According to professor Galperin I.R., irony is a stylistic device based on the simultaneous realisation of two logical meanings- dictionary and contextual, but the two meanings stand in opposition to each other.12
According to Professor Kukharenko V.A., irony is a stylistic device in which the contextual evaluative meaning of a word is directly opposite to its dictionary meaning.13 So, like many other stylistic devices, irony does not exist outside the context. Irony must not be confused with humour, although they have very much in common. Humour always causes laughter. What is funny must come as a sudden clash of the positive and the negative. In this respect irony can be likened to humour. But the function of irony is not confined to producing a humorous effect. In a sentence like that: “How clever you are, Mr.Hopper” (p.43), where due to the intonation pattern, the word “clever” conveys a sense opposite to its literal signification. The irony does not cause a ludicrous effect. It rather expresses a feeling of irritation and displeasure. Here are some examples of irony:
e.g. “Oh, I love London Society! I think it has immensely
improved. It is entirely composed now of beautiful
idiots and brilliant lunatics. Just what Society
should be.” (p.175)
“And in England a man who can’t talk morality
twice a week to a large, popular, immoral
audience is quite over as a serious politician.”
“All women become like their mothers. That is
their tragedy. No man does. That is his.” (p.300)
These examples show that irony is a mode of speech in which the opposite of what is said is meant. The speaker of the first example, Mabel Chiltern does not really think that it is good for London Society to consist of “beautiful idiots and brilliant lunatics”. Wilde’s method of ironical usage is mostly direct: he speaks of the decomposition of people, their ideals and values. The effect of irony lies in the striking disparity between what is said and what is meant. This is achieved through the intentional interplay of two meanings, which are in opposition to each other.
e.g. “No woman should have a memory. Memory in a
woman is a beginning of dowdiness”. (p.144)
“My father told me to go to bed an hour ago. I
don’t see why I shouldn’t give you the same
advice. I always pass on good advice. It is the
only thing to do with it. It is never of any use to
“I knew we should come to an amicable
The context is one most important things when we use irony. The word “advice” is suggested for acceptance if it is good and for rejection if it is not good, but not for passing on it. In fact, Lord Goring, the speaker of this phrase, is a serious person, who knows that a good advice may be very useful. As for the last example, here the word “amicable” is contrary to the word “blackmail” with the help of which this agreement was achieved by Mrs. Chevely. Mrs. Chevely is an “immoralist” of English Society.
e.g. “People are either hunting for husbands or hiding
from them” (p.181)
“Oh, I like tedious, practical subjects. What I don’t
like are tedious, practical people.” (p.189)
The remarks of this “Lady” characterise her brilliantly. We can clearly see a scheming woman, an adventurer, who stops at nothing in gaining her filthy aims. She does not show her real face, she always disguises it. But her cynical remarks betray her. Another example of irony used by O.Wilde:
e.g. “Lord Goring: I adore political parties. They are
the only place left to us where people do not talk
The members of political parties must talk politics, it is their duty. They must be very serious and honest people and they must work for people’s well being, but instead of it they do not do anything for people. During their political parties they pronounce some absurd, cynical words and discuss rumours and gossips.
e.g. “Oh, we all want friends at times” (p.25)
Lord Darlington, saying this phrase, hides his love for Lady Windermere behind the word “friend”, but she does not accept his version of “friendship” in such kind and does not want to be with him. Oscar Wilde considers the word “friend” to have different meaning: people always need friends, not only for temporary period of time. The meaning of this word conveys a constant quality.
The specific, cynical quality of Wilde’s irony is manifested in his manner of writing. This device allows Wilde to reveal incongruity of the world around him and to show the viciousness of the upper - class society.
Pun is the next stylistic device used by Oscar Wilde in his plays.
According to Professor Sosnovskaya V.B., pun (paronomasia, a play on words) is a figure of speech emerging as an effect created by words similar or identical in their sound form and contrastive or incompatible in meaning.13
According to Prof. Galperin I.R., the pun is a stylistic device based on the interaction of two well-known meanings of a word or phrase. It is difficult to draw a hard and fast distinction between zeugma and the pun. The reliable distinguishing feature is a structural one: zeugma is the realisation of two meanings with the help of the verb which is made to refer to different subjects or objects. The pun is more independent. There need not necessarily be a word in the sentence to which the pun-word refers. This does not mean. However, that the pun is entirely free. Like any other stylistic device, it must depend on a context. But the context may be of a more expanded character, sometimes even as large as a whole work of emotive prose.14
Thus, the title of one of Oscar Wilde’s plays, “The Importance of Being Earnest”, has a pun in it. But in order to understand this pun we must read the whole play, because the name of the hero and the adjective meaning “seriously-minded” are both existing in our mind.
Pun is based on the effect of deceived expectation, because unpredictability in it is expressed either in the appearance of the elements of the text unusual for the reader or in the unexpected reaction of the addressee of the dialogue.
