Oscar Wilde and Freedom of Expression

oscar-wilde-be-yourself-quote-posterOn this day in 1895, Oscar Wilde was arrested after losing a libel case against the Marquess of Queensberry. Considering the current state of affairs in regards to censorship and the suppression of  civil liberties that is currently being played out on the Australian stage I thought it was fitting to acknowledge a man most consider to be one of the greatest literary figures of his generation. The Importance of Being Earnest, one of the great works of modern literature, demonstrates why its author is seen as both an inaugurator and master of modernism.

In his best work, the subversive insights embedded in his wit continue to challenge common assumptions of this era and still resonate today. His ability to unsettle and startle us with his radical vision of the artifice inherent in the self’s construction make him and his works stand out even now. His life was difficult and his refusal to censor his work or personal life led to periods of imprisonment that left a mark on him as a person but did not sway him from his belief in the freedom of thought and expression, both in literature and life.

free speechToday when we look back at this great writer we should remember that there is a price for our freedoms and rights and if it must be paid then we should do so with pride. Buckling under unfair laws and policies that seek to constrain personal freedoms, especially that of freedom of speech, may seem prudent to some but it is a slippery slope that leads nowhere good.

We need to fight now, protest now, and preserve a way of life that previous generations fought and died for so that the next generation will still live in a country that allows freedom of thought and speech. I think it is fitting to end this post with a quote from Oscar Wilde that I find quite relevant to our current situation.

“Most people become bankrupt through having invested too heavily in the prose of life. To have ruined oneself over poetry is an honour.”
–Oscar Wilde


20 thoughts on “Oscar Wilde and Freedom of Expression

  1. Thank you for reminding us all about how precarious some of our taken-for-granted rights are. On a more superficial note, have you ever stayed at the Sylvia Beach Hotel on the Oregon coast? It is a hotel devoted to the literary arts. Every room is decorated to fit an author. Anais Nin’s room is my personal favorite. They have a large library with overstuffed chairs where one can read from their huge selection of books, sip a glass of wine or cup of coffee by the fireplace and stare out at the sea. Well worth visiting…


    • It sounds wonderful but I’m afraid I haven’t had the chance to visit there. I’m from Australia and while I have travelled a great deal I’ve yet to go to the US but the hotel sounds as though it is something I would truly enjoy.


  2. Freedom of speech is definitely critical to a free societty. That being said, won’t the constitution protect the rights of the gov’t employees who like to publicly bad mouth their employer? I can empathize with the gov’t because as a business man I wouldn’t tolerate an emplolee who took my money and then publicly said I was an idiot or other demeaning words. Most businesses don’t and said employees soon find them selves looking for other employment – a sort of helping hand encouraging them to seek a happier place in their life. Think of it as tough love.

    But, the right of any citizen to freedom of speech, should trump the fact that they are gov’t employees. I would think that any legislation prohibiting that would be unconstitutional, wouldn’t it?


    • In Australia Freedom of Speech is implied not set in stone as in the US which has led to some periods where governments have been able to muzzle protest.

      That being said what the public service unlike the private sector does not have a ‘boss’ per say. They carry out the policies of the departments as set out by the government in power but do not answer to them in the way an employee would in normal business practices.

      I don’t believe that the government has the right to police their personal opinions in their private life, I do think it feasible to ask that work resources and time not be used for such practices but outside of working hours it is inappropriate to police their interaction and opinions.

      It is even more inappropriate that THIS government ask this of the as our Prime Minister has made numerous speeches in the past saying that people have the right to defy those in power through protest and social media campaigns – of course this was when he was in opposition and was leading the charge against the previous government.

      Now he is in power it seems he feels that he should not be subject to the same standards he himself set in the past. But hypocrisy is nothing new in politics and he is quite talented at deflecting questions in the area of do as I say not do as I do.


  3. “The Picture of Dorian Gray” is one of my favorite books of all time. I read it once around age 13, too young, and then again a few years later after learning that Wilde was homosexual. The difference in perspective was stunning, and I appreciated the mixture of subtlety and provocation in the writing all the more.


    • I know The ‘Importance of Being Earnest’ is supposed to be his ‘great’ work and I love it but I have to admit ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ is without doubt my favourite. His writing completely draws you and the way he can so clearly write about the flaws in the characters of the players and yet still endear them to the reader is wonderful.


  4. Thanks for the follow, and for the Oscar Wilde tribute. My favourite quote of his is; ‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars’. Says it all about the human race really.
    Best wishes from England, Pete.


    • I would have to agree, he was a complex person I think who demanded to be accepted [not a approved of] not by toeing the line but for who he was regardless of any kind of approval.


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