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Thread: De Profundis

  1. #1
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    De Profundis

    The longest love letter ever written. It quite took my breath away when I read the abbreviated version at the end of a book of complete works. I immediately sought out the full version.

    It gave so much insight into the man. I found it heartbreaking ultimately. It was real, painful, the words on the biblical story of Jesus as the most perfect of tragedies compelling. I know some believe he was insincere in what he wrote. I am with those who think otherwise. I found it very sad that he was unable to live up to his hopes for himself when he left prison. There is a tremendous story by itself on why he may not have been able to, for personal reasons and for the times in which he lived.

    Any other devotees of De Profundis?


  2. #2
    Oh yes sure. I think that there are many devotees of De Profundis, anyone who loves Oscar cannot fail to be touched by this. I would like to suggest trying to get hold of his letters, which equal more in volume that his entire literary works, as they provide a fascinating insight into his life.

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    I would like to read those. I understand the ones post prison are quite unbearably sad as he went on such a heartbreaking decline. I think many of them are requests for money and the like. It makes the ambitions he articulated in De Profundis all the more bitter to read. I am deeply moved by his descriptions of coming face to face with suffering.

  4. #4
    Yes, the post prison letters are too sad for me to read, and as yet I cannot really bring myself to read them properly. Have you read his intension essays, they are for me an criminally overlooked body of work? I find "The Critic as Artist" especially interesting.

  5. #5
    May I know which are his letters after he was released from prison?
    I've just read De Profundis for the 2nd time and yes. It is sheer sublimity.
    What a love letter really.
    Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated.
    For these there is hope.
    They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only beauty.

  6. #6
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    The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde was published in 2000. It is edited by Wilde's grandson, Merlin Holland, and Rupert Hart-Davis The letters pretty well cover Wilde's life. There are a number of post-prison letters included, as Wilde lived for three years after his prison release and he wrote a number of letters in those three years. The long letter which Wilde wrote to Lord Alfred Douglas and which has become known as De Profundis is included.

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    De Profundis

    I have a complete works (or had, don't ask) version that had an abridged version of De Profundis. It is important to note that there is the full version which is published separately and is 118 pgs. long in the version I have.

    Anyone else have thoughts on whether Wilde was sincere about the transformation he had gone through in prison? Personally, although he wasn't able to live up to his aspirations, I don't think you can fake such words.

  8. #8
    Cultivated Cultivated's Avatar
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    Jan 2010
    I'm studying this. How would this poem relate to any of the following themes?
    - Ideas of progress; Industry and Empire
    - The position of women in Victorian society
    - Social problems; urban poverty and the working class
    - Evolving attitudes culture, religion and science

    I have my exam soon so would anybody be able to help me with adding some aspects of this novel into those key areas?

  9. #9
    Registered User Sebas. Melmoth's Avatar
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    Hôtel d'Alsace, PARIS
    Quote Originally Posted by ohureo View Post
    [Was] Wilde sincere about the transformation he had gone through in prison?
    Initially, yes: he was very chastised by his fall, and he fully intended to make a change and begin a new life in France.

    When he first came out of prison he didn't drink at all.

    He wanted to live simply and write. He wanted to live something like a monastic life as Huysmans was doing. (In fact, Wilde had petitioned an English monastary for admission, only to be rejected.)

    However, after the move to France things began to slip. Initally he had friends around him, but they had to return to England and Wilde was left alone--the worst thing for him. He felt his loneliness very strongly.

    Then, with Dowson, he re-took to drinking. Then, Bosie was hounding him for a meeting. Finally he reunited with Bosie and moved to Naples (which didn't last long). After the split Wilde settled in Paris at a cheap hotel and proceeded to drink himself to death.