However playful is the effect of pun, however intricate and sudden is the merging of senses in one sound complex, in a truly talented work this unit of poetic speech shares equally with others in the expression of the author’s message. It is a vehicle of the author’s thought not a mere decoration. Pun is one of the most favoured devices of Oscar Wilde. In his comedies there are about twenty examples of pun. In this Chapter we will try to analyse some of them. For Wilde pun is one of the most effective means used for creating wit, brilliancy and colourfulness of his dialogues for criticism of bourgeois morality. At the same time the puns serve for showing the author’s ideas and thoughts.
e.g. “Lord Goring: My dear farther, only people who
look dull ever get into the House of Commons,
and only people who are dull ever succeed
“Lord Darlington: Ah, nowadays we are all of us
so hard up, that the only pleasant things to pay
are compliments. They are the only things we
These examples show that the play on words has a great influence on the reader. The speech of the hero becomes more vivid and interesting. The sound form of the word played upon may be either a polysemantic word:
e.g. “Lady Caroline: I believe this is the first English
country-house you have stayed at, Mrs.Worsley?
Have you any country? What we should call
country? Hester: We have the largest country in
or partial (complete) homonyms, as in the following example:
e.g. “Algernon: You look as if your name was Ernest.
You are the most earnest-looking person I ever
saw in my life”. (p.286)
In this example there are two meanings of the word played upon in the pun: the first – the name of the hero and the second – the adjective meaning seriously-minded.
In case of homonym the two meanings of one word are quite independent and both direct. These two meanings of the pun are realised simultaneously and in the remark of one and the same person. Such examples are comparatively rare in Wilde’s plays. Most of Wilde’s puns are based on polysemy. Such puns are realised in succession, that is at first the word appears before a reader in one meaning and then -–in the other. This realisation is more vivid in dialogues, because in such cases the pun acquires more humorous effect as a result of misunderstanding. In many cases the addressee of the dialogue is the main source of interference. His way of thinking and peculiarities of perception can explain this. Rarely the speaker himself is the source of interference (for example, if he has a speech defect). Almost all Oscar Wilde’s puns based on polycemy are realised in dialogues, in fact the remark of the addressee.
e.g. “Lady H.: she lets her clever tongue run away with her.
Lady C.: is that the only Mrs. Allonby allows to run
away with her?” (p.99)
In this example the pun is realised in the remark of the second person. The first meaning of the expression “to run away with” – is “not to be aware of what you are speaking”, and the second meaning is “to make off taking something with you”. The first meaning is figurative and the second is direct. In some cases the pun is realised in the remark of one and the same person, as in the following examples:
e.g. “Mrs. Allonby: the one advantage of playing with fire is
that one never gets even singed.
It is the people who do not know how to play with it
who get burned up”.(p.100)
Here the first meaning of the expression “to play with fire” – “to singe” is direct, and the second “to spoil one’s reputation” is figurative.
e.g. “Jack: as far as I can make out, the poachers are the
only people who make anything out of it.” (p.297)
The first meaning of the expression: “to make out” – “to understand” is figurative, and the second – “to make benefit from something” is direct.
But there are such examples, when pun is realised in the remark of the third person and in this case it is he (she) who is the main source of interference:
e.g. “Lady C.: Victoria Stratton? I remember her perfectly. A
silly, fair-haired woman with no chin.
Mrs. Allonby: Ah, Ernest has a chin. He has a very
strong chin, a square chin. Ernest’s chin is far too square.
Lady S.: But do you really think a man’s chin can be
too square? I think a man should look very strong and
that his should be quite square.” (p.115)
As a rule, when two meanings of the word are played upon, one of them is direct, the other is figurative, which can be illustrated by some of the above mentioned examples. So, we can see, that irony and pun also play the very important role in Wilde’s plays. The effect of these stylistic devices is based on the author’s attitude to the English bourgeois society. Thus irony and pun help Wilde to show that majority of his heroes are the typical representatives of the bourgeois society: thoughtless, frivolous, greedy, envious, mercenary people. They call themselves “Ladies and gentlemen”, but with the help of these stylistic devices Wilde shows that intelligence is their mask. Credit must be given to Wilde for being brilliant in his witticism. A play upon contrasts and contradictions lies at the basis of author’s sarcastic method in portraying his characters. The dynamic quality of Wilde’s plays is increased by the frequent ironical sentences and puns. These stylistic devices convey the vivid sense of reality in the picture of the 19-th century English upper-class society.
Wilde’s realism with its wonderful epigrams and paradoxes, brilliant irony and amusing puns initiates the beginning of a new era in the development of the English play.
Epithet is another stylistic device used by Oscar Wilde.
According to Prof. Galperin I.R., Epithet is a stylistic device based on the interplay of emotive and logical meaning in an attributive word, phrase or even sentence, used to characterise an object and pointing out to the reader and frequently imposing on him.15
According to Prof. Sosnovskaya V.B., Epithet is an attributive characterisation of a person, thing or phenomenon. It is, as a rule, simple in form. In the majority of cases it consists of one word: adjective or adverb, modifying respectively nouns or verbs.16
e.g. “I tell you that had it ever occurred to me, that such a
monstrous suspicion would have entered your mind, I
would have died rather than have crossed your life.”
