Chamblee54

What Is A Cynic?

Posted in History, Library of Congress, Quotes, Undogegorized by chamblee54 on December 13, 2019


“A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.” ― Oscar Wilde. This quote is one of Oscar’s greatest hits. If you think about it for a minute, it is not totally accurate. You are not supposed to think. Quoting Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde is about sounding clever, not making sense. Did he really create that definition of a cynic?

Oscar Wilde is a quote magnet. This is more than something you put on your refrigerator. When people hear something clever, odds are good that Oscar will get the blame. As Dorothy Parker wrote: “If, with the literate, I am, Impelled to try an epigram, I never seek to take the credit; We all assume that Oscar said it. [Life Magazine, June 2, 1927]”

Wikiquote says this line is from Act III of Lady Windermere’s Fan. It was spoken by Lord Darlington. Did the play write intend for the line to be taken seriously, or was he making the character look foolish by saying it? With Oscar Wilde, it could be both of these things at the same time.

Principle Four, of the four principles of quotations, reads “Only quote from works that you have read.” In the case of Lady Windemere’s Fan, this would mean a youtube video of the play. There is a posh BBC production available. You don’t have to watch the cell phone recording of high school players.

Lady Windemere’s Fan is a production where upper class Brits say clever things in glorious costumes. Nobody ever goes to the bathroom, or looks less than perfect. Lady Windemere’s six month old child is neither seen, nor heard. Lady Windemere finds out her husband, Lord Windemere, is having an affair with a Mrs. Erlynne. The Lord proceeds to invite the floozy to Lady Windemere’s birthday party.

After the party, the men go to their club, then to Lord Darlington’s room. There are five men in the conversation, beginning with Lord Windemere. Lord Darlington has just told Lady Windemere that he loves her, and wants her to run off with him. Lady Windemere said no. Lord Augustus is a suitor of Mrs. Erlynne, and is begging her to marry him. Cecil Graham, and Mr. Dumby, wear their splendid costumes with conviction.

The scene starts with the men saying clever things, most of them insulting to someone. Lord Augustus, or Tuppy, is the butt of many jokes. Before long, we get this exchange:
Dumby. I don’t think we are bad. I think we are all good, except Tuppy.
Lord Darlington. No, we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.
Dumby. We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars? Upon my word, you are very romantic to-night, Darlington.
Cecil Graham. Too romantic! You must be in love. Who is the girl?
Lord Darlington. The woman I love is not free, or thinks she isn’t. [Glances instinctively at Lord Windermere while he speaks.]

A few minutes later, we hear another famous Oscarism.
Lord Darlington. What cynics you fellows are!
Cecil Graham. What is a cynic? [Sitting on the back of the sofa.]
Lord Darlington. A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Cecil Graham. And a sentimentalist, my dear Darlington, is a man who sees an absurd value in everything, and doesn’t know the market price of any single thing.

Pictures today are from The Library of Congress.

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