  10. #10
    Registered User Sebas. Melmoth's Avatar
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    Approaches to Wilde’s De Profundis

    I tell you simply this--Mrs Erlynne was once honoured, loved, respected. She was well born, she had position--she lost everything--threw it away, if you like. That makes it all the more bitter. Misfortunes one can endure--they come from outside, they are accidents. But to suffer for one’s own faults--ah!--there is the sting of life.
    Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan,
    Act 1, lines 415-20

    Do you really keep a diary? I’d give anything to look at it. May I?
    Oh no. You see, it is simply a very young girl’s record of her own thoughts and impressions, and consequently meant for publication. When it appears in volume form I hope you will order a copy.
    Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest,
    Act 2, lines 413-18

    De Profundis is not merely unique within Wilde’s oeuvre: it is one of the most unusual texts ever framed. The product of a brilliant intellect, a beautiful personality, and a great artist under extreme pressure and in great pain, De Profundis is difficult to liken to other texts. Of course Saul of Tarsus (i.e., the Apostle Paul) produced epistles from prisons and in chains, but some hold that he was writing under Divine inspiration, and in any case, the tenor of his letters is entirely different from Wilde’s. The Confessions of Augustine or Newman’s Apologia really do not approach it. Perhaps only Beethoven’s so-called “Heiligenstadt Testament” can compare. That letter to his brothers, written in the excruciating loneliness and isolation of his deafness--from the prison of his own body--strikes some similar notes to Wilde’s prison epistle.
    But what exactly is De Profundis--“Out of the Depths”? The Latin title is from the Vulgate translation of the Bible made by Jerome in A.D. 390-405 (Zondervan), specifically quoting Psalm 130.1: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O YHWH.” But this title was appended by Robert Ross--Wilde’s literary executor--to an highly abridged and expurgated version published 1905 (Holland and Hart-Davis 683). In a Catholic mode Wilde said, “indeed it is an Encyclical Letter, and as the Bulls of the Holy Father are named from their opening words, it may be spoken of as the Epistola: In Carcere et Vinculis” (Complete Letters 782)--that is, “A Formal Letter: In Prison and Chains.” Wilde called it “my letter to Alfred Douglas,” and there can be little doubt: it is that. But it is much more. Wilde said,
    [it is] the only document that really gives any explanation of my extraordinary behaviour. . . . When you have read the letter you will see the psychological explanation of a course of conduct that from the outside seems a combination of absolute idiocy with vulgar bravado. Some day the truth will have to be known: not necessarily in my lifetime or in Douglas’s: but I am not prepared to sit in the grotesque pillory they put me into, for all time. . . . I don’t defend my conduct. I explain it. (Complete Letters 780)

    He continued,
    [T]here are in the letter certain passages which deal with my mental development in prison, and the inevitable evolution of character and intellectual attitude towards life that has taken place: and I want you, and others who still stand by me and have affection for me, to know exactly in what mood and manner I hope to face the world.
    There is no need to tell A. D. that a copy has been taken, unless he should write and complain of injustice in the letter or misrepresentation: then he should be told that a copy has been taken. I earnestly hope the letter will do him good. It is the first time anyone has ever told him the truth about himself. I hope someone will let him know that the letter is one he thoroughly deserves, and that if it is unjust, he thoroughly deserves injustice.
    [P]rison-life makes one see people and things as they really are. That is why it turns one to stone. It is the people outside who are deceived by the illusion of a life in constant motion. They revolve with life and contribute to its unreality. We who are immobile both see and know. Whether or not the letter does good to his narrow nature and hectic brain, to me it has done great good. I have “cleansed my bosom of much perilous stuff”. . . . For nearly two years I had within me a growing burden of bitterness, much of which I have now got rid of. (Complete Letters 780-83)