Epithet on the whole shows purely individual emotional attitude of the speaker towards the object spoken of, it describes the object as it appears to the speaker. Epithet expresses a characteristic of an object, both existing and imaginary. Its basic features are its emotiveness and subjectivity: the characteristic attached to the object to qualify it is always chosen by the speaker himself.
e.g. “Mabel Chiltern is a perfect example of the English type
of prettiness, the apple-blossom type”. (p.175)
“It means a very brilliant future in store for you”.(p.97)
“What an appalling philosophy that sounds!” (p.179)
“But I tell you that the only bitter words that ever came
from those sweet lips of hers were on your account,
and I hate to see you next her”. (p.80)
According to these examples, we can say that Epithet is a word or word combination which in its attributive use discloses the individual emotionally coloured attitude of the writer to the object he describes. It is a form of subjective evaluation. It is a description brief and compact which singles out the things described.
e.g. “Lips that have lost the note of joy, eyes that are
blinded by tears, chill hands and icy heart”. (p. 60)
“If we have enough of them, they will forgive us
everything, even our gigantic intellects”. (p. 142)
“And now tell me, what makes you leave you brilliant
Vienna for our gloomy London”. (p.180)
Epithet has remained over the centuries the most widely used stylistic device, which is understandable- it offers the ample opportunities of qualifying every object from the author’s partial and subjective viewpoint, which is indispensable in creative prose, Here we can see masterly touches in rich and vivid epithets. Wilde’s language is plain and understandable, it is wonderful and interesting. Wilde resorts to the use of colourful epithets, which sometimes help him to show the difference between pretence and reality. As we know Wilde was the leader of the “aesthetic movement”. He was brilliant in literature and tried to be brilliant in life. He used abundance of epithets in his speech. In fact, everybody uses epithets in his speech; without them our speech is dry, awfully plain and not interesting.
Wilde’s epithets give a brilliant colour and wonderful witticism to his plays. With the help of epithets Wilde’s heroes are more interesting, their speech is more emotive; they involve the reader in their reality, in their life.
e.g. ”I am not in a mood to-night for silver twilights, or rose-pink dawns.”(p.190)
“Those straw-coloured women have dreadful tempers.”
“Cecily, ever since I first looked upon your wonderful and
incomparable beauty, I have dared to love you wildly,
passionately, devotedly, hopelessly.”(p.319)
As we can see, epithets make the speech more colourful,
vivid and interesting. Wilde uses a great amount of epithets
in his plays. His epithets are based on different sources, such
as nature, art, history, literature, mythology, everyday life, man,
And all of them are wonderful. They reflect Wilde’s opinions
and viewpoints about different things. They give emphasis and
rhythm to the text. That is why Wilde may be also called a
master of colourful and vivid epithets.
One of the most frequently used, well-known and elaborated among the stylistic devices is metaphor. The metaphoric use of the word begins to affect the dictionary meaning, adding to it fresh connotations of meaning or shades of meaning.
According to Prof. Sosnovskaya V.B., metaphor, a most widely used trop, is based upon analogy, upon a traceable similarity. But in the metaphor, contrary to the simile, there is no formal element to indicate comparison. The difference, though, is not merely structural. The absence of a formal indication of comparison in the metaphor makes the analogy it is based on more subtle to perceive.17
According to Prof. Kukharenko V.A., metaphor is based on the transference of names. This transference is based on the associated likeness between two objects.18
According to Prof. Galperin I.R., metaphor means transference of some quality from one object to another. A metaphor becomes a stylistic device when two different phenomena (things, events, ideas, actions) are simultaneously brought to mind by the imposition of some or all of the inherent properties of one object on the other which by nature is deprived of these properties.19
Such an imposition generally results when the creator of the metaphor finds in the two corresponding objects certain features, which to his eye have something in common.
I completely agree with these definitions. I also think that metaphors reveal the attitude of the writer to the object, action or concept and express his views. They may also reflect the literary school which he belongs and the epoch in which he lives.
As an illustration of Wilde’s skill in using every nuance of the language to serve some special stylistic purpose, we must mention his use of metaphors.
e.g. “We live in an age of ideals.”(p.293)
“She has all the fragrance and freedom of a
“The God of this century is wealth.”(p.206)
“But to suffer for one’s own faults,-ah!-there is the
sting of life.”(p.36).
Oscar Wilde was a man of art; and even these wonderful metaphors prove it. As we can see, his metaphors give a certain charm and musical perception through the plain language combinations.
A metaphor can exist only within a context. A separate word isolated from the context has its general meaning. Metaphor plays an important role in the development of language. Words acquire new meanings by transference.
e.g. “Lord Illingworth: That silly Puritan girl making a scene merely
because I wanted to kiss her. What harm is there in a kiss?
