EPIGRAM and PARADOX.
The majority critics of the nineteenth century agree that Wilde is the most paradoxical writer of his time.
According to professor Sosnovskaya V.B., paradox based on contrast, being a statement contradictory to what is accepted as a self-evident or proverbial truth.9
The appeal of paradox lies in the fact that, however contradictory it may seem to be to the accepted maxim, it contains nevertheless, a certain grain of truth, which makes it an excellent vehicle of satire. Indeed, it is a device much favoured by many English and American satirists. Paradox can be considered a figure of speech with certain reservations, since the aesthetic principle, that underlies it, i.e. contrast has divers linguistic manifestations.
According to professor Galperin I.R., epigram is a stylistic device akin to a proverb, the only difference being that epigrams are coined by individuals whose names we know, while proverbs are the coinage of the people. In other words, we are always aware of the parentage of an epigram and therefore, when using one, we usually make a reference to its author.10
Epigrams and paradoxes as stylistic devices are used for creating generalised images. Usually it is the Present Indefinite Tense. This form of the verb makes paradoxes and epigrams abstract.
e.g. “Men marry because they are tired,
women because they are curious.
Both are disappointed.” (p.138).11
“Nothing spoils a romance so much as
a sense of humour in the woman”. (p.108).
“Ideals are dangerous things,
realities are better. They wound,
but they are better.” (p.85).
“Women are pictures,
Men are problems.” (p.138).
In Wilde’s paradoxes and epigrams the verb “to be” is widely used. This verb intensifies the genetic function and makes aphorisms and paradoxes humorous. It makes also the ironical definition of phenomena of life.
e.g. “Curious thing, plain women are always jealous
of their husbands,
beautiful women never are.”(p.108).
“The men are all dowdies and the women
are all dandies.” (p.186).
“A man who moralises is usually a hypocrite,
and a woman who moralises is invariably
Another means which helps to create the generalisation is the choice of words. Wilde often resorts to the use of some abstract notions, concrete notions are rare.
e.g. “Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit ;
touch it and the bloom is gone.” (p.296).
“Duty is what one expects from others,
it is not what one does himself.” (p.131).
“Life is terrible. It rules us,
we do not rule it.” (p.75).
“Experience is a question of instinct
All kinds of works – intensifiers, such as “Never, always, often” are used by Oscar Wilde for creating the abstractness and generalisation.
e.g. “Questions are never indiscreet.
Answers sometimes are.” (p. 180)
“Beautiful women never have time. They are
always so occupied in being jealous of other
people’s husbands.” (p.108)
“All men are married women’s property” (p.114)
“The clever people never listen and the stupid
people never talk.”(p.109)
For creating the abstractness Wilde also uses such words as “men, women, people, we, one”, etc.
e.g. “One should never trust a woman who tells one
her real age” (p.110).
“We men know life too early. And we women
know life too late. That is the difference between
men and women” (p.165).
“People are either hunting for husbands, or hiding
from them” (p.181).
One of the most characteristic and essential features of epigrams and paradoxes is their shortness and conciseness. They are achieved by the syntactical pattern of an epigram or paradox. The syntax of these stylistic devices is laconic and clear – cut.
e.g. “Men become old, but they never become good”
“Do not use bid words. They mean so little”
In these examples we can see the parallel constructions widely used by Oscar Wilde. They serve a perfect means of creating the clear-cut syntax of epigrams and paradoxes.
Another peculiarity of Wilde’s epigrams and paradoxes is his use of such construction as “that is the difference…”
e.g. “Cecil Graham: Oh, wicked women bother one. Good
women bore one. That is the difference between them”
“Lord Illingworth: we men know life too early.
Mrs. Arbuthnot: And we women know life too late. That
is the difference between men and women” (p.165).
