Towards the beginning of his "The Decay of Lying," Oscar Wilde uses the somewhat cynical Vivian character to voice a certain philosophy regarding literature. Quoting from her article of the same name, Vivian claims,

He [the young man with a gift for storytelling] either falls into careless habits of accuracy, or takes to frequenting the society of the aged and the well-informed. Both things are equally fatal to his imagination, as indeed they would be fatal to the imagination of anybody, and in a short time he develops a morbid and unhealthy faculty of truth-telling [...] and often ends by writing novels which are so lifelike that no one can possibly believe in their probability [...] if something cannot be done to check, or at least to modify our monstrous worship of facts, Art will become sterile, and beauty will pass away from the land.

Later Vivian goes on to say that "There is such a thing as robbing a story of its reality by trying to make it true." Now, the fact that the "article" from which Vivian reads and Wilde's piece itself bear the same name is probably telling in itself; the sameness in title suggests a sameness in view, or at least a mirroring of beliefs. Thus Wilde would seem to agree with Vivian, and his agreement is reflected in the strategy of his rhetoric; rather than come straight out and vocalize his feelings on recent literature, Wilde frames the argument through invented characters. In other words, Wilde proves Vivian's — and his own — sentiment, that trying to make a story too true will actually remove any reality from it, by employing an obvious invention: this dialogue. Far from "trying to make it true" (which would "[rob the] story of its reality"), Wilde wildly fictionalizes his story, thus hoping to educe some reality, some great truth.

Questions

1. As I've stated, Wilde's basic rhetorical device — the dialogue between imagined characters — would appear to be the greatest means of proving his point, but for one problem: How are we to know if what Vivian has to say is, in fact, Wilde's point of view as well? Is the similarity in titles really enough?

2. Can this be considered nonfiction?


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Last modified 16 October 2003