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Posts Tagged ‘Oscar Wilde

Robert Reilly book: a review of Oscar Wilde

Posted on October 24, 2008 and review written on Oct. 1st, 2007.

This novel is about the productive period in the life of Oscar Wilde and I decided to review it for the pleasure of quoting Wilde’s witty pronouncements and to point to the fact that homosexuality was common in 19th century England, and wildly permeating society.

But when such cases reached trial, the culprits were severely punished to uphold the puritanical culture of England

Reilly said: “The many biographers have given the facts, but they left out the feelings.” (The context?)

I might as well start with a few witty sayings, believing that Wilde didn’t attach much philosophical truths or moral positions in them; he just liked arts and to write poetry even in prose and liked youth regardless of class standing as long as they were beautiful, carefree as long as they were not sensible.

At 29, Wilde was slender and handsome in his coat of emerald velvet, trousers tight, rich brown Russian leather boots, and pink cheeks.

He was married for two years and had a son Cyril.  

He was visiting Frances Richards, a handsome artist and she was painting the portrait of the forlorn young, blond, and beautiful Somerset.  “How was the country?” said Somerset plaintively.  Wilde replied: “Full of strange colored things.  Flowers, I believe they’re called”.

Frances had known Oscar for 5 years when he was callow, brash, and a bit crude. 

Frances said to Oscar: “You must be about thirty?”  Oscar replied: “I have scarce 28 summers.  I look older because I spent the entire morning removing a comma from a sentence”. Somerset said: “And how did you spend the afternoon?” Oscar said: “Putting it back”

Just then a cloud passed from before the sun and lemon light danced down over them.  Oscar whispered: “The moment! It is our duty to grasp at life, to seek out startling experience, to ever be on the lookout for a new, a truly new sensation”

The Irish Wilde acquired the essentially English voice with a purer strain. Oscar lighted a cigarette imported from Egypt and said: “It is only when I am deeply in debt that I can afford them (these cigarettes )” Turning to Somerset he said: “I suspect you must commit a great many sins.  It is the only way one ever keeps an air of innocence”

Robert Ross, a slender adolescent of seventeen and visiting from Canada, was peeking behind a door at Oscar.  “Frances, you are providing shelter for a ghost” said Oscar. 

Robert Ross has read all of Oscar works, even the first edition of “Vera”.  Oscar said: “With my works it is not first editions that are rare, but second ones

Oscar was a great connoisseur of North America.  Somerset said to Oscar: “Did you really tell the reporters in New York that the Atlantic was a disappointment?”  Oscar retorted: “I never intended to ruin the reputation of this poor ocean.  It seems no one will receive it anymore.  The nearest I got to Canada was Buffalo.  There was some intolerable noisy body of water nearby.” 

Ross said: “You saw Niagara!”  Oscar said: “American bride is brought there on her honeymoon.  Niagara is her first but not the keenest disappointment.  Niagara would be wonderful if the water didn’t fall”

Oscar told Frances: “Shall I ever conquer that harsh and golden city?  I have produced nothing in over a year except Cyril (his son).  I have done nothing since my marriage. Perhaps I am too happy to work”

He went on: “Between them, Shakespeare and Balzac, they have said everything worth saying. I am a little closer to my lifelong ambition to be the first well-dressed philosopher in the history of thought

Oscar went on looking at the picture of Somerset: “Youth, what a precious thing.  I would do anything to retain my youth.  The Greek gods, being jealous of Somerset’s beauty, bestowed on him that fatal combination: a tongue that works too readily and a mind that works not at all.  His portrait will remain ever silent but forever young.”  Frances was telling Oscar: “I never know when you’re being serious.” And Oscar to say: “When I’m joking, of course.”

Ross followed Oscar in the park because he wanted to speak to him very badly.  Wilde told Ross: “Not only do you bribe Frances to spy on me but now you are trailing me through London like an avenging angel.  You are relentless Mr. Ross. You are incorrigible.  You are unscrupulous. I think we are going to be great friends.”  They talked about Frances and Wilde said: “Before Frances can become a true artist, she is going to have to learn the subtle, tortuous art of being shallow.”

