Oscar Wilde’s “The House Beautiful”

I’m liking Wilde’s essays more than I thought I would.  “The House Beautiful” was written for Wilde’s American tours at the beginning of his career.  Most of the essay is dedicated to specific instructions for interior  design, such as not having plain white dishes, but blue and white china, and don’t have wall-to-wall carpet.  However, there are little aesthetic insights thrown throughout, which are tempting to apply in analysis (risking the lesson of W.H.!) to his works of fiction.

His general aesthetic in decoration was somewhat surprising to me.  He says, “have nothing in your house which is not useful or beautiful,” and urges his listeners not only to get rid of dull paintings and pointless knickknacks, but to use your very best china on a daily basis: if it’s not there to be used, what’s it for?  There seems to be a contradiction here, because, aren’t the most useful things not always the most beautiful?…but he doesn’t seem to acknowledge this.  The whole lecture seems to harken back to an idealized classical age; he laments modern dress, and mentions his hatred of machine-made ornaments at least three times in the essay.   Wilde claims that what’s most useful and rustic is most beautiful, and what is most delicate is also useful.  However, I have to winge a bit inside when he mentions the perfect dress of the miners wearing flowing cloaks and high boots, because it is very much as though he’s seeing these people from afar, as if going down into a mine were not a dangerous and dirty thing, but a rustic and charming occupation.

Anyway, I will have to come back to all the mention of ornamentation in this essay when I revise my plagiarism as ornamentation paper for dissertation work.  I felt like a boob for leaving it out of my essay, when it was just sitting right here, but at least it doesn’t disprove anything I said, and overall, I think it actually supports it in his conceptual treatment of quality art.

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