Happy Birthday to Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Willis Wilde!
Mr. Wilde would have been 158 today and I’m sure would have still looked fabulous.
…Okay maybe not SO fabulous but a flower and some fur for sure!
I’ve already posted many of my favorite Wilde quotes so, I was at a loss of which to post today. Usually, I post his immortal guidance for writers: A poet can’t survive a misprint and one should never fear being over educated! Oscar relished in being talked about in society. Wherever he went his biting wit followed. His life ended in suffering, but his life is celebrated in glory.
In Honor of Oscar’s life and great understanding of the world around him, here are a few of my favorite words of Wilde wisdom:
One should absorb the colour of life, but one should never remember its details. Details are always vulgar.
The Picture of Dorian Gray
- We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.
- Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan, 1892, Act III
- Who, being loved, is poor?
Oscar Wilde, A Woman Of No Importance, 1893
- All sins, except a sin against itself, Love should forgive. All lives, save loveless lives, true Love should pardon.
Oscar Wilde An Ideal Husband
- Cheers to you Mr. Wilde! Thank you for inspiring me everyday!
“Hey man, I’m beat.” Joe leaned back in his chair stretching his arms behind him. He closed his laptop in defeat and began to pack up the books, papers, and pens around him. Joe and Auggie were the only students left in the basement of their college library.
“Really, bro? How far did you even get?” Auggie barely lifted his eyes from the computer screen. Auggie was a dick. His senior thesis was on Mark Leyner.
Joe only studied with him because Auggie’s dedicated work ethic was motivating on a primal level of competition.
“Not very far, I guess.” Joe shrugged on his leather backpack and pulled his cell phone from his pocket. It was dead.
“I don’t know how you do it. Victorian detective fiction puts anyone to sleep. It’s too trendy and completely irrelevant.” Auggie’s attention never left his work.
Joe wanted to say more. He wanted to defend the great Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his influence in modern fiction and detection. Joe’s swollen eyes and foggy mind stopped him.
“Yeah, well, see you in class.” Joe languidly waved knowing that Auggie wouldn’t see the gesture anyway. His shoulders ached and his brain pounded against his ears. Joe gave an awkward nod to the student worker behind the counter enraptured by her trashy erotica novel. Every week she had a new paperback with the same brand of a cunning cheesy title. This week it was Lingering Tingles.
Finally leaving the library behind, Joe wearily crossed the sleeping city street. The neon lights glowing “STRAND” refreshed Joe for a brief moment.
One drink, he directed himself.
The door was a heavy oak that took all of Joe’s strength to open. His gangly arms were even more lanky and awkward after weeks of sleepless nights and writing.
Joe shoved his bag between the bar stool and foot ledge. He sat on the heavy bar seat made of the same oak as the door.
“Sam, how’s it going tonight?” Joe always called The Strand’s late night bartender Sam. Joe had no idea what his real name was and calling him Sam didn’t seem to bother anyone.
“Slow. Bourbon again?” Sam’s voice was deep from years of smoking reds. Sam constantly had a burning cigarette in the ashtray at the corner of the bar.
“No, Gin and tonic with a twist.”
Sam chuckled and hesitated getting the bottle. “You know kid, you drink like…like an old guy.”
Joe just stared unable to respond. He never ordered drinks he liked. He ordered drinks he thought he should like. As Sam began mixing, Joe leaned both elbows on the metal bar top. He pinched the bridge of his nose to alleviate the pounding in his head. He cracked each knuckle methodically. He adjusted the collar on his jacket.
Sam placed the tall bubbled glass in front of Joe and went back to the corner of the bar to drag the end of his cigarette.
The first sip almost gagged Joe. The second was a bit better. The bitter sting woke him up.
As he replaced the cold drink, a sharp R.P. dialect jarred his hazy mental state. “Invigorating, is it?”
Joe looked at the man next to him inhaling the smoke from a large cigar. The stranger had piercing black eyes and hawk-like features.
Joe blinked, twice. “Holy shit!”