Ross told Oscar that he intended to write to him a letter of admiration because he considers his poems masterpieces. Oscar replied: “I never answer letters. I know of bright prospects who came to London and wound up wrecks in a month, simply from answering letters.”  Oscar gave Ross a ride in a Gurney cab since omnibuses should be reserved for the rich because they can endure discomfort.

The fog fell on London and Wilde said: “Fog transforms our shabby city into a composition by Claude Monet.  Without fog and smoke London would be recognized as the most dreadful spectacle by man.  The whole art of living is to ignore ugliness and heighten beauty.” 

Ross asked Oscar: “What is the wages of the exquisite sins of yours?” and Wilde to answer: “The only sin is boredom. We must be on the lookout for new temptations”

When the coach arrived at Ross place he asked Oscar to come in for a minute which he did and then Ross kissed him on the mouth in the dark.  Oscar was taken aback and refused Ross advancement and Ross said: “You said you were looking for new temptations. I never felt hated before”

Oscar felt pity for Robert’s pain and said: “We will forget this little incident.  There is lunch at the Café Royal any day you wish. My wife will understand my lateness and that is so much worse”.

Wilde would take Robert Ross on night tours to sections in London where policemen walked in pairs, past workhouses and coffee stalls, German beer shops, down dank alleys where every third house was a tavern with a name like the Black Cat or the Red Rat, filed with drunken men and women dancing round and round.  They drank strange concoctions and watched popular shows.  Once, Ross experienced tomfoolery in his Cambridge school and his colleagues made him commit the unpardonable sin.

Oscar took Ross to Paris to appease his anxiety and they met Sarah Bernhardt.  Sara had a black real jaguar (the mammal) in her palace and she was napping in a coffin.  Oscar adored Sara and when he reached the coffin he whispered: “Awake! For Morning in the Bowl of Night has flung the stone that puts the stars to flight”. 

Sara had a collection of portraits of her, painted by various artists, and Oscar brought her Marguerites, the flower that Sara loved best but didn’t include in her garden. Sara said: “I lost the person most important to me in the entire world.  I lost myself and I am dead, Oscar”

Wilde suggested that she find a new mask and fall in love.  Sara replied: “I am never out of love. Yet no one has loved me in return.  They just adore me.  In all my romances, there is always the sense of a curtain rising and falling. It is the same with you Oscar, you crave an audience”.

Oscar and his wife Constance visited a palm reader who predicted that Oscar will become famous and that he will also take an office job.  Shortly after, Oscar was offered the editorship of the “Lady’s World” and agreed on condition that the name of the magazine be changed to “Woman’s World” and his daily habits changed to a routine tempo, waking up late and coming home late.

Constance thought that a regular job would transform Wilde and drive out of his head some of his excessive ideas about Art and Beauty. 

Ross suggested a crime story where the palm reader predicted to a Gentleman that he would commit a murder.  In order to live a normal life, the Gentleman decided to kill the palm reader and get over with his anxiety.  Wilde story “Arthur Savile’s crime” was accepted by the “Court and Society Review”.

Constance shunned the many receptions and invitations that Wilde attended because he needed an audience all the time.  She stayed home and liked to design clothes and joined a religious sect that did charity in Africa. 

After Constance gave birth to Vyvyan, Oscar seemed utterly happy and he arranged to have a separate room in the attic to work at night. Oscar had “his genius to keep him company”.

Then, one lady member introduced Constance to another sect that dabbled into occultism; she started to believe that magic is not vague, foolish mumbo jumbo but scientific and precise; that the body is only the house of the soul and it has to yield up its debt to the future.

