In "The Harlot's House," Wilde portrays the prostitute as entirely not human. By using the words "mechanical," "ghostly," "clockwork puppet," "black leaves," and "it," Wilde assures his audience of the prostitute's monstrosity. Despite his Aesthetic beliefs, which include worship of the artificial, Wilde does not approve of the unnatural characteristics of the harlot. Wilde constructs the prostitute's abnormality and lack of humanity to convey not beauty, but rather deception, entrapment, and ugliness. Wilde's harlot ensnares his lover, driving her into corruption and deceit. In the dark, Wilde's parasitic, grotesque prostitute corrupts his innocent love, dragging her prey into the land of the dead.
Sometimes a clockwork puppet pressed
A phantom lover to her breast,
Sometimes they seemed to try to sing.
Sometimes a horrible marionette
Came out, and smoked its cigarette
Upon the steps like a live thing.
Then, turning to my love, I said,
'The dead are dancing with the dead,
The dust is whirling with the dust.'
But she--she heard the violin,
And left my side, and entered in:
Love passed into the house of lust.
Then suddenly the tune went false,
The dancers wearied of the waltz,
The shadows ceased to wheel and whirl.
And down the long and silent street,
The dawn, with silver-sandalled feet,
Crept like a frightened girl.
The "ghostly dancers" lure the naïve bystanders who simply catch "the tread of dancing feet" and plunge them into a world of death, deceit, and lust. Despite his aesthetic ideals, here, Wilde does not applaud the artificial. Though the waltz ends and the shadows of the dancers fade with the coming of day, nothing is left alive in the morning, nothing exists but the "silent street."
1. Wilde seems to strongly disapprove of prostitutes in both "The Harlot's House" and the end of "Impression Du Matin." Is his negative attitude toward the prostitute simply a matter of subject choice or general morality in these two poems, or is there another more personal reason behind his repeated aversion?
2. Did Wilde borrow his image of the "mechanical" "wire-pulled automaton" from Carlyle? If so, what does that express about Wilde's opinions on Carlyle?
3. Wilde's only mention of a humanistic quality is in the very end when he compares dawn to a "frightened girl." Here, Wilde is personifying nature. Why does he use this technique?
- Prostitution in Victorian England
- How widespread were concerns about prostitution?
- A glimpse at lust redeemed in Oscar Wilde's "The Harlot's House"
Last modified 23 April 2009