Mrs.Arbuthnot: A kiss may ruin a human life. I know that too
The metaphorical effect of this sentence is based on the personal feelings of Mrs.Arbuthnot. Her sad experience of life sounds in this phrase. When she was young, she had a great love. But her passion had left her and “her life was ruined.” That is why this metaphor has a true effective power when it is pronounced by Mrs.Arbuthnot.
e.g. “I am a ship without a rudder in a night without a star.”(p.242)
The speaker of this phrase Sir Robert Chiltern gets lost, he does not know what to do in such situation. He says that he is a “ship without a rudder”, i.e. he does not know where he must go and what to do for better future.
Oscar Wilde is always concerned with society. His fine metaphors play an important role in portraying his heroes, their feelings and thoughts.
e.g. “I had a wild hope that I might disarm destiny.”(p.209)
“I keep science for life.”(p.281)
“Ideals are dangerous things. Realities are better. They wound, but they are better.”(p.85)
“The fire cannot purify her. The waters cannot quench her anguish.”(p.150)
“Gwendolen is devoted to bread and butter.”(p.283)
Thus, we can see the unlimited power of the artist in showing his imagination. The emotional colouring is made by an ample use of bright metaphors. Metaphor takes one of the most honourable places in Wilde’s art. The main purpose of the author is to affect the reader emotionally through the images. The charm of O.Wilde’s plays is due to the mixture of poetic metaphors and real images. The author does not convince the reader to make the resulting points, but he makes him indirectly judge the heroes and clear the situation.
Metaphors, like all stylistic devices, can be classified according to their degree of unexpectedness. Thus, metaphors which are absolutely unexpected, that is are quite unpredictable, are called genuine metaphors. Here we can see some of them:
e.g. “She is a work of art”.(p.175)
“She has all the fragrance and freedom of a
flower. There is ripple after ripple of sunlight in
her hair. She has the fascinating tyranny of
youth, and the astonishing courage of
“Divorces are made in Heaven”. (p. 283)
In genuine metaphors the image is always present and the transference of meaning is actually felt. These metaphors have a radiating force. The whole sentence becomes metaphoric. The metaphors, which are commonly used in speech and therefore are sometimes even fixed in dictionaries as expressive means of language, are trite metaphors.
e.g. “My farther really died of a broken heart”. (p.85)
“Love is easily killed! Oh! How easily love is killed”.
“The moment is entirely in your own hands”. (p.344)
Wilde’s metaphors develop the reader’s imagination. At the same time the author reflects his own point of view.
e.g. “Youth is the Lord of Life”. (p.135)
In these four plays Wilde preaches that youth is the so called “gift of nature”. It is very interesting to note, that almost all his main heroes are young people. And youth is their leading star in life. Oscar Wilde resorts to the use of his metaphors for more expressiveness and beauty of language. Their meanings are playing and understandable for any reader, of any age and any interests. They are the birds of Wilde’s thoughts, sometimes sensitive and sometimes bitter, sometimes joyful and sometimes sad, but they are always wonderful. They have an excellent quality to reflect different objects, actions and, of course, people in a new meaning. They produce a dynamic character of the plot and show that Wilde is a man of genius.
Simile is the next stylistic device used by Wilde in his plays. Simile is a likeness of one thing to another.
According to Prof. Sosnovskaya V.B., Simile is the most rudimentary form of trope. It can be defined as a device based upon an analogy between two things, which are discovered to possess some features in common otherwise being entirely dissimilar.19
According to Prof. Galperin I.R. the intensification of someone feature of the concept in question is realised in a device called Simile. Ordinary comparison and Simile must not be confused. They represent two diverse processes. Comparison means weighing two objects belonging to one class of things with the purpose of establishing the degree of their sameness or difference. To use a simile is to characterise one object by bringing it into contact with another object belonging to an entirely different class of things. Comparison takes into consideration all the properties of the two objects, stressing the one that is compared. Simile includes all the properties of the two objects except one which is made common to them.20
e.g. “All women become like their mothers.” (p.300)
is ordinary comparison. The words “women” and “mothers” belong to the same class of objects – human beings – so this is not a Simile but ordinary comparison.
But in the sentence:
“But she is really like a Tanagra statuette, and would be rather annoyed if she were told so”. (p.175),
we have a simile. “She” and “statuette” belong to heterogeneous classes of objects and Wilde has found that the beauty of Mabel Chiltern may be compared with the beauty of the ancient Tanagra statuette. Of the two concepts brought together in the Simile – one characterised (Mabel Chiltern), and the other characterising (Statuette) – the feature intensified will be more inherent in the latter than in the former. Moreover, the object characterised, is seen in quite a new and unexpected light, because the author as it were, imposes this feature on it. Thus, Simile is an imaginative comparison of two unlike objects belonging to two different classes.
Similes forcibly set one object against another regardless of the fact that they may be completely alien to each other. And without our being aware of it the Simile gives rise to a new understanding of the object characterising as well as of the object characterised.
