Elizabeth Vanderlip Cairns Advisor: Prof. Aliki Barnstone HonorsThesis: Imagining Oscar Wilde An Abstract In The Decay of Lying, a dialogical essay, Oscar Wilde discusses what Art’s aim should be: “the telling of beautiful untrue things,” (55-56). It is no surprise then, that the same man would write The Importance of Being Ernest—a play with a cast of characters who are anything but earnest. Often, as a man of many contradictions, Wilde’s own earnesty is questioned. But his contradictions are born of both skill and imagination. Wilde trusts the imagination as a way of knowing, believing that lies and fictions portray a more realistic and meaningful story than any attempts at reproducing the truth or reality. The Decay of Lying shows Wilde spelling out the details of this theory while The Importance of Being Ernest brings the theory to life. In 1889 Wilde wrote The Decay of Lying and only five years later, The Importance of Being Ernest—a play that brings to life, utilizes, and even at times contradicts the theories presented The Decay of Lying. Wilde is the king of contradiction. In The Decay of Lying his narrator declares, “Art never expresses anything but itself” (51), an idea very similar, if not the definition of, the Aesthetic movement (of which Wilde was a prominent follower). The movement suggests that, “Art [exists] for art’s own sake” (Miller 5). Despite his prominent role in the Aesthetic movement, Wilde’s plays and criticisms, while artful, are riddled with satire—a tool that illuminates social commentary and suggests a purpose beyond the realm of art. Wilde’s contradictions are fed by his imagination and his love of satirical humor. He expresses his frustrations by creating situations that are often exaggerated and unreal, and yet, still clearly point to social and political issues of the Victorian era. In order to express his dismay in the literature of the time, he exaggerates his point of view, paralleling the imagination with lying. In The Decay of Lying, Wilde complains that the artists and writers of his time have ignored their imaginations in order to regurgitate truth and reality. Annoyed with their perpetual tendency to rely upon Nature, truth, and reality for inspiration, he describes what art is and what art does. Art should not imitate Nature, but instead influence Nature. His work, so influenced by his imagination, does not completely ignore Nature or reality. Instead he uses them as raw materials that are processed into interesting, complex, beautiful and new forms; his work resulting of the imagination and not of mimicry. Oscar Wilde, an amazing playwright, critic, poet, novelist, and theorist, has contributed theories, plays, and novels that are still valid and important in modern times. While his plays portray characters of the Victorian era, their personalities and situations can still speak to modern audiences and his theories are still applicable to modern work. If the imagination was as important to modern artists as well as to modern society, perhaps the role of the artist, of the writer, of the critic would be more prominent and the world would know the Importance of Beauty.