“Please calm yourself and do choose your words with more finesse. You’ll never be a writer if you don’t learn to expand your vocabulary.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes in impatience. “Yes, you’re shocked. Your pupils are dilated and your shallow breaths are exhibiting signs of panic. You’re asking yourself: How is this happening? Don’t fear, much. It’s not a brain contusion. You are, also, not drunk. You haven’t even ingested enough to put a child to sleep. However, your particular level of exhaust has granted you with hallucinations. A stroke of luck if you ask me.”
Joe released the air he was holding in his lungs and stuttered, “I’m Joe.”
“Unnecessary detail but a pleasure I’m sure. My dear Joe. The young writer, overwhelmed by school and under stimulated by life. You haven’t slept more than four hours a night for at least the past two weeks. You are living off a measly income or none at all judging by the poor diet of fast food and non-perishables you use to sustain your meesly existence.”
Sherlock leaned in and whispered the rest, “As a mate, you should really start increasing your dose of cologne to better mask the odor of stress and probable failure you’re emitting.”
“Should I even question how you know all of this? I’m so glad that even my hallucinations think I’m inferior. I couldn’t have imagined up Mrs. Hudson I suppose.” Joe whispered the second half to himself fearing further scrutiny.
“Imagination is cultivated and precious. Hallucination is a gamble.” Sherlock retorted with perfect candor. He took in a large puff of his cigar blowing out the smoke across the room.
Tapping the ash, Sherlock muttered, “American tobacco is so much heavier than English. Don’t you see?”
“Both are equally detrimental for your lungs.” Joe removed his jacket and rolled up the sleeves. He looked across the bar. Sam was deeply attentive to the sports highlights on the television mounted in the corner.
“I’m a figment. Your lungs are at risk.” Sherlock grabbed the bottle of beer in front of him and took a short swig.
Sherlock uncrossed his legs and got up from his stool. “You know what you really could use?” He paused, not for reaction but merely for drama. “Some seven-percent solution would do you good.”
Joe scoffed and thought how perfectly predictable Sherlock acted. “I’m fine, thanks.”
Sherlock’s mouth turned up into a smirk, “You’re going to turn down an opportunity to transcend with The Sherlock Holmes? I must be a bit rusty because I deduced you were a somewhat intelligent lad.”
Joe furrowed his brow and shrugged. Alice took solutions down the rabbit hole. Maybe, this was a hallucinatory norm. He slipped off his stool, “Fine. You’re just a figment anyway.”
Sherlock latched his grip to Joe’s sleeve and began dragging him to the back door. Joe left his book bag behind and flung out the door into the alley way.
Sherlock removed a kit from his lengthy formal jacket and pulled out a syringe and tourniquet. He ripped up Joe’s sleeve and fastened the belt tight.
Joe was too confused and exhausted to resist.
As the needle plunged into Joe’s pulsing vein, Sherlock locked eyes with Joe. “I said I was a figment. The solution is not.”
Joe’s mind was flooded with ecstasy. His body felt revitalized and light. His mind raced with unlinking thoughts and desire for action.
“Much better.” Sherlock leaned between the dumpster against the brick wall. He pulled out a pack of cigarettes. “Take one,” Sherlock commanded.
Joe knew it was too late to refuse anything. He grabbed the cigarette with an unsteady hand and lit it from the flame Sherlock had waiting. Joe inhaled the drag and rubbed his head. What a fucking night.
Sherlock seemed to respond to Joe’s thought, “It can only get better. Now, let’s go exercise the mind.” Sherlock took off down the alley. Joe threw the burning cigarette and ran after him.
Joe skidded to an abrupt stop almost hitting the narrow shoulders of the detective at work. His sharp eyes darted from side to side. Sherlock had an air of stimulation and excitement, “Do you hear that, Joseph?”
“It’s just Joe…and hear what?” Joe closed his eyes for a moment to listen. He heard the faint scream of a woman in the distance.
“Now you do. One must always be alert. Remember that. Let’s go!” Sherlock took off again. Joe could feel his heart pounding against his chest as he ran behind.
The two men bolted down the quiet city street for three blocks. Joe wanted to rest but felt synthetic energy pumping through his veins.