The properties of an object may be viewed from different angles, for example, its state, actions, manners, etc. Accordingly, Similes may be based on adjective-attributes, adverbs-modifiers, verb-predicates, etc.
e.g. “Dear Agatha and I are so much interested in
Australia. Agatha has found it on the map. What a
curious shape it is! Just like a large packing case.”
“She looks rather like an orchid and makes great
demands on one’s curiosity.” (p.176)
“Twenty years of romance make a woman look like a
ruin; but twenty years of marriage make her something
like a public building.” (p.108)
Similes have formal elements in their structure:
A pair of objects (for example: woman + ruin; woman + orchid; Australia + a large packing case).
Connective words such as: like, as, such as, as if, as though, seem, etc.
Here are some more examples of similes taken from Wilde’s plays.
e.g. “She looks like an “edition de luxe” of a wicked French novel,
meant specially for the English market.”(p.48)
The structure of this simile is interesting for it is sustained. This simile goes through the whole sentence. The author finds a certain resemblance of Mrs. Erlynne and an “edition de luxe” of a wicked French novel. He shows that this woman is as bright and attractive as a coloured journal.
e.g. “It is as if a hand of ice were laid upon one’s heart. It is as if
one’s heart were beating itself to death in some empty
This simile is the perfect work of imagination. This is an example of a simile, which is half a metaphor. Let us analyse it. If not for the structural word “as if”, we could call it a metaphor. Indeed, if we drop the word “as if” and say: “a hand of ice is laid upon one’s heart…”, this sentence becomes a metaphor. But the word “as if” keeps apart the notions of metaphor and makes this sentence a real simile. As for the second sentence of this example, the situation is the same: if we drop the word “as if”, the sentence becomes a metaphor. In other words, this example is the action that is described by means of simile.
The semantic nature of the simile-forming elements “seem” and “as if” is such that they only remotely suggest resemblance. Quite different are the connectives “like” and “as”. They are more categorical and establish quite straightforwardly the analogy between the two objects in question.
e.g. “Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom
is gone.”(p. 296)
In this example of a simile the object characterised is seen in a quite new and unexpected meaning. This simile is also may be considered as a half metaphor. The author confers to ignorance a new sense and the qualities of an exotic fruit. That is why this simile has a metaphoric character. And all the above-mentioned formal elements make the simile of easily recognisable unit of poetic speech.
e.g. “ You are like a pink rose, cousin Cecily.”(p.311)
This is the real simile. This simile is used for purposes of expressive evaluation, emotive explanation, and highly individual description. In a simile two objects are compared on the ground of similarity of some quality. So “a pink rose” of this case allows to simultaneously foreground such features as “fresh, beautiful, fragrant, attractive”, etc.
So, we can see that simile is another interesting stylistic device used by Oscar Wilde in his plays. It shows the individual viewpoint of the author on different objects, actions, and phenomena. Everybody uses the similes in his everyday speech. But the literary similes gain especially wonderful character. They make our speech more expressive and our world more interesting.
Frankly speaking, every person sometimes uses hyperbole and exaggeration in his speech for more expressiveness.
According to Professor Galperin I.R., another stylistic device which also has the function of intensifying one certain property of the object described is hyperbole. It can be defined as a deliberate overstatement or exaggeration of a feature essential to the object or phenomenon. In its extreme form this exaggeration is carried to an illogical degree. 20
According to Professor Kukharenko V.A., hyperbole is a stylistic device in which emphasis is achieved through deliberate exaggeration. The feelings and emotions of the speaker are so ruffled that he resorts in his speech to intensifying the quantitative or the qualitative aspects of the mentioned object.21
According to Prof. Sosnovskaya V.B., hyperbole (overstatement) as the word itself suggests is an expression of an idea in an exceedingly exaggerate language. The supra-average cases of overstatement are characteristic of an obviously emotional, if not altogether impassioned, manner of representation.22
V.V.Vinogradov, developing Gorki’s statement that “Geniune art enjoys the right to exaggerate”, state that hyperbole is the law of art which brings the existing phenomena of life, diffused as they are, to the point of maximum clarity and conciseness.23
So, hyperbole is aimed at exaggerating quantity or quality. It is a deliberate exaggeration. In hyperbole there is transference of meaning as there is discrepancy with objective reality. The words are no used in their direct sense.
e.g. “I wish I had known it was your birthday, Lady
Windermere, I would have covered the whole street in
front of your house with flowers for you to walk”. (p.
“I have never loved anyone in the world but you”.
