Oscar Wilde’s ‘cultivated blindness’: reassessing the textual and intellectual history of ‘The Decay Of Lying’

Joseph Bristow, Rebecca Mitchell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Drawing on the revelations of the newly recovered fair copy manuscript of ‘The Decay of Lying’, this article reconsiders the rich intellectual context that gave rise to Oscar Wilde’s seminal essay in dialogue. Detailing some of the most important revisions evident in the fair copy demonstrates the degree to which Wilde deliberately refined both his ideas and the form of his essay. The article explores Wilde’s undergraduate philosophy studies as documented in his notebooks; in light of their origins, the seemingly paradoxical versions of philosophy of mind and natural history that appear in ‘The Decay of Lying’ are shown to be deeply engaged in contemporary debates. Challenging prevailing views that the dialogue simply reproduced weakened versions of Pater’s or Baudelaire’s aesthetic philosophies, this article identifies previously overlooked textual antecedents and suggests instead that Wilde synthesized a striking range of sources in order to develop a nuanced conception of ‘cultivated blindness’ that opposed literary realism. A textual edition of the manuscript accompanies the article.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)94–156
Number of pages63
JournalThe Review of English Studies
Issue number288
Early online date24 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2018


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