Donahue sees Wilde's true creativity in his "efforts to mix the styles and subjects of other writers," an endeavor which "takes typically circuitous and recondite paths." There is something unsatisfying, though, in claiming 'originality through creative imitation,' and Praz dutifully notes that, "as generally happens with specious second-hand works, it was precisely Wilde's which became popular." Instead of seeking a defense of Wilde's originality in the external events of his drama, then, I would like to suggest that it is the cautious modification of Symbolist ideals -- Wilde's affirmation and at the same time questioning of his own poetical mission -- which makes his so unique.
Wilde and the Symbolist Movement in Literature
By 1892, when was published in France and England, the tenets of the Symbolist movement had been outlined by several different theorists, among them Mallarmé and Maeterlinck.
For the symbolist it is the truth that counts; for the dandy, the appearance." Wilde's play moves, then, beyond traditional Symbolism, becoming almost "metasymbolist" in its ability to offer access not only to a transcendent reality, but to the reality of other art forms and other authors; this access arises, at least in part, from the combination of the ancient Salome legend with a modern wit and a prophetic vision.
The unique achievement of Wilde's drama lies, then, I believe, in his weaving together an implicit critique of Symbolism while at the same time using his drama to expose the vital strengths and necessity of many Symbolist ideals.