MacGregor was the leader of the Golden Dawn sect.  Constance visited MacGregor at his office and told him: “I want to be able to love my husband”.  MacGregor replied: “That is simple enough.  If you want to love him then love him! He cannot stop you”.  Constance said: “He won’t let me”.   Macgregor replied: “I’m afraid what you really want is for him to love you. You want to control him; every Adept struggles with the temptation of coveting power over what one loves. In this order we do not work ‘magic’ to elevate the initiates beyond the petty considerations of everyday life”

Then he told her in order to be initiated she will have to keep the secrets of the order and to swear total chastity.  Constance said: “I don’t think all your initiates are chaste”.  MacGregor guessed who Constance was referring to and said: “Miss Farr (a very beautiful girl) is a special case. Lovemaking for her is a form of self-mortification”.

Constance divulged to Oscar that chastity is required in the order and that if he has a tiny misgiving then she would not join the order. Wilde told her: “I dare not stand in your way.  I want you to fulfill yourself, my love.  A little chastity will be good for both of us“.

Constance was given tasks to do at home; she had to learn the Hebrew alphabet, the symbols of the Zodiac, the Tarot trumps, preparing a special corner in her house and setting on it salt in a dish, a triangle of black cardboard, a saucer of incense, and a rose, made a wand painting, one tip black and the other white.  Constance was assigned experiments trying to make a handkerchief rise, hypnotize her cat, and walk out of her body.

Wilde asked her to tell him all about what she is doing just to put this knowledge to the service of art.  He said: “A little hocus-pocus may help me with the novel I am trying to write”. The secret information were transformed and included in Wilde’s famous novel “Dorian Gray”.

Oscar and Ross were lovers for a long time until Oscar got a strong hit with his novel “Dorian Gray”. The story is about a picture portrait that disintegrate while Dorian remains young forever. Oscar had now many young followers or apostles but he is in love with a rich young guy of twenty one Lord Alfred Douglas, known as Bosie.  Bosie preferred not to have physical intercourses with Wilde in order to preserve their love which made Oscar to be constantly thinking of Bosie. 

When his play “The fan of lady Windermere” became a success, Oscar invited Bosie for a special preview just for him and Bosie insisted on having physical intercourse, though Oscar preferred not to.

Oscar invited both Ross and Bosie to attend a rehearsal of his French play “Salome” played by Sarah Bernhard in London. He told Ross: “Can you imagine what would happen if the English were to understand Salome in French?” 

Afterward, Bosie told Wilde that his male servant made forceful advances and is blackmailing him.  The lawyer of Wilde, George Lewis, told Bosie to pay up the 100 pounds that the blackmailer asked because no matter what the outcome in court, his name would be tainted forever and Wilde gave the lawyer the money to pay Bosie’s blackmailer.

A journalist from the Express asked Wilde: “It seems that your plays are about trivial people of the upper class people who are leading trivial lives.  Have you no interest in the drama of everyday existence?”  Wilde replied: “Everyday existence says very little to me. For example, if a journalist were to be run over that would not be of any dramatic significance.  Now, I am relying on you to misrepresent me

Oscar was utterly in love with Bosie even though he learned that Bosie was a rotten apple long before they met, even when Bosie slept with every young man that he liked, even when Bosie got him in endless trouble with blackmailers to retrieve the love letters he wrote to Bosie, even when Bosie relied on Oscar for his luxurious lifestyle, and even when Bosie’s father, the Marquess of Queensberry, went relentlessly after Oscar and sent him his card where he wrote: “Posing as a Sodomite”

Wilde sued the Marquess for libel and Oscar’s friends advised him to drop the case, go abroad and write a letter to the Times to that effect.  Wilde knew this was the wiser venue to drop the case, especially when he realized that the Marquess had built a substantial file that could damage the reputation of Wilde as a seducer of male youths.

However, Wilde let the case take its course thinking loudly:

“There is something about the whole thing so perfect.  So beautifully crafted-like a superb play. Only, who is doing the crafting? Your father Bosie is but a character in the drama.  As I am.  As you are.  No, it is a work fashioned by a master artist.  Don’t you feel the hand of gods at work? Think of all they have granted me: A delightful, amusing life.  Money.  Success in my work.  Two adorable children.  My wife Connie and you.  The gods have given me so many triumphs.  Are they going to take it al back?”

