Oscar Wilde (The Occult Review)
To the Editor of the Occult Review.
Sir, — I should wish with all courtesy, but also with all decision, to express my dissent from Mr. C. W. Soal in what he says concerning the style of Oscar Wilde. He had, as has frequently been pointed out, two separate styles, each very marked and individual, and each quite different from the other. The one is poetic, ornamental and artificial, with lovely word effects and a profuse use of colour. It is shown in the Script by such phrases as "from russet eve to apple-green dawn" or "the rose-flushed anemones that star the dark woodland ways" or "the May is creeping like a white mist over lane and hedgerow." The second style is epigrammatic, witty, cynical and full of paradox. Here we have it in "Death is the most boring experience in life — if one excepts being married or dining with a schoolmaster." "It is always bad advice that is given away." "Even God does not know what to do with the industrious." "The woman who was content merely to be was always charming." It is difficult to note these close analogies of style and to doubt that an Oscar Wilde brain is at the back of them.
The idea that a weekly prize competition could produce a flood of Barries and Stevensons, with all the marks of the original, is surely untenable and could hardly have been meant to be taken seriously. It is easy to produce a short comic parody, by exaggerating the features of a style, but to write or talk in exactly the same style and with equally good matter, argues an equal brain, which would certainly exhibit itself in something more ambitious than parody.
Mr. Soal claims that he has traced all the allusions to their "probable sources." In the case of a man whose life was so public and who has been the centre of a whole literature, it is difficult to imagine that there is anything of any importance in his life — anything which would now emerge from his own memory — which was not directly or indirectly alluded to in some quarter or another. But such an explanation would mean that the automatists had ransacked all the Wilde literature. We have their assurance that this is not so, and that their acquaintance with it was very limited. As to the suggestion, put into the mouth of a suppositious critic, that the writers memorize great sections of script, that would of course be a direct accusation of deliberate fraud which is not justified by the character and position of the writers. Such suggestions are made far too readily and should be banished from the controversy.
When I consider the various corroborations in this case of Oscar Wilde:
- 1. The reproduction of his heavy style.
- 2. The reproduction of his light style.
- 3. The reproduction of character.
- 4. The recollection of incidents, some of them quite obscure, in his own life.
- 5. The reproduction of his handwriting.
- 6. And (not least in my eyes) the similarity of the conditions which
he describes upon the other side with those which our psychic knowledge would assign to such a man, I consider that the case is a very powerful one indeed. I quite agree that George Pelham and The Ear of Dionysius are very convincing, but to me the Wilde case is even more so.
A. CONAN DOYLE.