Pavilioned on nothing : nihilism and its counterforces in the works of Oscar Wilde
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This thesis explores the role of Nihilism in Oscar Wilde's thought and writing, beginning with the depiction of Russian Political Nihilism in Wilde's first play; Vera, or the Nihilists and tracing the engagement with philosophical Nihilism in his fiction, drama and essays, up to and including De Profundis. It is argued that Russian Political Nihilism derives from the same sources and expresses the same concerns as the philosophical Nihilism discussed by Nietzsche in The Will to Power, and that Nietzsche and Wilde, working independently, came to a strikingly similar understanding of Nihilism. Philosophical Nihilism is defined in two ways; as the complete absence of values (Absolute Nihilism) and as a sense that, while absolute values may exist, they are unattainable, unknowable or inexpressible (Relative Nihilism). Wilde uses his writing to express Nihilism while simultaneously seeking aesthetic and ethical counterforces to it, eventually coming to see Art and the life of the Artist as the ultimate forms of resistance to Nihilism. Wilde's philosophical views are examined in the context of his time, and in the light of his exceptionally wide reading. He is compared and contrasted with Nietzsche, the philosopher who has done most to shape our view of what Nihilism means, in his ethical and aesthetic response to Nihilism. The conclusion also considers the reception of Wilde's expression of Nihilism and his employment of Art as the only superior counterforce in the first half of the twentieth century, with particular reference to the works of Gide and Proust. Their engagement with Nihilism is explored both in historical context and as a way of addressing a problem which has become uniquely pervasive and pressing in the modern era.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations. Electronic copy restricted until 26th April 2023