If Wilde’s play takes aim at the society that persuades itself that it is virtuous and right-thinking while in reality being cold, harsh, and self-serving, it also celebrates the human ingenuity that allows people to make of themselves what they will and to enter imaginatively into another frame of reference or reality, a world in which wit and artifice are paramount. These, after all, are the qualities of which an audience is most aware, having been alternately amused, provoked, and delighted, when it leaves the theater at the end of the evening.
Throughout his entire life, Wilde remained deeply committed to the principles of aestheticism, principles that he expounded through his lectures and demonstrated through his works as well as anyone of his era. "All art is at once surface and symbol," Wilde wrote in the preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray . "Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril. Those who read the symbol do so at their peril. It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors. Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex and vital."
Moving into Chelsea he found activity that matched all that he had known. Jullian describes how he found the Modernists divided into the older Pre-Raphaelites of Ruskin and the more amusing followers of Whistler , the latter of which attracted him far more at the time. () In 1882 Wilde, again short of funds, embarked on a lecture tour of the United States. At each stop, he preached the "Cult of the Artificial" which rejected the social conception of the natural for the reasons discussed in the Introduction. Fully playing the role of the Aesthete, he dressed the dandy to a tee. [He did not, however, reply to a Customs officer when asked what he had to declare: "I have nothing to declare except my genius." — that, alas, is apocryphal.] He appears to have valued the stories that he gained from his journey more than the experience itself, and his last statement to an American reporter, "They say that when good Americans die they go to Paris. I would add that when bad Americans die, they stay in America," seems to sum up his feelings. He spent the next couple of years in Britain and France, championing 'Art Nouveau' -essentially the Aesthetic, art for art's sake movement-before violating all of his bachelor's principles in an attempt to "settle down" and marry the attractive, love-struck, Constance Lloyd.