In order to depict the degree of the love of his character Wilde resorts to the use of these hyperboles. I think that the most important function of hyperbole is the emotional expressiveness.
e.g. “I have met hundreds of good women”. (p.71)
“You have seen me with it a hundred times”. (p.303)
In these hyperboles Wilde uses the exaggeration of the quantitative aspect. They make their way not on the direct meaning, but on the great emotional influence. But literary hyperbole is not the simple speech figure. It is one of the most important means of building up the plot of the text, the imagery and expressiveness. It is the transmission of the author’s thought.
e.g. “I never can believe a word you say!.” (p.49)
“He talks the whole time”. (p.115)
“Well, you have been eating them all the time”. (p.284)
In the literary sense hyperbole is the important means of expressive speech. Sometimes they are not perceived in their direct meaning, but they at once create the pathetic and comic effect, as in the above-mentioned examples. In general, literature has a constant necessity in the artistic exaggeration of reflection of the world.
e.g. “I would do anything in the world to ensure
Gwendolen’s happiness”. (p.284)
“But now that I see you, I feel that nothing in the
whole world would induce me to live under the same
roof as Lord Windermere”. (p.61)
Hyperbole may be also called the means of artistic characterisation. Hyperbole is a device which sharpens the reader’s ability to make a logical assessment of the utterance. In order to create his hyperboles Wilde uses such words as “hundreds”, “thousands”, “all the time”, “nothing in the world”, etc. Wilde’s hyperboles bring the brightness, expressiveness and the emotional colour of the language. Hyperbole is like a magnifying glass; it helps to observe in details the phenomena of life, in its realities and contradictions.
In these four plays we can also observe some metonymies.
According to Prof. Galperin I.R., metonymy is based on a different type of relation between the dictionary and contextual meanings, a relation based not on identification, but on some kind of association connecting the two concepts which these meanings represent.24
According to Prof. Sosnovskaya V.B., units of poetic speech called metonymy are also based upon analogy. But in them there is an objectively existing relationship between the object named and the object implied.25
According to Prof. Kukharenko V.A., metonymy also becomes instrumental in enriching the vocabulary of the language and it is based on contiguity (nearness) of objects or phenomena.26
So, according to these three definitions, we can say that metonymy is a transference of meaning based on a logical or physical connection between things. In metonymy a thing is described by its action, its function or by some significant features. It is one of the means of forming the new meanings of words in the language.
e.g. “…a thing more tragic than all the tears the world has
ever shed”. (p. 65)
“She was stern to me, but she taught me what the
world is forgetting, the difference that there is between
what is right and what is wrong”. (p. 26)
“Do you think seriously that women who have
committed what the world calls a fault should never be
In these three examples we can see the same metonymy, that is used by the same word “world”. Here the author means the people who love in the world. Here we also can see that container is used instead of the thing contained: “world” instead of “people”. We can observe the same situation on the following example:
e.g. “The whole London knows it”. (p.32)
The author means people living in London, but not the city as itself. Through the combination of metonymical details and particulars Wilde creates the effect of powerful upper-class society. The scope of transference in metonymy is much more limited than that of metaphor, which is quite understandable: the scope of human imagination identifying two objects on the grounds of commonness of one of their innumerable characteristics is boundless while actual relation between objects are more limited. This is why metonymy, on the whole, is a less frequently observed stylistic device than metaphor.
Oscar Wilde does not pay much attention to metonymy. But his metonymies have a great potential power. They reach the emotional reliability, which creates the effect of reader’s presence in the literary world. Metonymical details and particulars sometimes serve the so called “evidences” of the actions and feelings of the heroes.
As a brief conclusion we can say that Oscar Wilde resorts to the use of a great number of stylistic devices in his plays.
For Wilde language is the most important way for expression of his thoughts and feelings. According to the examples mentioned above, we can see that Wilde’s language is very expressive and vivid, and at the same time it is plain and understandable to any reader.
Syntactical expressive means and stylistic devices.
The expressive means of a language exist as a certain system of literary devices within the literary form of the common language. The system of expressive means of language differs from that of another, not in the existence of some device but in the role which this device plays, and the place which it occupies in this system.
The syntactical level plays an important role in the system of language expressive means. Generally speaking, the examination of syntax provides a deeper insight into the stylistic aspect of the utterance.
Stylistics takes as the object of its analysis the expressive means and stylistic devices of the language which are based on some significant structural point in an utterance, whether it consists of one sentence or a string of sentences.
The problem of syntactical stylistic devices appears to be closely linked not only with what makes an utterance more emphatic but also with the more general problem of predication. As is known, the English affirmative sentence is regarded as neutral if it maintains the regular word order, that is subject – predicate – object (or other secondary members of the sentence, as they are called). Any other order of the parts of the sentence may also carry the necessary information, but impact on the reader will be different. Even a slight change in the word order of a sentence or in the order of the sentences in a more complicated syntactical unit will inevitably cause a definite modification of the meaning in the whole. An almost imperceptible rhythmical design introduced into a prose sentence or a sudden break in the sequence of the parts of the sentence, or any other change will add something to the volume of information contained in the original sentence.
Unlike the syntactical expressive means of the language, which are naturally used in discourse in a straight-forward natural manner, syntactical stylistic devices are perceived as elaborate designees aimed at having a definite impact on the reader. It will be borne in mind that any stylistic device is meant to be understood as a device and is calculated to produce a desired stylistic effect.
