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Thread: Wilde's use of the word 'profile'

  1. #1
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    Wilde's use of the word 'profile'

    Hello to everyone, I'm translating Wilde's Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young into Spanish and would like to ask your opinion on the sense of the term 'profile' or 'profiles' when he writes for instance: "If the poor only had profiles there would be no difficulty in solving the problem of poverty" or "There is something tragic about the enormous number of young men there are in England at the present moment who start life with perfect profiles, and end by adopting some useful profession". Gracias
    Last edited by Juan; 01-12-2010 at 12:43 PM.

  2. #2
    Ah, I have read something somewhere which explains perfectly Wilde’s use of the word “profile” which is littered about his work quite a bit, perhaps most well known in Earnest when Lady Bracknell says to Cecilly “there are distinct social possibilities in your profile”. However I can’t remember exactly where I read it, though it has to do with Wilde’s cult of beauty where beauty needs no explanation. For Wilde beauty was genius, no doubt influenced by his beloved Keats – certainly the phrase “beauty is truth, truth beauty” springs to mind also.

    Take the last quote that you posted as a perfect example:

    "There is something tragic about the enormous number of young men there are in England at the present moment who start life with perfect profiles, and end by adopting some useful profession".
    For Wilde there was nothing worse than a "useful profession" ("work is the last refuge of the unimaginative" etc) so to have beauty in the form of a perfect profile and to throw it away by work or study is a complete waste. Dorian Gray is the perfect model of how to behave in this sense, he follows his desires and is beautiful, he doesn't work (occasionally plays the piano) he certainly doesn't commit the Wildean crime of adopting "some useful profession" his own life is a work of art, a whim.

    Hope that helps in some way.

  3. #3
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    Well, I am very grateful for your almost overwhelming response that shows a quite deep knowledge of the Wilde's work, much deeper in any case than mine... Just let me ask you a further question: could you tell me some English synonyms of the Wildean meaning of that term, or even some translations into Spanish or Italian or French?
    Gracias again

    PD. Sorry about my English but I'm not (yet) very sure about it!

  4. #4
    I’m afraid my use of other languages is very limited to a few tiny pieces of French, I’d certainly love to develop my language skills though. I’m always blown away by just how good those on the continent truly are in their use of language. I mean your use of English is absolutely spot on and yet you apologise for it, that’s the sort of thing I’m getting at!

    Anyway, I could offer a few suggestions as to “profile” in English though I don’t know how any of them would work in Spanish. As a best fit I would go with first: contour, form, outline, silhouette, line (as in line of the face) and perhaps image, though I think best fit is either contour or form.

    Good luck, sounds like a good project.

  5. #5
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    To Neely: Hi, let me ask for your help again, this time about Saki whom I'm translating too. I've posted some question in his forum but have not received any response, maybe you know his work as well as Wilde's! Thanks again

  6. #6
    Oh hi sorry, I don't like the way these sub-boards are set up it is easy to forget where you are posting in them. I'm afraid I have read very little of Saki, ask me anything on Wilde and I'll probably know (or know how to find out) but I don't think I can help you with Saki - unless it is something general.

  7. #7
    Registered User kiki1982's Avatar
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    Hello. Sorry to get myself involved in your more than intresting discussion (with a knowledgable person), but could this 'profile' nt have anything to do with physiognomy/phrenology either?

    Criminals, the poor etc were put into categories according to their face (great nose, small mouth, cheekbones, you name it). Thus, there were real 'criminal faces', 'poor faces', 'insane faces'. People with those traits would inevitably end up in crime, poverty or madhouses. However, people in the working classes though who were quite well-balanced (I'd say 'with good profiles') would still end up in working class jobs (the crime of the useful profession) because they were expected by society to do so. They would never have been admitted to Oxford. Phrenology meant the same, but it involved the whole skull which had 'propensities' (charateristics that were there, dominant or damaged) and that appealed more to protestant England because it offered the possiblity of working on them and avoiding the effects of the bad propensities you had (big spot for fantasy f.e.).

    In a sense, The Picture of Dorian Gray also reflects that: as his mind chanegs, his face (on the picture) changes too. Cruelty results in a fold round the mouth and he is not recognisable anymore when he dies.

    As to other languages, I don't know, the right word in French would be 'profile', but it depends what you really want to say with it I suppose.

    I don't know what Neely thinks about this?
    One has to laugh before being happy, because otherwise one risks to die before having laughed.

    "Je crains [...] que l'âme ne se vide à ces passe-temps vains, et que le fin du fin ne soit la fin des fins." (Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Acte III, Scène VII)

  8. #8
    Oh, don't appologise for sharing ideas on Wilde...

    Yes, good point, it could be applied, certainly there was a fascination with physiognomy at this time. However in the quoted line above and below I don't think Wilde was thinking in terms of physiognomy:

    "There is something tragic about the enormous number of young men there are in England at the present moment who start life with perfect profiles, and end by adopting some useful profession".
    So I think here it is the other way round to what you suggested, it is not their faces which puts them in categories, but the categories which makes their face. Take this passage from Dorian Gray:

    Beauty is a form of Genius - is higher, indeed, than Genius, as it needs no explanation. It is one of the great facts of the world, like sunlight, or springtime, or the reflection in dark waters of that silver shell we call the moon. It cannot be questioned. [...] People say sometimes that Beauty is only superficial. That may be so. But at least it is not as superficial as Thought is. To me, Beauty is the wonder of wonders. p21.
    This beauty is spoilt by labour or thought, like in the passage that says something along the lines that when one thinks one becomes all forehead etc, it is the action that changes the appearance. This is just like the portrait that changes with action, negative action in Dorian's case. So this would rule out the idea of physiognomy in this case because it is not you face which determines your position in life, but your position in life which determines you face. If that makes any sense?

  9. #9
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    I can only understand the first"profile"

    If you see the unhappy frontal face of the poor,you'll know that their poverty is difficult to solve.But if they only have profiles(side face),there'll be no difficulty.
    PS:I am a chinese.
    In chinese translated version of the first sentence,it is translated as" If the poor have individuality there would be no difficulty in solving the problem of poverty“
    Last edited by sumsungbodao; 01-06-2012 at 09:55 AM.

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