“Life is far too important a thing to talk seriously about it.”;
“A man who allows himself to be convinced by an argument is a thoroughly unreasonable person”; and many others.
In 1895 Wilde was at the peak of his career and had three hit plays running at the same time. At the same year he found himself under the trial. As a result Wilde became involved in a hopeless legal dispute and was sentenced to two years in prison at hard labour. After his release in 1897, Wilde published “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”, a poem of considerable but unequal power. This poem gave the impression that he was again going to produce works worthy of his talents. But it was his swan song…
For the last three years he had lived abroad. Ruined in health, finances and creative energy, but with his characteristic wit, he died in France in 1990. But the voices of Wilde’s brilliant plays continue to be heard until well on in the present century. Indeed, they are still occasionally heard today. It was not the exaggeration that these plays were called the wittiest comedies of the nineteenth century. And it is true that they will have their great fame for many generations.
1. Some notes on style and stylistics.
The word “style” is derived from the Latin word “stylus” which meant a short stick sharp at one end and flat at the other used by the Romans for writing on wax tablets. Now the word “style” has a very broad meaning. We speak of style in architecture, painting, clothes, behaviour, literature, speech, etc. The style of any period is the result of a variety of complex and shifting pressures and influences. The way we think and speak modifies the way we write, or the way other write, influences our thought and speech. There is the constant interaction between life and literature. Books reflect the shape of our experience, but our experience of life is also shaped by the books we read. In every age the major writers help to shape the thinking and feeling, and hence the style, of their contemporaries.
Raymond Chapman, the author of “A Short Way to Better English”, says that “A good style of writing has three qualities, which may be described as accuracy, ease and grace.”7 There are always three influences that will exert their pressure on a writer’s style. One is his own personality, his own way of thinking and feeling that determines his mode of expression. The second is the occasion on which he is writing, the particular purpose that directs his pen at the moment of writing, so that the same man may employ different styles on different occasions. The third is the influence of the age in which he lives. In other words, a writer’s style is his individual and creative choice of the resources of the language. The limitations upon the choice are superimposed by the writer’s period, his genre and his purpose. Since style is something ingrained in writing, it follows that a man’s way of writing will be an expression of his personality and his way of looking at life. This explains the famous and much-quoted definition of style given by Buffon, a French writer and naturalist of the eighteenth century. He wrote: “Le style, c’est l’homme meme.” (“Style, it is the man himself.”)8
Stylistics, sometimes called linguo-stylistics, is a branch of general linguistics. It has now more or less definitely outlined. It deals mainly with two interdependent tasks:
the investigation of the inventory of special language media which by their ontological features secure the desirable effect of the utterance;
certain types of texts (discourse) which due to the choice and arrangement of language means are distinguished by the pragmatic aspect of the communication.
The two objectives of stylistics are clearly discernible as two separate fields of investigation. The inventory of special language media can be analysed and their ontological features revealed if presented in a system in which the co-relation between the media becomes evident.
The types of texts can be analysed if their linguistic components are presented in their interaction, thus, revealing the unbreakable unity and transparency of constructions of a given type. The types of texts that are distinguished by the pragmatic aspect of the communication are called functional styles of language (FS). The special media of language which secure the desirable effect of the utterance are called stylistic devices (SD) and expressive means (EM).*
The first field of investigation, i.e. SDs and EMs, necessarily touches upon such general language problems as the aesthetic function of language, synonymous ways of rendering one and the same idea, emotional colouring in language, the interrelation between language and thought, the individual manner of an author in making use of language and a number of other issues.
The second field, i.e. functional styles, cannot avoid discussion of such most general linguistic issues as oral and written varieties of language, the notion of literary language, the constituents of texts larger than the sentence, the generative aspect of literary texts and some others.
In dealing with the objectives of stylistics, certain pronouncements of adjacent disciplines such as theory of information, literature, logic and to some extent statistics must be touched upon. This is indispensable; for nowadays no science is entirely isolated from other domains of human knowledge. The linguistics, particularly its branch stylistics, cannot avoid references to the above mentioned disciplines because it is confronted with certain overlapping issues.
In linguistics there are different terms to denote particular means by which utterances are foregrounded, i.e. made more conspicuous, more effective and therefore imparting some additional information. They are called expressive means, stylistic devices, tropes, figures of speech and other names. All these terms are used indiscriminately and are set against those means which we shall conventionally call neutral. Most linguists distinguish ordinary semantic and stylistic differences in meaning. They distinguish three main levels of expressive means and stylistic devices: phonetic, lexical and syntactical.
Phonetic expressive means and stylistic devices. As it is clear from the title, the stylistic use of phonemes and their graphical representation is viewed here. The stylistic approach to the utterance is not confined to its structure and sense. There is another thing to be taken into account which plays an important role. This is the way a word, a phrase or a sentence sounds. The sound of most words taken separately will have little or no aesthetic value. It is in combination with other words that a word may acquire a desired phonetic effect. The way a separate word sounds may produce a certain euphonic impression, but this is a matter of individual perception and feeling and therefore subjective.
Lexical expressive means and stylistic devices. The main function of the word is to denote. Thus, the denotational meaning is the major semantic characteristic of the word. The words in context may acquire additional lexical meanings not fixed in dictionaries. What is known in linguistics as “transferred meaning” is particularly the interrelation between two types of lexical meaning: dictionary and contextual. When the deviation from the acknowledged meaning is carried to a degree that it causes an unexpected turn in the recognised logical meanings, we register a stylistic device.
Syntactical expressive means and stylistic devices. Stylistic study of the syntax begins with the study of the length and the structure of the sentence. Stylistic syntactical patterns may be viewed as variants of the general syntactical models of the language and are the more obvious and conspicuous if presented not as isolated elements or accidental usage, but as group easily observable and lending themselves to generalisation.
This brief outline of the most characteristic features of the language styles and their variants will show that out of the number of features which are easily discernible in each of the styles, some should be considered primary and others secondary; some obligatory, others optional; some constant, others transitory.
I think that the most important and interesting is lexical level.
It includes more bright and vivid units of the language.
2. Lexical expressive means and stylistic devices.
Each art has its own medium, i.e. its own material substance. Colours are the material substance of painting, sounds-the material substance of music. It is the language that is the material substance of literature. But language consists of colours and sounds due to the existence of expressive means and stylistic devices.
Language is capable of transmitting practically any kind of information. It has names for all things, phenomena and relations of objective reality. It is so close to life that an illusion of their almost complete identity is created, for man lives, works and thinks in the medium of language. His behaviour finds an important means of expression primarily in language. In the present chapter we shall try to analyse some lexical expressive means and stylistic devices used by Oscar Wilde in his plays.