    Wilde insisted upon typed copies of the manuscript as he would have done if it were a poem or a play. He treated it as an artistic literary text; surely he intended it be included in his canon.
    The circumstances of De Profundis’ creation are peculiar in the extreme:
    The letter is written on twenty folio sheets (each of four pages) of blue ruled prison paper, with the Royal Arms blind-stamped at the head of each sheet. [T]he Governor of Reading Gaol, explaining how the letter had been written, wrote: “Each sheet was carefully numbered before being issued and withdrawn each evening at locking.”
    In 1909 Ross presented the original manuscript to the British Museum, on condition that no one be allowed to see it for fifty years. (Holland and Hart-Davis 683)

    In 1949, Wilde’s son Vyvyan Holland published another version of De Profundis from one of the original typescripts Ross had had made in 1897. Holland and Hart-Davis provide textual criticism:
    Everyone naturally assumed that typescript and manuscript were identical, and that this edition was indeed complete and accurate, but in fact it was neither. It contained several hundred errors, which can be divided into four main categories:
    1. Misreadings of Wilde’s hand.
    2. Aural misprints, probably caused by Ross’s dictating
    to an ill-educated typist.
    3. Ross’s “improvement” of Wilde’s grammar and syntax.
    4. The inexplicable shifting of passages and whole
    paragraphs from one part of the letter to another.
    Wilde’s letter is printed here exactly as he wrote it, except that it has been divided up into rather more paragraphs than his scanty ration of paper allowed him. (683)

    The versions in The Portable Oscar Wilde (pub. 1981) and The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde (pub. 2000) seem identical.
    One of Wilde’s shrewdest critics, Regenia Gagnier says, “some works resist modern consumption. De Profundis is yet to be digested: a letter whose isolation is extreme and whose production is intimately connected to material conditions unknown to most of us presents a truth unassimilable in the complacent consumption of commodities in mass society” (Idylls 180-81). Gagnier’s critique is over 15 years old; just a couple of months ago, David Foster was still asking, “[W]hy struggle with a reader-resistant text framed as a personal letter?” (85). He points out,
    De Profundis occupies a precarious place in Oscar Wilde’s cannon and for several reasons is often skirted by wary interpreters: it does not fit neatly into any single genre; it does not resemble any of the other works that made Wilde famous; it is full of irritating inconsistencies and contradictions; and it seems ambiguously aimed at a wider audience than its inscription to Alfred Douglas suggests. (85)

    I have assembled some critical evaluations of this almost indigestible “reader-resistant” text, which follow in a highly abbreviated format following the critic’s name.
    (1) Peter Raby. Raby calls De Profundis “the statement that Wilde did not make from the witness-box; and his apologia appears even more persuasive with the passing of time” (134); furthermore he says, “Wilde in De Profundis creates an imaginative experience which has a vivid particularity found nowhere else in his prose fiction” (140). Raby’s Cartesian critique is clear and logical. He cites four purposes for Wilde’s document: (i) to give a psychological explanation of his course of conduct, (ii) to narrate the course of his mental development in prison, which will help his friends understand how he means to face the world upon release, (iii) to bring revelation to Douglas of himself and his actions concerning Wilde, and (iv) by the process of writing--finding expression and utterance--to cleanse his mind and heart from poisonous bitterness (132).
    Raby notes three divisions in De Profundis: (i) from the beginning (page 509 in Portable), to the end of the paragraph on page 579 in Portable which reads, “Terrible as what you did to me was, what I did to myself was far more terrible still.” Raby says,
    The first [part] is concerned with an inquisition into Douglas’s conduct, and an explanation of Wilde’s. Autobiographically, this long section is of great interest, since it provides a detailed account of the impact of Douglas’s friendship on Wilde’s life and art before the trials, and some insight into Wilde’s mental and physical state during the period of his imprisonment. (133)