Sherlock stopped at a corner in front of a well lit bank. A woman was crumbled on the sidewalk. Her face was swollen and the contents of her purse were spilled out around her.
“Oh my god!” Joe bent down and touched the unconscious woman’s face. His fingers instinctually traveled to her neck. He felt a faint pulse. “She’s alive! We need to call an ambulance.”
“She’ll be fine, just minor wounds. She’ll wake up with nothing more than soreness and a headache. Clearly her boyfriend didn’t find it necessary to phone the authorities.” Sherlock studied the pieces of the puzzle strewn around her. Joe saw an ipod, headphones, a bedazzled wallet, lipstick, a mirror, a small can of hairspray, and a tube of mascara. Sherlock picked up and examined the glittery wallet.
“No bank notes,” mumbled the detective. Joe surged with excitement. Sherlock was about to work his deducing magic.
“Hmm, and this is?” Sherlock held up a small plastic silver rectangle.
“It’s a credit card. You go to the bank, put in a code, and get out money from your account.” Joe pointed toward the ATM behind Sherlock.
“A code?” Sherlock beamed. He turned and inserted the card as if he were already familiar with the process of modern banking.
“What about the girl? We need to get her help. What are you doing? Are you trying to use her card?” Joe stood up and approached Sherlock.
Sherlock stopped, “Please don’t speak at this moment. It is of great importance.” Joe shut up. Who was he to question Mr. Holmes?
Sherlock briefly turned to look back at the woman then shut his eyes tightly.
He chanted, “Dark thick make up, tight clothing that accentuates her upper torso, and dangerously high expensive heels, what do you make of this Joseph?”
Joe shrugged. “I don’t know. She’s high maintenance?”
Sherlock stared coldly at him. “Not just high maintenance, she is obsessed with her appearance. That nose is not found in nature.”
Sherlock turned to the ATM screen. It was flashing, waiting for her pin. Sherlock spoke at the machine, “It wouldn’t be the year of her birth, she despises thinking of her age.” He entered in a four digit number slowly. His fingers hovered over each number before they plunged down. The screen ceased blinking and opened up to the next prompt of action.
“How the hell did you guess that?” Joe knew he would regret it as soon as the words left his lips.
“I never guess young man,” Sherlock scoffed. “It is obvious that the four digit number this woman chose is her bra size and shoe size, 3611. Her vapid values have awarded us enough money to continue the night!”
Sherlock grabbed the stack of twenties that shot out of the ATM. He replaced the card into the woman’s wallet and took off down the street.
Why can’t he walk somewhere, Joe thought as he trailed behind.
By the time Joe caught up, Sherlock was waiting out side of a club still thumping it’s base. The bouncer of the club stood at the door, arms folded, apathetic to his surroundings.
“Really?” Joe had nothing else to say. The night was spiraling out of control. He couldn’t imagine Sherlock fist pumping with the hooligans behind the door.
“You need to loosen up Joseph. A night of adventure will do you some good.” Sherlock smirked again. Joe still felt the solution working it’s way through his system. Protest would be pointless now.
Joe moved to get in line for the club but, Sherlock pulled him back by the shoulder.
“Joseph, are you familiar with the Napoleon of Crime?”
“Professor Moriarty,” Joe stated.
“Precisely! Very good boy. The solution did your mind some good. I don’t mean to alarm you but, he, the napoleon that is, is across the street in that not-so hansom yellow cab.” Sherlock remained completely calm.
“The taxi?” Joe questioned.
“Unnecessary details! He has been following us this whole time. It was all a set up. How could I have not seen this? He wants a quarrel!” Sherlock ripped off his coat and began rolling up his sleeves.
“Wait! This is probably a really bad idea. You don’t even know that it’s him.” Joe’s voice cracked. “What are you going to do?”
It was too late Sherlock approached the taxi cab. Joe ran up behind him. The night had consisted of too much running.
Sherlock knocked politely on the window, “Roll it down, Jim. We all know you’re in there.”
The window hissed as it lowered. Moriarty was just a leather glove as far as Joe could see, a leather glove that griped an old Webley. The gun pointed first at Sherlock then moved to Joe. Joe put up his hands without thinking.
