"No Artist has Ethical Sympathies": Oscar Wilde, Aesthetics, and Moral Evolution

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Abstract

“There is no mode of action, no form of emotion, that we do not share with the lower animals” (137). This evolutionary claim is not attributable to Darwin, but to Oscar Wilde, who allows Gilbert to voice this bold assertion in “The True Function of Criticism.” While critics have long wrestled with the ethical stance and coherence of Wilde's writings, they have overlooked a significant influence on his work: debates concerning the evolution of morality that animated the periodicals in which he was writing. Wilde was fascinated by the proposition that complex human behaviours, including moral and aesthetic responses, might be traced back to evolutionary impulses. Significantly, he also wrote for a readership already engaged with these controversies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)623-40
Number of pages18
JournalVictorian Literature and Culture
Volume44
Issue number3
Early online date30 Aug 2016
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2016

Keywords

  • morality, aesthetics, evolution, Oscar Wilde nineteenth-century press

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