The first syntactical expressive means used by Oscar Wilde is inversion.
According to Prof. Kurkharenko V.A., inversion is very often used as an independent stylistic device in which the direct word order is changed either completely so that the predicate (predicative) precedes the subject, or partially, so that the object precedes the subject – predicate pair.27
According to Prof. Galperin I.R. the stylistic inversion aims at attaching logical stress or additional emotional colouring to the surface meaning of the utterance. Therefore, a specific intonation pattern is the inevitable satellite of inversion.28
Although Oscar Wilde doesn’t pay much attention to such expressive means as inversion, he also resorts to its usage in his plays. Here are some examples of inversion from Wilde:
e.g. “Told me she that entirely disapproved of people
marrying more than once.” (p. 53)
“Except amongst the middle classes I have been told”.
“But so am I.” (p.261)
“Let go us into the house”. (p.331)
These sentences comprise the simple and common models of inversion. It is very important to know that inversion as a stylistic device is always sense-motivated; and it depends on the context. These inversions are used by the author for more expressiveness and for showing the feelings of his characters in a certain situation.
The next syntactical expressive means is a repetition. As the word “repetition” itself suggests, this unit of poetic speech is based upon a repeated occurrence of one and the same word or word group.
According to Prof. Galperin I.R., repetition as a syntactical stylistic device is recurrence of the same word, word combination or a phase for two and more times.29
So, repetition is an expressive means when a certain word or a phrase is repeated for several times. It is an expressive means of language used when the speaker is under the stress of strong emotion. It shows the state of mind of the speaker as in the following example from Wilde:
e.g. “I love you – love you as I have never loved any living
thing. From the moment I met you I loved you, loved
you blindly, adoringly, madly!” (p.51)
Here we can observe the inner state of the hero, his emotions, his great feeling of love.
e.g. “My boy! My boy! My boy!” (p. 168)
In these words repeated for several time we can guess the great emotional background. Wilde has a graphic eye and the use of repetition which as it may seem is one of the weak expressive means helps us to be closer to the hero, to understand his feelings. Depending on the position of a repeated unit occupied in the sentence there are four types of repetition: anaphora, epiphora, framing and anadiplosis. The first function of repetition is to intensify the utterance.
Here are some more examples of repetition:
e.g. “Oh, Arthur, do not love me less, and I will trust you more. I will
trust you absolutely.”(p.88)
“Do not hold me, mother. Do not hold me- I’ll kill him!”(p.151)
“Choose! Oh, my love, choose!”(p.51)
In the first example we have anadiplosis. The structure of this device is the following: the last phrase of one part of an utterance is repeated at the beginning of the next part, thus hooking the two parts together. The writer doubles this phrase for better concentration of the reader. If the repeated phrase come at the beginning of two or more consecutive sentences, we have anaphora, as in the second example. As for the third example, here we have framing (or as it is often called “ring repetition”). It is the repetition of the same unit at the beginning and at the end of the same sentence.
As you must have seen from the brief description, repetition is a powerful means of emphasis. Besides, repetition adds rhythm and balance to the utterance.
Wilde often uses parallel constructions, a perfect means of creating the clean-cut syntax of his plays. By Prof. Galperin I.R.: “Parallel construction is a device which may be encountered not so much in the sentence as in the macro-structures dealt with earlier, viz. the syntactical whole and the paragraph. The necessary condition in parallel construction is identical, or similar, syntactical structure in two or more sentences or parts of a sentence”.30
As you must have seen from the brief description, repetition is a powerful means of emphasis. Besides, repetition adds rhythm and balance to the utterance.
Parallel constructions deal with logical, rhythmic, emotive and expressive aspects of the utterance. They create rhythmical shape of the sentence, make it more emotional.
e.g. “Nobody is incapable of doing a foolish a foolish
thing. Nobody is incapable of doing a wrong
“How hard good women are! How weak bad men are!”
“Oh! Wicked women bother one. Good women bore
These examples prove that Oscar Wilde wishes to give a musical value to every phrase. The parallel constructions produce a certain rhythm, wonderful sound and expressiveness.
Enumeration is the next syntactical stylistic device used by O.Wilde in his plays.
According to Prof. Galperin I.R., enumeration is a stylistic device by which separate things, objects, properties or actions are named one by one so that they produce a chain, the links of which, being syntactically in the same position (homogeneous parts of speech), are forced to display some kind of semantic homogeneity, remote though it may seem.31
e.g. “Bad women as they are turned, may have in them
sorrow, repentance, pity, sacrifice.” (p. 67)
“She has got a capital appetite, goes long walks, and
pays no attention at all to her lessons.” (p. 301)
“I have also in my possession, you will be pleased to
hear certificates of Ms. Cardew’s birth, baptism,
whooping cough, registration, vaccination,
confirmation, and the measles”. (p.340)
Analysing these sentences we can see the musical chain of enumeration. It gives more objective value of the character’s speech. It gives the variety of thoughts and feelings.