“How banal of you Jim.” Sherlock rolled his eyes. Joe could feel the sweat starting to run down his back. He couldn’t run anymore. He had to face the barrel and trust that his detective hero would solve this final problem.
Sherlock’s authoritative voice spoke again, “Jim, come out and fight like a man. These silly operations will get you no where.”
Moriarty’s voice was higher than Joe expected, “Get in to the cab, Sherlock.”
Sherlock and Joe looked at each other. Joe raised his brow utterly confused.
Sherlock resigned to Moriarty’s command, “My dear new friend, may we meet again someday. Best of luck to you. Remember, a good detective is always honest.” Sherlock yanked at the cab door and bent down. Flicking his coat back, he flashed the butt of a metal revolver to Joe.
Sherlock got in the cab and shut the door. “Honesty and clear perception!” He shouted as the cab drove away.
Joe stood in the street, alone. His headache returned.
Oscar Wilde’s philosophy of art is that artistry is a tool used to create art, a manifestation which has the sole purpose of being admired. He wrote, “All art is quite useless,” in the preface to his only novel in which he surmised that art exists for the surface and appreciation (Wilde). Wilde’s conduct during the trials and public reputation helped to catapult him from simple creator to the creation. Throughout the trial of Wilde’s case in which he was accused of “posing as sodomite” and later prosecuted for gross indecency, his art is used against him to determine a picture of the artist itself, which is contradictory to Wilde’s theories relating to art (Holland). His performance during the trials alludes to his theories of an artist living his art, and therefore becoming a transcendent creation beyond the moral and ethical realm of judgement. Based on Oscar Wilde’s theories about art and his performance-like demeanor during his libel trial, Wilde became the very creation of his art through persona and artificiality. This is contradictory to the intentions and foundations of the judicial system to find truth and reason in a concrete fashion. Wilde transcends this prosecution through his aesthetic philosophy and its ability to survive past the trials.
The initial trial in 1895 arose out of a personal dispute between Oscar Wilde and John Douglas, the Marquess of Queensberry also known as Lord Queensberry. Lord Queensberry was the father of Oscar Wilde’s close friend Lord Alfred Douglas. Lord Queensberry disliked the rumors and interpretational displays of conduct between his son and Wilde. Lord Queensberry began confronting Wilde on his intimate relations with younger men and publicly accused him of “posing as sodomite,” a crime during the Victorian era. An addressed calling card with the accusation written on it to Wilde from Lord Queensberry left at the Albermarle Club, a social club that Wilde frequented at, pushed the issue too far for Wilde in regards to his reputation. Wilde, despite urging against the action from friends and colleagues, called a trial accusing Lord Queensberry of libel. The defense quickly rose to the case of proving the accusation as a matter of necessary public information and aimed to provide information proving Wilde as a sodomite (Holland).
The defense attorney, Mr. Edward Carson, who represented Lord Queensberry used Wilde’s literary history to establish Wilde’s character. Mr. Carson cross examined Wilde in regards to The Picture of Dorian Gray insisting that the book is sodomitical. Mr Carson interrogates Wilde, “The affection and the love that is pictured of the artist toward Dorian Gray in this book of yours might lead an ordinary individual to believe it had a sodomitical tendency, might it not?” (Holland). The relationship and manners of the male characters in the novel became a sort of tool used to analyze the morals of its author. Wilde attempted to out wit the defense during the trial yet, became a spectacle of sensation. Responding to Mr. Carson’s leading question Wilde smartly replies, “I have no knowledge of the ordinary individual” (Holland). These facetious comebacks during Wilde’s cross examination set the court room atmosphere as a theatrical drama of sensation and scandal.