    Part two (ii) begins on page 579 in Portable with Wilde’s immortal words, “I was a man who stood in symbolic relations to the art and culture of my age,” and runs to the end of the paragraph on page 624 which reads, “I can, at any rate merely proceed on the lines of my own development, and by accepting all that has happened to me make myself worthy of it.” This central division contains the crux of Wilde’s argument: the XP (Chi-Rho) Section (pp. 597-617 in Portable). Raby says,
    In the central section Wilde shifts overtly to self-analysis, after expressing the need to forgive Douglas and the admission that he ruined himself. Wilde proceeds to created a new self-image with which to encounter the world on his imminent release. While the first section is dominated by the idea of Pleasure, the second is a response to Pain; and these two motifs, with their corresponding Comic and Tragic masks, form the controlling contraries of the work. Whereas the first phase recalls Wilde as a social being, the second emphasises his heroic isolation through an extended comparison with the life and suffering of Christ, who becomes the archetype of the Individualist and the first Romantic artist. (133)

    Aesthetic romanticism of course has many connotations including imagination, inventiveness, love, adventure, passion, risk, sentiment, nature, enthusiasm, and self-consciousness.
    Part three (iii) begins with the Wilde’s admission, “People used to say of me that I was too individualistic” (Portable 624), and runs to the end of the work. Raby notes,
    The third section returns to the manner of the first, thought now Douglas’s mother receives a portion of blame, perhaps as a representative of the forces of society which have rejected wilde. This last section though its emotional intensity seems at first dissipated by the resumption of a petulance one might have assumed had been exorcised, constitutes a terrible reminder of the particular nature of Wilde’s tragic fall. (133-34)

    Raby concludes,
    The first two parts of De Profundis, are much more sharply organised than the third. The figure of Douglas dominates the first, corresponding to the focus on the past, the world, pleasure, and the emotion of hate, while the contrasting figure of Christ controls the second, with the shift to the present, the spiritual, pain, and the emotion of love. The work seems poised for synthesis in the concluding section, where the artist might ideally be shown emerging into some perfected state [. . .], however, the third section fails to create an idealised future. Instead, Wilde returns for the most part to the bitter, often petulant, accusatory mode of the opening. He recognises the imperfection, the incompletion, in his closing sentences. (139-40)

    At the end Wilde says,
    How far I am away from the true temper of soul, this letter in its changing, uncertain moods, its scorn and bitterness, its aspirations and its failure to realise those aspirations, shows you quite clearly. But do not forget in what a terrible school I am sitting at my task. (Portable 658)

    (2) Julia Brown. Brown says, “[De Profundis] is best understood as a culmination of Wilde’s philosophic exploration of the vexed relation of art and truth” (95). Her fascinating critique consists of a comparison of the aesthetic philosophies of Wilde and Nietzsche. She says, “[Wilde’s] meditation on Christianity [in De Profundis] shows the powerful influence of Renan and comes compellingly near to Nietzsche’s view of Christ in The Antichrist” (97). Brown recognizes and follows the same tripartite division of De Profundis as Raby, citing him in her select bibliography, although giving him no credit in her text. She notes,
    [the] continuing pattern of descent into the temporal world and momentary ascent from out of its midst, of alternate rejection and acceptance of his [Wilde’s] fate, is what gives the narrative of De Profundis its powerful surging rhythm. For the struggle we see taking place before our eyes in De Profundis--and what makes it so moving--is the struggle of a soul to will the recurrence of a life down to the last repellent detail in order to affirm it, to achieve a state of mind in which he would prefer nothing more passionately than the repetition of that life just as it has been, in which he would come to see that all events of his past, even events of irreparable horror and desolation, were “for the best,” a state of mind which could turn the most questionable things to one’s advantage and make one stronger; in short, what Nietzsche calls amor fati, love of fate. (100-01)

    (3) Frank McGuinness. McGuinness’ excellent critique has two main thrusts: (i) an analogy of De Profundis to Shakespeare’s romance The Tempest, and (ii) a clever deconstruction of the XP Section of De Profundis. In his introduction to The Tempest, Northrop Frye makes several observations concerning Shakespeare’s play which, if transposed, could equally apply to Wilde and De Profundis. For example Frye says,
    The shipwrecked character [. . .] goes through a pursuit of illusions, an ordeal, and a symbolic vision. There follows confinement and a madness which brings [him] to conviction of sin, self-knowledge, and repentance. (14)

