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When Cyril asks Vivian to explain why George Meredith, a supposed realist, escapes Vivian's critique of realism, Vivian delivers an eloquent defense of Meredith as a romanticist. At the end of Vivian's long paragraph, the reader is inclined to believe him, even though his arguments are not arguments at all but metaphors peppered with Wildean epigrams:

"Ah! Meredith! Who can define him? His style is chaos illuminated by flashes of lightning. As a writer he has mastered everything except language: as a novelist he can do everything except tell a story . . . Somebody in Shakespeare — Touchstone [from Shakespeare's As You Like It], I think — talks about a man who is always breaking shins over his own wit, and it seems to me that this might serve as the basis for a criticism of Meredith's method. But whatever he is, he is not a realist. Or rather I would say that he is a child of realism who is not on speaking terms with his father." [p. 5]

First, a metaphor (chaos and lightning), then an epigram (the cute paradoxes about writer and novelist), rounded off with a combination of both (the joke about child and father). In the middle is a reference, though a vague one — "Touchstone, I think." Nowhere does Vivian furnish a substantive proof of Meredith's romanticism.

Questions

1. When, if ever, would it be appropriate for a wisdom-speaker to use a metaphor in place of content-based proof? Do we forgive Ruskin, for example, his more poetic arguments?

2. "Touchstone, I think," and later "Goethe says, somewhere" are tip-offs of a satire, but throughout "Decay of Lying" Wilde cites and quotes other sources with seeming earnestness. Is he indicting or embracing the wisdom-speaker art of quoting and over-quoting?

3. The reader who is first swayed by Wilde's crafty sequence of gimmicks then takes a closer look might wonder whether he can trust a single idea expressed in this long essay. "The Decay of Lying" probably contains a few views that Wilde sincerely believed. If this is the case, why does Wilde continually ask us to disbelieve him?


Victorian Web Overview Decadents and Aesthetes Overview Oscar Wilde Leading Questions

Last modified 7 April 2005