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Though Oscar Wilde has usually been regarded as an Aesthete or Decadent whose devotion to art for art's sake was immutable, in fact he never adhered rigidly to such a doctrine. From the beginning of his career, he wrote poems as a conventional Victorian, expressing moral, political and religious attitudes expected in serious art. His concern with the cultural crises of the time found expression in much of his early verse written during and after his Oxford years (1874-8) - that is, before he turned his attention to the nature of art in advancing the Aesthetic Movement. But even while rejecting the Victorian notion of art as moral edification, Wilde could not sustain his aestheticism, for he was driven by the conviction, drawn from such disparate figures as Baudelaire, Ruskin, Pater and Whistler, that life and art were ultimately shaped by one's moral and spiritual nature. Inevitably, the tension between his avowed aestheticism and his Victorian sensibility resulted in contradictions throughout his work, as summed up in the title of Norbert Kohl's study: Oscar Wilde: The Works of a Conformist Rebel (1989). Indeed, Wilde expressed his own position in his essay 'The Truth of Masks' in Intentions (1891): 'A Truth in art is that whose contradictory is also true' (CW 1173).
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