One of the most typical phenomenon of Wilde’s plays is ellipsis. But this typical feature of the spoken language assumes a new quality when used in the written language. By Prof. Sosnovskaya V.B., ellipsis is an intentional omission from an utterance of one or more words.32
Ellipsis makes the utterance grammatically incomplete. The meaning of omitted words is easy to understand. The context helps to understand the meaning of such words and the whole situation.
e.g. “Been dining with my people”. (p.45)
“Quite sure of.” (p.149)
Chasuble: Your brother Ernest dead?
Jack: Quite dead.” (p.312)
Ellipsis gives the picture of real life, real people, their feelings and emotions, the simplicity of their speech. It adds a certain charm to the conversation. It is right to suppose that the omission of the words in these sentences is due to the requirements of the rhythm.
Syntactical expressive means and stylistic devices add also logical, emotive, expressive information to the utterance.
There are also certain structures, whose emphasis depends not only on the arrangement of sentence members but also on their construction with definite demands on the lexico-semantic aspect of the sentence. They are known as lexico-syntactical stylistic devices.
Chiasmus is a good example of them.
According to Prof. Galperin I.R., chiasmus is based on the repetition of a syntactical pattern but it has a cross order of words and phrases.33
e.g. “All the married men live like bachelors, and all the
bachelors like married men.” (p.114)
The effect of a cross order of words in this example produces an ironic character. Like parallel construction, chiasmus contributes to the rhythmical quality of the utterance.
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)
In this example the effect is increased because the members of chiasmus are antonyms “young, old, comedy, tragedy”. Usually chiasmus is a syntactical stylistic device, not a lexical one, but in this example the witty arrangement of the words gives the utterance an epigrammatic character. This can be considered as lexical chiasmus. Examples show the brilliancy of Wilde’s style.
One more stylistic device used by Wilde is antithesis.
According to Prof. Galperin I.R antithesis is based on relative opposition which arises out of the context through the expansion of objectively contrasting pairs.34
Syntactically antithesis is just another case of parallel constructions. But unlike parallelism, which is indifferent to the semantics of its components, the two parts of an antithesis must be semantically opposite to each other, as in these examples from O.Wilde:
e.g. “Don’t use big words. They mean so little.” (p.252)
“Curious thing, plain women are always jealous of
their husbands, beautiful women never are!” (p.108)
Here we can see the semantic contrast, which is formed with the help of objectively contrasting pairs “big – little”, “plain – beautiful”, “always – never”.
e.g. “She certainly had a wonderful faculty of remembering
people’s names, and forgetting their faces.” (p. 98)
In this example we can see antonyms: “remembering” and “forgetting”, which create the contrasting pair and make the antithesis more expressive. But in his antithesis Wilde also uses some contextual antonyms.
e.g. “Men become old, but they never become good”.
“Men can be analysed, women merely adored.”
“…if one plays good music, people don’t listen, if one plays bad music, people don’t talk”. (p.199)
It is important to note, that Wild’s antithesis is always accompanied by parallelisms, thus showing the difference of phenomena compared.
e.g. “Cecil Graham: What is a cynic?
Lord Darlington: A man who knows the price of
everything and the value of nothing”. (p.72)
Thus we can make a conclusion that syntactical expressive means and stylistic devices play an important role in Wilde’s style. Wilde is a talented writer who can make us feel the way he wants us to feel. This co-existence is built up so subtly, that the reader remains unaware of the process. It is still stronger when the aesthetic function begin to manifest itself clearly and unequivocally through a gradual increase in intensity, in the foregrounding of certain features, repetitions, of certain syntactical patterns and in the broken rhythm of the author’s mode of narrating events, facts and situations.
One can find different syntactical expressive means and stylistic devices in Wilde’s plays such as parallel constructions, repetition, chiasmus, antithesis and many others. These expressive means help the author to create his clear-cut and elegant style, to give rhythm to his language. They give a musical value to every phrase.
Wilde’s writing is skilful, playing, and understandable to everybody. It has a great charm and brilliancy of the author’s personality.
Thus, in the English language not only lexical expressive means and stylistic devices but also syntactical expressive means and stylistic devices are used. Considering these stylistic devices and expressive means and their characteristic features we should say that out of the number of features which are clear in the styles, some should be considered primary, others-secondary. They are not equal in their significance, some of them bear reference to the main importance, others are widely used in everyday speech.
Having analysed the four plays of Oscar Wilde: “Lady Windermere’s Fan”, ”A Woman of No Importance”, “An Ideal Husband”, “The Importance of Being Earnest”, I came to a conclusion that it is not an easy task to single them out.
Some of them make the speech of the characters vivid, interesting, humorous, ironical, emotional, understandable ; they reflect their thoughts and feelings.
The following tables give us an idea of the frequency of the usage of all expressive means and stylistic devices tackled in this diploma paper.
Table ¹ 1
EMs and SDs
The volume of the book (pp)