Wilde's Romantic Irony
The nineteenth-century dislike of realism is the rage of Caliban seeing
his own face in the glass.
The nineteenth-century dislike of romanticism is the rage of
Caliban not seeing his own face in the glass.
—Wilde, in his preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray
In writing about Hegel's dialects, Terry Eagleton describes Hegel's theory as an “infinity of endless self-reflection” in which
the aesthetic represents a break with sensuous immediacy …a lapse into
abyssal specularity …with no more resolute centering of the subject than
can be found in the “imaginary” of bodily immediacy. Hamlet and Cal
iban are thus inverted mirror-images of each other; one is always in the
aesthetic, either too much or too little oneself, ensnared in actuality or
adrift in possibility, lacking that dialectical tension between these realms
which is defined by the ethical paradox of becoming what one is.1
This formulation neatly illustrates the version of Hegel that appears to have been so attractive to Wilde.2 That is, Wilde saw the dialectical process as acting both on the individual and his age, with realism and