ABSTRACT

Wilde was fluent in non-fiction. His flamboyant personality gen­ erated a public to be addressed face to face in the lecture hall, or more indirectly through the persona of journalist and editor. The carefully structured prose of ‘The Soul of Man Under Socialism5 and the eventual collection of criticism, Intentions (1891), formalises the immediate style of public speaking he had practised a decade earlier. The essays collected in this volume are ‘The Decay of Lying5, which first appeared in The Nineteenth Century in January 1889; ‘Pen, Pencil, and Poison5 from The Fortnightly Review, January 1889; ‘The Critic as Artist5, Parts I and II, from The Nineteenth Century in July and September 1890; and ‘The Truth of Masks5, an essay on the production methods for Shakespeare's plays, revised from The Nineteenth Century, May 1885. Some commentators contend that all of Wilde's work, whether ostensibly fiction or non-fiction, is fired by critical response to the aesthetic fashions of his era. Richard Le Gallienne, reviewing Intentions, was one of the first to suggest that Wilde's work transgressed the boundaries between criticism and creation, fiction and non-fiction:

Mr. Wilde, in speaking of the methods open to the critic, well says that Mr. Pater's narrative is, of course, only criticism in disguise: his figures are but personifications of certain moods of mind, in which he is for the time interested, and which he desires to express. Now I have been wondering whether one should not, similarly, regard Mr. Wilde essentially as a humorist who has taken art-criticism for his medium.