    Sounds rather like Wilde, does it not? Frye also notes,
    In its genre The Tempest shows a marked affinity with dramatic forms outside the normal range of tragedy and comedy. Among these [are] the masque [. . . ,] antimasque [. . . ,] commedia dell’arte, [. . . and the] romance.
    [The artist seems] to have reached the very bedrock of drama itself, with a romantic spectacle which is at once primitive and sophisticated, childlike and profound. (23-24)

    Voilá--De Profundis! Frye concludes,
    In The Tempest there is also an emphasis on moral and spiritual rebirth which suggests rituals of initiation, like baptism. . . . [I]ts poetic texture ranges from the simplicity of Ariel’s incredibly beautiful songs to the haunting solemnity of Prospero’s speeches, so we may come to the play on any level, as a fairy tale with unusually lifelike characters, or as an inexhaustibly profound drama. (24)

    One might say in this reading that Wilde was all the characters rolled into one, and De Profundis equals The Tempest. But returning to McGuinness’ critique of De Profundis, he says,
    Whatever is written can be published, and whatever is published is performed. De Profundis is not the meditation of a penitent at prayer. It is the act of a penitent as performer. It is a histrionic defiance of the histrionic judgment passed against Wilde at his trial, a theatrical explosion to break the silence of censorship that his prison sentence demanded; it is a play.
    It is a strange play that limits itself to one spectator, but not so strange when it is realized that this play wished to create its spectator as much as its spectacle. Two characters propel the action, Oscar and Bosie, the writer and the written. Not since Shakespeare’s purification of the role of actor through the part of Prospero in The Tempest, has any playwright made such correspondence between the initial participants in the act of making theatre. And Bosie is Ariel transformed into Caliban, [. . .] while Oscar is Prospero rewritten, having had his magic renounced for him. As in The Tempest a revenge must be taken, and revenge in De Profundis depends not on magic but on meaning, and the meaning is clear: Bosie destroyed Oscar’s life because he destroyed Oscar’s art. To recover that magic, that art, will require another act of destruction. This destruction will unleash itself through a tempestuous reply to Bosie’s chaotic arrival and influence on the order of Oscar’s life. The form this reply takes is soliloquy masked as dialogue, for it is written in a letter, and letters anticipate an acknowledgement.
    The admonishing speech, the recriminating sermons, they are the tactics of an author deprived of his audience, so deprived it becomes necessary to invent its existence, and in that invention thereby invent himself. [A] crucial other presence is felt, and that is Wilde’s creation of the character of Christ.
    The first question to pose itself is obvious. Is this character a mirror image of Oscar himself?
    The character of Christ is Wilde’s supreme rhetorical creation here. This Christ is a supremely literary artefact. Oscar and Bosie bear within them the functions of their external histories to influence their dramatic development, but Christ is a creature of Wilde’s pure imagination, as ahistorical as Salomé. So who is the Christ of De Profundis?
    A creature of pure imagination, a literary artefact. What is remarkable about this character of Christ lies not in any similarity he shares with Oscar but in the precise dissimilarities which contrast him with Bosie.
    Wilde cleverly redraws the points of reference that constituted the relationship’s original triangle, namely Oscar, Bosie and Narcissus [i.e., Bosie’s self-love]. He substitutes for Narcissus the character of Christ, thereby replacing his own rival with Bosie’s rival, Christ. Everything Christ is, Bosie is not. Everything Bosie wishes to be, “a poet . . . a close union of personality with perfection,” Christ already is. Sympathy, imagination, love--Christ is assuming the status of a perfect partner. “He is just like a work of art himself.”
    Christ has, it appears, replaced Bosie, and it is Oscar’s turn to do the rejecting. The play of De Profundis continues its plot. The discarded lover can now do the discarding with all the simple, powerful logic of a ballad or folk-tale. There is about it all an air of inevitability. This is what must happen for the song to be sung, for the story to be told. There is in De Profundis, as there is in all of Wilde’s major writings, the sense of a folk-tale.
    It is theatrical writing of the highest order. (141-45)

