Oscar Wilde (1854 -1900)
It is a peculiar thing being an Oscar Wilde lover and, as such, I’ve felt a strange sort of pressure in getting this post right (truth be told this is my 4th draft). I think other Wilde fans will appreciate my plight with this quick summary of my thoughts;
Oscar Wilde isn’t an author/playwright/poet/wit whose books/plays/poems/quotes I pick from my bookshelves in order to have a jolly good read. He is more than this. He is a friend, someone that I know, someone that has shared their turmoil (De Profundis) and joviality (The Importance of Being Earnest) with me and listened attentively to my own.
Usually, when a person loves something, like an author, they glean great joy in introducing new people to their work and delve into passionate discussions about it. This doesn’t happen with Oscar Wilde! I will introduce people to his work and hope that they enjoy it but only on the (in my mind only) proviso that they acknowledge their enjoyment is of a much shallower sort than mine. How could they possibly understand Oscar Wilde like I do – after all he belongs to me, not them. They can laugh at his one-liners, be moved by his poetry, even pity the unravelling of his life – but they can’t have him. After all they aren’t ‘real’ fans. Not like me!
With that out of the way lets see why Oscar Wilde matters to me.
I’ve read it countless times that he was born in the wrong century. It is assumed wisdom that he would have thrived in the 21st Century with our liberal values and more civilised outlook. I’m not sure this is accurate. You see, if he lived now then he wouldn’t have lived then, and it’s the effect that he had upon the Victorian world that has helped shape us into what we are today.
Oh how those Victorians didn’t know what they had!
How can one person write with such elegance and beauty as Wilde? In fact the writing is so brilliant that to quote Wilde is seen by all as not only erudite but as providing an unchallengeable truth. How often have we all ended a debate with Oscar Wilde says……
The inference being that if your opponent disagrees then clearly they are idiots because you can’t go against his genius.
I never saw a man who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
Which prisoners call the sky,
And at every differing cloud that went
With silver sails by.
This stanza illustrates the ease with which Wilde can project you to a place by a flick of his pen. Who amongst us could do justice to the melancholic view that a prisoner holds, and so romantically.
If you ever want to read a perfect love letter then look no further than the first couple of chapters of The Picture of Dorain Gray. Basil Hallward’s love for Dorian Gray is often over looked and very rarely surpassed in literature. The tragic echoes of Wilde’s own love for Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie) seem too obvious to discuss. Or try not to view the world differently after reading The Happy Prince – Wilde’s flamboyance contrasted in the moral deficit of material wealth here.
He is often seen as the epitome of hedonism and class yet he wrote ‘The Soul of Man Under Socialism’ where he wishes to ‘reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible.’ People believe that he is arrogant and self-assured yet he sees his own flaws and addictions in De Profundis and is humble enough to try and exorcise them. Complex and irresistible as he is.
Oscar Wilde matters to me because he is mine. He changed the world but more importantly he continues to change me.