"Into the Wilde Garden: Moral Landscapes and Reflection in A House of Pomegranates"

Rowan, Anastasia, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Arata, Stephen, Department of English, University of Virginia

Many have pointed out that Wilde’s fairy tales do not subscribe to a singular orthodox code. As Kate Pendlebury says in “The Building of ‘A House of Pomegranates,’” “the moral world of the tales is difficult to get a handle on, contradicts conventional Christian codes, and cannot be accommodated within any sort of simple dichotomy” (125). Christianity certainly is a powerful force here, though it is closer to Jarlath Killeen’s “Folk-Catholicism” than to the establishments of either the Catholic Church or the Church of England (142). Killeen defines Folk-Catholicism as “a fluid and osmotic religion which combined the orthodox and the heterodox and allowed belief in apparently contradictory things, fairies as well as angels, holy wells and baptismal water, healers and priests, the ballad book and the Bible, and saw these elements as complementary rather than contradictory” (142). Love and sacrifice, which are almost always better understood by the simpler characters than by the churchmen, take precedence over the other virtues. Greek ideals of art and behavior also occupy a significant place: Wilde borrowed some ideas from Greek philosophy, the most prominent being the concept of καλὸς κἀγαθός , which is operative in “The Star-Child” and “The Young King” especially. Ideas about socialism, folklore, skepticism of certain kinds of progress, and of course Aestheticism are all evident in the tales. Some of these systems of belief seem to be diametrically opposed, but they are woven together coherently through complex symbols and clever repositionings of accepted norms; if A House of Pomegranates was reducible to a singular set of beliefs, it would not be nearly as compelling. The non-human world is often the site of these collisions. Empowered by the fairy tale form, some of the plants and animals have the ability to speak, while others do not need voices to be expressive. Many of these collisions take place in gardens, which serve as lenses through which characters and situations can be analyzed. Often, along with a series of literal mirrors, they reflect the characters back to themselves and reveal their faults to them, though those characters are not always perceptive enough to read the clues. The natural settings of Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales in A House of Pomegranates reflect and inform the actions and dispositions of his protagonists.

MA (Master of Arts)
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