    (4) Regenia Gagnier. Gagnier is a very interesting interdisciplinary academician. She is not only an English professor, but an historian as well. And within the discipline of history Gagnier is active in the unique sub-genre of the history of ideas. She is a cultural historian, and a postmodern historian of politics and economics--specifically of the interstices between them and how they effect social and cultural history, as dominant forces manipulate the discourse. The unique nexus of her studies is formed by the ideas and texts of later Victorian Britain, and withal, she is one of the foremost Wilde critics now working. She calls her critique of De Profundis a “materialist reading,” and focuses on the prison and chains aspect of the letter. From this point of view she says,
    I shall argue that a consideration of prison conditions in the 1890s and of other writing from prison is more relevant to Epistola: In Carcere et Vinculis [i.e., De Profundis] than are traditional approaches to autobiography, which have historically resulted in the judgment that Wilde “was a poseur to the last,” i.e., constitutionally theatrical, or that his work [i.e., De Profundis] is a fiction according to however current theory construes the fictive. In prison Wilde lived under contemporary regulations of solitary cellular confinement for two years; his daily routine was determined by a rigorously enforced timetable and he was not permitted to talk. The self in his letter is a self constructed in a particular imaginative act of resistance against insanity and against the material matrix of prison space and time, that is, confined, segmented space and timelessness. (335)

    Recalling The Tempest connection, it is interesting to note that Frye says, “Few plays are so haunted by the passing of time as The Tempest: it has derived even its name from a word (tempestas) which means time as well as tempest” (20). Gagnier points out that in the peculiar environment of solitary confinement in a small cell with enforced silence, the prisoner’s sense of spatiotemporal perception is unavoidably warped, often resulting in insanity. She maintains that Wilde wrote De Profundis to resist this warpage. She says,
    In fighting the threat that isolation and silence posed to sanity, Wilde had to reconstitute the world outside as precisely as possible, hence the meticulous naming of places and specific chronology in his account of his relationship with Douglas. . . . The structure of the letter functions precisely so: alternating passages of realism and transcendent vision so as to pose a total imaginative world against the frozen time and alien space of imprisonment.
    Wilde fought silence and isolation by writing a self-serving biography of Alfred Douglas, whose image recreated for him the world outside. . . . (341-42)

    Gagnier notes that the regimen of prison wherein time is divided into segments of rigid routine effects Wilde’s writing in De Profundis as he constantly cites hours of the day, or monthly intervals. She says, “[T]he prison regimen imposes itself on the reconstruction of prior events, so that the outside is reified in the terms and cycles of imprisonment” (344). This is very shrewd and insightful criticism. Gagnier notes,
    Each time Wilde reflects on the monotony of prison he shifts to reconstructing scenes of remarkable variety with Douglas, until he is finally dialoging with Douglas, asking questions and answering for him. (344)
    [W]hen he must consider the facts of imprisonment, he returns to Douglas and, through him, to the world outside. (347)

    She concludes,
    By counterposing realism and romance, Wilde kept a positive past and created a possible future, both in contrast to the frozen time of imprisonment. With its romance and realism, romance and finance, the letter has also defeated the prison system, [and] embodied the individual voice of the silenced. (348)

