Sunday Ramblings: Wilde Thoughts
There was a heart wrenching scene in the BBC 6 part series, Oscar Wilde Himself, where the de-glorified author approached an old patron of his.
“My last meeting with Wilde was terrible, I was walking the streets of Paris when there lurched around the corner a tall shabby man. Madam Melba you don’t know who I am, he said, I am Oscar Wilde and I am going to do a terrible thing, I am going to ask you for money. I took all I had from my purse and he quickly took it. Muttered a word of thanks and he was gone,” said Dame Nellie Melba.
The end of Wilde’s life was not even half as glamorous as his earlier life. It was desolate. Empty. I started to wonder if it could have been different. If he had not met Bosie maybe? I had begun to paint a picture of Bosie as a self-absorbed, selfish young man, vain, immature, demanding, wanting, needing. Almost jealous of Wilde, and wanting deeply to be him, to possess him. That is an injustice to him though for I do not know much of him. (I must watch the movie, shame on me.)
I had always wanted to meet Wilde. I have an affinity for that man. He got me reading, him and Enid Blyton. So I invited him to tea (in my head of course), and he sat with grandeur on my couch conversing with me, sort of, over cucumber sandwiches while I, most of the time, sat star-struck in his presence, laughing at every damn thing he said, absorbing every word.
Me: Were you Dorian?
Wilde: Everyone asks me that. Boring. (Yawn). I expected more from you young lady. You who invited me to tea. Why don’t you tell me if you were Dorian. That is a horrendous teapot.
Me: This, sir is a thermos. Keeps our tea warm.
Wilde: Use a tea cosy. Is everything just plain and ugly nowadays?
Me: Sir, tea cosies are for nannas. No, I don’t think I am Dorian. I do not love myself that much to want to immortalise myself in a painting.
Wilde: Right, You are right, I have a lot of reason to want to immortalise myself in a painting.
Me: You had not met Bosie yet then, or have you? I always felt he was a little bit of a Dorian.
Wilde: Bosie? Everybody is a little bit of a Dorian.
Me: I think you are a little bit of a Basil and maybe, Bosie is your Dorian. But are you also a little bit of a Lord Henry. Bosie still Dorian.
(Wilde looks at me, his eyes sad, and dark.) I would never know enough about Bosie, or of him. I thought. I am too uncomfortable to probe. I just want to sit in his presence for a bit, drinking tea. And so I do.
Wilde: It would take more than Bosie to ruin me you know. I ruined myself. (As he wrote in De Profundis) Nobody great or small can be ruined except by his own hand. I am quite ready to say so. I am trying to say so, though they may not think it at the present moment. This pitiless indictment I bring without pity against myself. Terrible as was what the world did to me, what I did to myself was far more terrible still.
I thought about it. His world was cruel to him. The society he had so easily fitted into he found himself thrown out of, very quickly.
Did he bring it upon himself? I guess. I always thought he was that sort of man that had a deep sense of longing. He had this unquenchable dissatisfaction, if you like, an emptiness within him that he covered with a grand facade and then tried to fill with various experiences. He was always wanting. Then he got carried away.
“The gods had given me almost everything. But I let myself be lured into long spells of senseless and sensual ease. I amused myself with being a FLANEUR, a dandy, a man of fashion. I surrounded myself with the smaller natures and the meaner minds. I became the spendthrift of my own genius, and to waste an eternal youth gave me a curious joy. Tired of being on the heights, I deliberately went to the depths in the search for new sensation. What the paradox was to me in the sphere of thought, perversity became to me in the sphere of passion.
“Desire, at the end, was a malady, or a madness, or both. I grew careless of the lives of others. I took pleasure where it pleased me, and passed on. I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character, and that therefore what one has done in the secret chamber one has some day to cry aloud on the housetop. I ceased to be lord over myself. I was no longer the captain of my soul, and did not know it. I allowed pleasure to dominate me. I ended in horrible disgrace. There is only one thing for me now, absolute humility.”
Me: So it was not so much your acts, but your complete disregard of others. Hmm. But yes, the world was cruel then, and it still is now. You did get carried away. But we all do. I think we have it easier now. You would have gotten away with a lot more.
I wondered if that were a good thing. Have our values eroded? Are we less bothered now, less affected. Less involved. Maybe.
Wilde was contemplative: Woe to me. Born before my time maybe. I never regretted living for pleasure. But to have continued the same life would have been wrong because it would have been limiting. I had to pass on.
Me: So it had to come to an end. It ran its course?
Wilde nodded and bit on a soggy cucumber sandwich, and then sipped his tea. It was his life. And for him his life was art. Pleasure, and sorrow. A tragedy. A work of art.
At every single moment of one’s life one is what one is going to be no less than what one has been. Art is a symbol, because man is a symbol. It is, if I can fully attain to it, the ultimate realisation of the artistic life. For the artistic life is simply self-development.
I thought about how graciously he had accepted his lot. His fate. His life. He lived it.
We paused for a moment and I filled his cup again. I wanted him to linger so I introduced him to the world of YouTube and showed him a series of commencement speeches by Neil Gaiman, and David Foster Wallace. He was rather contemplative and curious about these speeches. I asked him what he would say if he had to give one.
Wilde: You tell me what I should say.
Me: Just collate all your quotes into one big speech. You probably have the largest quote collection on brainy quotes.
Wilde laughed. He had a big laugh and it filled my living room. He had a big personality. I always thought he was quite the jester. Smart. Witty. Sharp. Funny. Quite the entertaining dinner party guest everyone would have loved to have. Socialite. Dandy. Great public relation skills. That was how he kept up I think, with the high life. That was then anyway.
He lifted his eyebrows as I showed him the site.
Me: Okay let us start with this one.
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
He rolled his eyes.
Me: Alright, how about this one then?
“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”
He gave me a vacant stare, uninspired by his own quote.
Me: This one?
“The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
Wilde: Ahh The Importance of Being Ernest.
I nodded. Should I tell him how much I love it.
Me: I love that play.
Wilde: You speak of love young lady?
Me: I like that play a lot. I do. Watched the Wendy Hiller version a million times. Now I was just sucking up.
He gave me a blank look. Who? I showed him on YouTube. He was amused.
And then we moved on.
Me: Right, how about this one:
“You can never be overdressed or overeducated.”
Wilde: Inspiring. I shall always be remembered as the overdressed, overeducated, homosexual.
I looked at him. Aren’t you?
He laughed, and so I did too. Would not have dared to otherwise.
“Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.”
Wilde: I wrote when I did not know life.
He had said this before, after his time at gaol when he struggled with writing. That particular quote ended with him saying, “now that I know life I have no more to write.” It was sad to hear him say that again. Grating, a reminder of how little he had at the end, and then having nothing to write. Might have been the worst part. I paused.
Me: I think you did.
He was a keen social critic after all.
Me: How about this?
“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
Wilde: Yes. Start with that. Let us end with that one too.
Me: No, we have to end with this one:
“My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or other of us has to go.”
Wilde laughed and nodded, yes, if the wallpaper is really horrendous. Then he said, Your settee is. Either your settee goes, or I go.
And he vanished. Just like that.
Dear Oscar. I guess I could always ask him for tea again, another day.
p.s. Also do remember Ali’s book launch next Saturday (30th), we are excited indeed. And then it is Readings, every second Thursday of the month. We are also thinking up more exciting events for later this year. So tune in…