This phrase “That is the difference…” seems to sum up the whole epigram or paradox. With the help of this phrase Oscar Wilde tries to show how great the difference is between the two objects or phenomena compared. Some of Wilde’s paradoxes and epigrams are formed with the help of contextual antonyms and contrasting pairs:
e.g. “The body is born young and grows old. That is life’s
tragedy. The soul is born old but grows young. That is
the comedy of life” (p.111).
“Men become old, but they never become good” (p.33).
One of the most important functions of epigrams and paradoxes is that of speech characterisation. But Wilde’s epigrams and paradoxes have another important function also. It is the showing of bourgeois morality. With the help of his epigrams and paradoxes the author shows us his characters, their way of life, manners, their thoughts and the bourgeois society of his time.
In these four Wilde’s plays there is a group of people such as Lady Bracknell, Mrs.Cheveley, Lord Illingworth and others , whose behaviour and way of life give us a clear picture of the upper-class society. These very people with their paradoxes and epigrams open their thoughts and feelings.
e.g. “A man who allows himself to be convinced by an argument is a
thoroughly unreasonable person”(p.185).
“The world was made for men and not for women”(p.100).
We can see the corruptibility of the ruling classes, their mean, shallow spirited interests, and their intrigues against each other. At first sight they seem to be real gentlemen and ladies. But in fact they are spoiled people who try to achieve their aims, however bad and selfish they sometimes may be, at all costs.
e.g. “Sir Robert Chiltern: Every man of ambition has to fight his
century with its own weapons. What this century worships is
wealth. The God of this century is wealth.”(206).
It is evident what weapons Sir R.Chiltern means. It is money and the way it is earned by is unimportant. The way of earning money may be different: bribery, blackmail, forgery and other immoral actions. Once Sir Chiltern achieved his aims at the cost of his honour-he sold the secrete information. He had not any regret for what he had done. He said that he had fought the century with his own weapon and won. And when his misdemeanour was revealed, he tried to save himself.
Another “immoralist” of the English society is Mrs.Cheveley.
e.g. “Nowadays, with our modern mania for morality, every one has
to pose as a paragon of purity, incorruptibility, and all the other
seven deadly virtues”(p.192).
“People are either hunting for husbands or hiding from
She also had achieved her aims by the immoral actions: bribery and blackmail.
Most of Wilde’s characters are true representatives of their society. They are Lord Darlington, Lady Bracknell and especially Lord Illingworth, a person with cynical attitude towards everything in the world, who does not value the sincere human relations, to whom love, friendship ,faithfulness mean nothing. This can be clearly seen from some of his remarks.
e.g. “Women love us for our defects”(p.142).
“The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that
every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future”(p.140).
The most favoured subject for Wilde’s cynical comments is a woman and her position in the society of that time.
e.g. “Nothing spoils a romance so much as a sense of humour in the
“Women are pictures. Men are problems.
If you want to know a woman really means, which is absolutely a
dangerous thing to do-look at her, do not listen to her”(p.138).
“You women live by your emotions and for them”(p.137).
Thus, we can see that epigrams and paradoxes play one of the most important roles in Wilde’s plays. With the help of these stylistic devices Wilde reflects his own viewpoints on the society of his time, his opinions about life, love and friendship, men and women. His judgements are the sharp and biting remarks. They are used in the plainest and the most direct sense. Wilde does not conceal his inner feelings and thoughts about the decomposition of intellectual world and English society. These epigrams and paradoxes are short and laconic, and are not very complex that makes them easy for remembering. So, paradoxes and epigrams create the individuality of Oscar Wilde. Wilde is famous for his brilliant epigrams and the wittiest paradoxes.
IRONY and PUN
In irony, which is the very interesting item for consideration, subjectivity lies in the evaluation of the phenomenon named. The essence of this stylistic device consists in the foregrounding not of the logical but of the evaluative meaning. The context is arranged so that the qualifying word in irony reverses the direction of the evaluation, and the word positively charged is understood as a negative qualification and vice versa.