art and copies it through the desire for self-expression so that, rather than art being inspired by life, life is actually inspired by art.

12.

Art never expresses anything but itself.


Vivian

The Aesthetic ideal of "art for art's sake" is embodied in this statement. Vivian's opinion is that art should not have any other purpose than its beauty, and this opinion showcases the Aesthetes' assertion that human beings should look for no other meaning behind works of art.

13.

We look back on the ages entirely through the medium of Art, and Art, very fortunately, has never once told us the truth.


Vivian

Vivian says that art has not historically been an accurate representation of the ages. Rather, the ages have sought to emulate art. Vivian feels that artworks that feature depictions of individuals of the ages surely bear no resemblance to real-world people of the times.

14.

Nature also imitates Art. The only effects that she can show us are effects that we have already seen through poetry, or in paintings.


Vivian

Vivian feels that nature imitates art because it is the art people have seen that allows them to interpret the nature they experience. He insists that this makes nature a poor source of inspiration for art because it is derivative.

15.

Lying, the telling of beautiful untrue things, is the proper aim of Art.


Vivian

Vivian's characterization of lying as the appropriate aim of art refers back to his opening assertion that art should be made up of beautifully imaginative and untrue things derived from creativity instead of commonplace facts.

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