Every statement recorded by Wilde throughout the case and his every manner of being became a public matter. The explicit documentation of the trial and surrounding climate has aided the persistence of it’s influence in contemporary discourse. Scholar David Schulz argues that Oscar Wilde’s use of performance during the trial fostered a social drama that increased the popularity of thought that art is a simple aesthetic and nothing more. The performance exemplified the concept of artificiality in everyday life outside of the usual artistic boundaries. Schulz writes, “Without question, Wilde was the star performer. The public eager to witness their celebrities in risque melodrama on- and off stage, crowded the courtroom during all three trials” (Schulz). Descriptions of Wilde’s demeanor and reaction to his interrogations were published in newspapers and journals across the world. His witty remarks, dramatic body language, and the interaction with the crowd sent the trials from scandal to sensation.
Newspaper chronicles of the trial used a theatrical review format to discuss the court proceedings and comment on Wilde’s issue. The Star recorded in 1895, “he folded his hands on the front of the witness-box, and replied in carefully modulated monosyllables, accentuated by nods of the head, to Sir Edward Clarke’s leading questions about his early life, already described” (Schulz). The tabloids capture every twist and turn in the trials as an epic tale woven in the English judicial system. Wilde’s charisma and wit slowly faded as the trials progressed yet, the reviews continued the harsh scrutiny of his performance. The problem of the trial and its endless commentary is that Wilde’s motivations and the purpose of the court did not relate to each other. Aestheticism and the rigid logic used in court proceedings clash.
Wilde’s ideas surrounding art, known as aestheticism, created outrage in the late Victorian social structure. The Daily Telegraph writes in response to aestheticism and Wilde’s performance of artificiality in the trials, “We shall never get rid of the products unless we understand the cause; we shall never wash our hands clean of these stains unless we recognize how the waters of art have been fouled at their very source” (Schulz). Aestheticism focuses on the decoration and beauty of art rather than it’s application to politics or morals. Wilde incorporated this theory into every part of his life, “by insisting that his life was a work of art, higher in style due to a cultivated artistic sensitivity, Wilde insisted that all lives may in fact be artificial, that what is seen as ‘natural’ may in fact only be a performance misrecognized as nature” (Schulz). Wilde’s philosophies propose that life is artificial which makes his work difficult to apply to the foundations of truth and justice in the legal systems.
Using Wilde’s art as a representation of his moral or immoral lifestyle is inconclusive within the judicial prosecution of his persona. Dorian Gray and his relationship with men is not an accurate evidentiary supplement to establish the lifestyle of its author. Oscar Wilde’s work used to determine any sort of morality or ethical perception is problematic because of aestheticism and its reliance on the artificial production of life. Wilde’s art did not take a stance on politics, social behavior, or cultural commentary which, the prosecution desperately insisted on finding. His stories and writings were not intended to be read in this manner but, intended as, “commodities- works artfully stylish and artfully constructed to give aesthetic pleasure of a distinct sort” (Sloan). The concept of artificiality can not be applied to the nature of the justice system and the legal system’s intention to find truth.
The problem of the trials was Wilde’s attempt to apply his abstract theories of art and aesthetics to the rigid logical judicial system. The repercussions lie on his own behavior surrounding the legal battles. After all, Oscar Wilde chose to begin the investigations and legalities on his own will. It seems he intended on creating a showcase for the public to substantiate his theories of aestheticism and art yet, “Wilde’s most effective strategy, but the one which he grossly miscalculated, was turing the trials into a performance” (Schulz). Wilde’s attempt to use artistic beliefs on reality eventually led to his being found guilty and sentenced to two years of hard labor. As a result he was taken away from his children and fled England for a more removed life in Paris. The backlash from his case affected not only his personal life but, his professional life as well, “At the time of Wilde’s arrest and trial his name was removed from the theatre placards for An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest, and both plays closed soon after” (Sloan). Wilde’s philosophy intends for his work to be judged as an artificial representation that can not be evaluated beyond its beauty.
The preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray has become one of Oscar Wilde’s most well-known pieces of philosophy and is arguably is his most concise theory regarding literature and his criticism of art. To understand Wilde’s conduct during his examinations in court it is imperative to understand his conclusions surrounding art. Wilde concludes that art is useless but, that its purpose is to be admired and adored. The artist is a sort of tool through which the art is created. Wilde explains, “To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim” (Wilde). Art is not an autobiographical expression but, a manifestation above morals and ethics. Through out the novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, his theory works as a narrative analogy that establishes a strong foundation of his proposal.