    (5) Philip Cohen. Cohen’s 1978 book The Moral Vision of Oscar Wilde is a remarkable study. Critics come and go, but Cohen’s book on Wilde persists in its sympathetic and rational critique of Wilde and his works from what might be called a Judeo-Christian perspective. (For a 180? contrast, cf. Christopher Nassaar’s 1974 book Into the Demon Universe; perhaps Cohen’s work is in reply to Nassaar’s.) Cohen writes,
    [Wilde] left Reading Gaol on May 19, 1897, with a thoroughly integrated vision of God, self, and society. He had shaped and molded the fragments of his life into De Profundis (1897). here the antagonism between art and life yields to harmonious union. The seemingly incompatible ideals of self-sacrifice and individualism fuse into paradox. Wilde’s lifelong vacillation between Old and New Testament moralities comes to an end. And in De Profundis he reveals his discovery of authenticity as the only viable basis for identity and states his intention to re-create himself. Wilde’s remarkably subtle rhetorical strategy and the coherence of his intellectual position must, however, compete with emotional instability bordering on hysteria and stylistic excesses. These flaws have hidden the strengths of De Profundis from many readers. They also portend Wilde’s inability to achieve its ideals. (235)

    Cohen cannily sees a tripartite scheme in De Profundis, but it is different from Raby’s formalistic approach. Cohen says Wilde in De Profundis
    cast his past in three explicitly dramatic patterns. Queensberry’s sham morality play--with epic overtones--performed before the world, is the first. To this Wilde added the view of his life as a classical tragedy of fate. And he suggested still another perspective through an implicit analogy with the drama of Christ’s last days. Each of the three dramas offers its own interpretation of the protagonist, ranging from condemnation in the first to praise in the last. he injected an ambiguity into events such that all three plays run simultaneously, coexist in varying degrees of potentiality and actualization. But his strategy calls for a gradual shift from the first to the third, from the humiliation of public defeat to the martyr’s personal victory. Audacious to the last, Wilde subtly and cleverly transfers the burden of guilt from himself to society.
    De Profundis reflects not only his public apologia, but also his private struggle for a future, for an authentic identity that might accommodate itself to the altered circumstances of his life.
    Wilde systematically redefines all [his] roles in the process of constructing a new ideal identity.
    The kaleidoscopic mode of presentation is a means for reflecting the nature of experience.
    Wilde radically altered his theories of aesthetics and identity, as well as his attitude toward life, so that they would accord with his changed circumstances. (236-49)

    (6) Michael Gillespie. Gillespie’s elegant postmodern critique in The Poetics of Ambiguity stresses of Wilde’s works,
    the need to sustain simultaneous hypostatic interpretive development. Such a method acknowledges that multiple meanings exist within Wilde’s best writing and attempts to take into account the complex way that intra- and extratextual elements shape so much of his work. In De Profundis, however, fundamental changes in the features influencing Wilde’s process of composition create an environment that frustrates efforts to apply the approaches that worked so well in reading earlier portions of his cannon.
    His image ceased to be both/and; it became instead either/or.
    [De Profundis’] significance emerges from its role as a heuristic document: a piece of evidence offering hermeneutic information regarding the broad realignment of Wilde’s artistic standards after his prison experiences. (155-72)

    Ultimately, what do I see in De Profundis? I see a great soul bound and in pain, perfectly sincere and trying to come to terms with an astounding peripeteia--that is, a staggering reversal of life circumstances. Returning to my earlier analogy with Beethoven, I see two men of genius--two great artists--isolated in cells of silence, working through their nearly unutterable sorrows. Each comes to know acceptance: acceptance of life’s suffering as well as its delights; acceptance of altered fortunes; acceptance of themselves; acceptance of their fellow human beings; acceptance in toto of the human experience and life in this world. “It is the direct, simple and final acceptance of an obvious fact” (Sullivan 43). “Muss es sein?--Must it be?” Beethoven asked of himself and Fate, “Must it be?” “Es muss sein!--It must be!” came the thundering answer (qtd. in Sullivan 169). “[Wilde] had always said that, in the life of Napoleon, St Helena was ‘the greatest theme of all,’ and to St Helena he had come” (Ellmann 581). Acceptance of the entire human experience was the Saint Helena to which Wilde ultimately arrived.

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