Unlike his mentor Pater, Wilde never wrote an essay on ‘Style’, but this chapter argues that Wilde’s career as essayist, playwright, poet, and intellectual provocateur hinges on his advocacy of style as both instrument and end in itself. A self-conscious stylist in all things, Wilde’s work creates a dizzying hall of mirrors which undermines mirror theories of art and language. By putting the critical notion of style at the centre of his dialectical prose, this study argues that Wilde transforms contemporary debates about both aestheticism and philosophy, as when he asserts in his dialogue ‘The Decay of Lying’ that ‘Truth is entirely and absolutely a matter of style’. On his principle that ‘our one duty to history is to re-write it’, Wilde’s unmelancholy essays playfully rewrite aesthetic, philosophical, and cultural history by reviewing them through the lens of his own style, making him the representative critic of his age.
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