The case went to trial and Oscar tried his humor and wit and wearing a carnation.  Soon, after a couple of cross examinations Wilde decided on the suggestion of his lawyer to drop the case.  The attorney general prosecuted Wilde and locked him for a month in jail awaiting trial on several charges of indecent behavior with youth half his age. 

Oscar was allowed only one visitor per day and saw only Bosie when he showed up. The jury could not reach a decision and Wilde was set free pending a second trial. 

No hotels permitted Wilde to set foot in and all his belongings were sold on auction to cover the cost of the trials; he ended up living with his mother who had moved to a smaller apartment.

Several people urged Oscar to flee to France but his mother refused and insisted that he take a stand as an Irish

The second trial handed Oscar two years prison with hard labor; Bosie fled to Italy and never sent him a letter to prison. Wilde was to receive only two letters per month and the rest were to be accumulated until he is liberated; he selected Ross’ letters because he gave details on his family.

The first few months were nasty and Oscar was feeling excessively reduced as a human being until he was ordered to work on the garden and allowed to write and read.  

His mother died in her sleep and Constance came to announce the news, though Wilde had just dreamt of his mother in black.  Constance moved to Switzerland with the children. Oscar emerged slim, in good health, and athletic.

Ross meets Oscar at Berneval, a sea town near Dieppe in France. Oscar is living on allowances sent to him by his wife Constance and he writes to Constance to move to Switzerland but her replies are not warm. 

Bosie writes to Wilde and wants to see him again.  Finally, Oscar succumbs and rejoins Bosie in Rouen and from there to Naples in Italy. They are living on the allowance of Bosie’s mother. 

Wilde is writing a ballad titled “Ballade of Reading Gaol”, the prison where he spent his term, and is assured to be published.  Bosie resents Oscar because he is not capable of producing poems that are publishable and Bosie leaves to London. 

Oscar moves to Paris and roam the streets; Constance allowances arrive on time but they are not sufficient to sustain Wilde’s luxurious tastes for good food in expensive restaurants and Champaign.

Constance dies under a back operation after she was paralyzed. 

Wilde visits his wife’s tomb in Genoa and her stone reads Constance Mary Lloyd and Oscar weeps harsh thick tears because she had not yet begun to live, had never a chance to learn what life was and she had been cheated. By life and by him! 

Oscar visit Sara Bernhardt in Nice and they lament growing old, ruined clowns “the audience raising them high and then casting them down. The actors are the glory and the shame of the average individuals”

Bosie inherited 15,000 pounds from his father and moved to Paris.  Oscar was going through the miseries of being penniless and asked Bosie that his family owe him a debt of honor because Lady Queensberry had promised to cover the expenses of the trials; the money you inherited is mine.  Bosie got furious and left the restaurant.

Oscar was seeing a young Irish Catholic priest in Paris for conversion.

While he was dying he told Ross “When the trumpets blast in the judgment day I will turn to you and say: “Robbie dearest, let’s pretend we do not hear””

Wilde died a Catholic in a poor hotel room surrounded by Ross and the priest.

Oscar Wilde was barely over 50. The book never mentioned what Oscar said before he died: “Either the curtain opens or I shall leave!”

A few other Wilde quips:

Lady Effingham was quite altered by her husband’s death.  She looked twenty years younger.  In fact her hair has turned quite gold from grief.”

“In married life, three’s company, two’s a crowd.”

“I like to carry my diary when I travel; one should always have something sensational to read in the train.”

Ignorance is like an exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone.”

“Novels that end happily invariably leave one feeling depressed.”

“If one tells the truth, one is sure, sooner or later, to be found out.”

Wickedness is a myth invented by good people to account for the curious attractiveness of others.”

“The realization of oneself is the prime aim of life; realizing this aim through pleasure is finer than to do so through pain.”


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