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To talk about Wilde's fiction, is to talk about everything, for Oscar Wilde was his own best work of art.
Born and educated in Ireland, Wilde came from a country which gives a privileged status to fiction. In the words of his predecessor, William Carleton, meditating on 'Paddy's' skill at the alibi: 'Fiction is the basis of society, the bond of commercial prosperity, the channel of communication between nation and nation, and not unfrequently the interpreter between a man and his own conscience.' It follows that, if fiction is the very stuff by which society is made, Wilde could only become a writer - and an Irishman - in England. Only there could he create himself through the fictions which formed 'the channel of communication between nation and nation', the stereotypes by which one understood the other.
A member of the leading class known as Anglo-Irish, Wilde created himself by living on both sides of the hyphen. If in Ireland, his family had been a queer kind of English people - at once upholders of the embattled British regime and, at the same time, more Irish than the Irish themselves - in England, Wilde became a queer kind of Irishman.
Arriving in Oxford from Dublin, Wilde beat the scholars at their own game, scooping a Double First. Although born of the 'gentry' in Ireland, Wilde assumed the status of an English aristocrat, leisured, extravagant, charming and mannered. If these virtues were exaggerated, it was only to give a double edge to the performance, parodying as well the stereotype of the Irish: lazy, improvident, charming and witty. As Matthew Arnold trenchantly observed, the Irish had, by their very nature, more in common with the English upper class than either of them held with the hardworking, thrifty and dour English middle class.
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