The Decay of Lying

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"The Decay Of Lying – An Observation" is an essay by Oscar Wilde included in his collection of essays titled Intentions, published in 1891. This is a significantly revised version of the article that first appeared in the January 1889 issue of The Nineteenth Century.

Wilde presents the essay in a Socratic dialogue, with the characters of Vivian and Cyril having a conversation throughout. The conversation, although playful and whimsical, promotes Wilde's view of Romanticism over Realism.[1] Vivian tells Cyril of an article he has been writing called "The Decay Of Lying: A Protest". In the article Vivian defends Aestheticism and "Art for Art's sake". As summarized by Vivian, it contains four doctrines:

  • Art never expresses anything but itself
  • All bad art comes from returning to Life and Nature, and elevating them into ideals
  • Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life
  • Lying, the telling of beautiful untrue things, is the proper aim of Art

The essay ends with the two characters going outside, as Cyril asked Vivian to do at the beginning of the essay. Vivian finally complies, saying that twilight nature's "chief use" may be to "illustrate quotations from the poets."

See also[edit]


  • Wilde, Oscar. The Decay of Lying in Intentions (1891)
  • Ellmann, Richard, ed., The Artist As Critic (Random House, 1969)
  • Ellmann, Richard. Oscar Wilde (Random House, 1987)
  1. ^ Eshbaugh, Kathryn. "Summary and Application of an Argument in "The Decay of Lying"". English 171, Sages, Satirists, and New Journalists. Brown University 2006. Retrieved 10 March 2014. 

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