The whole of the fictional work, beside the preface, can be read as a manifesto or an allegory of Oscar Wilde’s intentions and perceptions of art and reality. Dorian Gray becomes the subject matter of the art and exists as an ideal manifestation. Gray’s beauty is a symbolic representation of aestheticism and is turned into art which is intended, simply, for the purpose of admiration. The picture, thanks to Gray’s unintentional jealous soul relinquishing, becomes the representation of reality to Dorian’s unchanged living creation. His immoral decisions and behaviors affect the painting and not himself because art can not be moral or immoral. Dorian Gray’s life becomes the parable to Wilde’s definition of art.
Representing everything that the artist is to Oscar Wilde is Basil Hallward, the painter that creates the ill-fated portrait of Dorian Gray. Wilde explains, “The moral life of a man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium” (Wilde). The ability of Basil Hallward to admire and find beauty in Dorian Gray does not affect the immoral behavior of the title character. Capturing the “surface and symbol” of Dorian Gray, as the essence of youth, beauty, and innocence, is all that Basil Hallward provides (Wilde). Hallward’s fatality in the resolve is as a result of him trying to inflict a moral boundary to Dorian Gray, which therefore angered his artistic creation.
Wilde alludes to his expansive theory throughout The Picture of Dorian Gray. The same knife used to kill the artist in the conclusion destroys the art. There is an interconnection between the artist and the art but, not a reflection. Wilde writes, “It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors” (Wilde). The critique and opinions formed around art are an assessment of the audience. The artist is merely the creator of the mirror. Despite Wilde’s stance, throughout his legal proceedings his useless creations and amoral expressions are used against him as if offering an autobiographical insight to Wilde’s intentions and lifestyle. Excerpts of The Picture of Dorian Gray and other works of Wilde were read aloud in court to establish the innocence of the defendant and the motive for Oscar Wilde being accused of “posing as sodomite” (Holland). Despite Wilde clearly detailing his intentions in the preface to the novel, the court system used this aesthetic creation as an artifact of guilt.
Oscar Wilde’s legacy has survived despite his damaged reputation during the end of his life. His wit, intellect, and his, at times inaccurate, public depiction as a revolutionary homosexual figure have endured since the Victorian period. Wilde continued writing in prison and shortly after until his death in 1900. He reflected:
I made art a philosophy, and philosophy an art….I altered the minds of men and the colours of things….I treated art as the supreme reality, and life as a mere mode of fiction….I awoke the imagination of my century so that it created myth and legend around me…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 smaller natures and 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 search of new sensations… (Linder)
Perhaps, in the end Wilde lost the battle yet won the war. He has since become the creation of art and is admired for his beauty as a writer and historical social figure. Wilde has successfully transcended the judicial system and his theories of aestheticism continue to prosper.
Holland, Merlin. The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde. New York: Perennial, 2004. Print.
Linder, Douglas O. The Prison Writings of Oscar Wilde.” UMKC School of Law. Web. 12 Mar. 2012. <http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/wilde/prisonwritings.html>.
Schulz, David. “Redressing Oscar: Performance and the Trials of Oscar Wilde.” TDR 40.2 (1996): pp. 37-59. The MIT Press. JSTOR. 12 March 2012.
Sloan, John. Authors in Context: Oscar Wilde. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. Print.
Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. New York: Barnes and Noble Inc., 2003. Print.
You can never be overdressed or over educated.
Oscar Wilde. This is a personal mantra of mine. It has been overemphasized on the “overdressed” end by fashion enthusiasts but, never forget that Wilde’s legacy is not perpetuated by his ‘dandy’ outfits. Wilde’s wit and genius chiseled out a piece of history that can not be replaced.
A poet can survive everything but a misprint
Oscar Wilde and I are great friends in my imagination.
He is a dandy, a wit, and a genius. His prose is perfection.
This particular quote is everything that is honest about writers. Don’t read it wrong, don’t print it wrong and we’re fine. Dislike it and we’re better. A writer can argue preference but, cannot argue inaccuracy.