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Oscar Wilde


– first published 10/16/09, in the Preferred Perverts series

Today, a very long time ago, 156 years, to be exact, a boy was born in a distinguished house in Dublin, a man who would later become a byword for all that was decadent, depraved and “inverted”, to use a delicate Victorian euphemism, a man whose person, whose writings and whose very existence flew in the face of the many hypocrisies of his age.

Oscar Finegan O’Flahertie Wills Wilde – and how great a name is that? – was born today 156 years ago, and if anyone remembers Wilde at all in our own decadent, depraved, celebrity-obsessed age, we remember him for a lot less for what he truly was – a gifted observer of people, an indignant social critic, and like so many of his countrymen, one of the finest writers in the English language.

What we remember is what we have today come to define as “flaming gay”, meaning openly homosexual, or we remember the many, many barbed-wire bon mots he also left behind as his legacy, not a few of which are still quoted with equal relevance today, not something too many of his contemporaries can boast.

We might remember the notoriety – of the man, of his “trial”, of the consequences of honesty in an age that was anything but, and bless our fate that we now live in more forgiving, progressive times, when the fact is, that we are no less hypocritical today, no more forgiving than in the Belle Epoque.

We might remember being forced to read “The Picture of Dorian Gray” in English class, and wondering WTF the fuss was about. At 15, I read it, and even though I was precocious for my age, I was not yet old enough to see the book for what it truly was – an incendiary criticism of “society”, a commentary on art and aesthetics, and a horror story that these many years later still makes my skin crawl.

Dorian Gray is not the only one who has a hideous portrait hidden in his attic, reflecting the sum of all previous vices and transgressions…

We might remember amateur or professional performances of plays such as “The Importance of Being Earnest” or “An Ideal Husband”, where the lines come thick and lightning fast, so fast, the real punchline goes missing in the mirth.

There was always a sting in Oscar, a sting that until his dying day made it possible for him to associate with the highest society and the the lowest dregs, from peers of the realm to Colorado miners, a sting that told the careful listener and observer that the fop, the aesthete, the walking exclamation point had something more, and darker, to offer than one-liners.

What we remember, in other words, is the caricature, the public, distorted persona and what we have forgotten is the man’s complexity – as a writer, critic and certainly as a human being.

He is known for his association with Lord Alfred Douglas, who, it must be said, can’t have done poor Oscar many favors, and yet – he was, for a time at least, a devoted husband and certainly a loving father to the end. Along with his plays, essays, poetry and books, he also wrote children’s stories. One of my own near-misses was a first edition of his “House of Pomegranates”, complete with Art Nouveau gilded pomegranates on the cover. It was in deplorable condition. The binding was coming apart, the edges were frayed and dissolving, and the delicate pages had obviously been read – and loved – for several generations. I almost bought it, but I couldn’t afford it at the time. To this day, I still regret it.

What I remember – a man who used his rapier-sharp wit, his persona in the public mind – and his wits – as a smokescreen and a deflector, to hide what he did not want to world to know – that he saw – everything, and felt – even more. The pain of human existence, the high cost of hypocrisy, the price of so-called progress on the human soul, of how, in the light of all our technological advances, we have forgotten much we should have remembered. Mainly that we have forgotten our very humanity, overlooked our complexity and forget to forgive each other’s and our own all-too human failings.

“Some of us”, said Oscar in one of his more reflective moments, “are in the gutter, but we are looking at the stars.”

In the end, even to a man who always loomed larger than life in many ways for many people, his own human failings caught up to him, and nevertheless, he saw it coming.

Alas! it is a fearful thing
To feel another’s guilt!
For, right within, the sword of Sin
Pierced to its poisoned hilt,
And as molten lead were the tears we shed
For the blood we had not spilt.

Fron “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”

Happy Birthday, Oscar Wilde, wherever you may be! Today your grave is covered in roses and peacock feathers, and even now, so long after, you, also, have never been forgotten, and although you have been much maligned, you are today much beloved!

“The wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One of us has to go.”

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Originally posted 10/12/09, in the Preferred Perverts Series

Birthdays, thought a certain Edward Alexander, were a tedious business, and being dead did absolutely nothing to improve them. This particular part of Hades, a section reserved for dedicated hedonists and resolute degenerates, was better than further down below, but hard as he had tried in the 72 years he lived on Earth, even he had not been evil enough to be sent there when he died.

Instead, he passed eternity as best he could. There would be, he knew, a birthday celebration later, involving things like cake – more hellish buttercream than actual cake – a birthday song and even a present or two, but sadly, not so much as a decent port to wash it down.

No port, no brandy, and certainly no drugs. All this clarity of thought and consciousness was very nearly punishment enough. He had not been this clean since childhood, an aeon ago in thought, but only 136 years ago, as things were reckoned on Earth.

A pity. A healthy dose of cocaine – about enough to induce apoplexy in the average man – would have improved his birthday immensely. Or at the very least, a vat of Krug.

Where he was, there were endless opportunities to pass the time. Endless libraries of every coherent human thought ever written down since the advent of writing, vast park-like vistas to wander, secluded groves, comfortably furnished with lawn chairs and cushions, and the plush bathhouses where one had every opportunity to prove precisely how dedicated one was to sexual dissipation. If none of those things were enough to divert you from the realization that you were, in fact, in Hell, then there was always the continuing diorama of life on Earth. Anywhere you wanted to go, any life you wanted to see was there for your delectation – or edification, as the case merited. It had made his first thirty years here bearable, until he had discovered that there would never be any kind of external stimulants – ever.

Like his beloved Abbey, but there was no pontificating Mussolini to kick you out, although there were several popes.

But today was his – birthday. It would not be long before several of his fellow – inmates, he called them in his mind – would come around to call, to wish him a happy birthday, to remember the extraordinary life he once had called his own.

Later, Oscar came to call. How he had come to be here, Edward Alexander had no idea, except that perhaps just like him, Oscar had committed the ultimate Victorian crime – of being found out, and refusing to lie about it. No hypocrite, Oscar. That was probably why he was here, come to think of it.

Ruthlessly honest man, Oscar, even for an Irishman, or perhaps, because of it.

“Oh, do cheer up, Edward. I know it’s your birthday, but you do need to face up to a few facts, darling.”

He hated to be called darling. He never had been anyone’s darling.

“Such as?” Edward was pleased to see Rodrigo strolling by. Once upon a time, Rodrigo had been Pope, back in the day when the Pope did rule the world. They had often whiled away several years discussing “The Book of the Law”.

“Ciao, Eduardo!” Rodrigo shouted. “I shall be by in time for the cake!”

Excellent! It was one way to shut up all those licentious former rock stars who would never leave him alone. Keith, Keith was the one who annoyed him the most. His manic questioning drove Edward over the edge, not once, but many times.

Oscar pointed toward the diorama. “You have, my friend, far more acolytes now than you ever did when you were alive!”

“Acolytes! Acolytes! Yes, a whole flock of ignorant neophytes who read my books and make two fatal mistakes. First, they’re stupid enough to read everything I ever wrote, even “White Stains”-“

Oscar winced. He had always thought that particular book was vulgar beyond belief.

“And second, they take me at face value. Is that the way to read esoteric secrets, I ask? Haven’t they enough sense to know that it’s a code? That in fact, the whole point of occult knowledge is precisely that it is – hidden, obscure, arcane?”

“They’ve forgotten to teach Aristotelian reason in school, these days, I’m afraid.”

“They’ve forgotten other things, too, remarked Edward. “First and foremost that I was never meant to be taken seriously.”

“And yet,” Oscar pointed out, “you’ve been dead almost 62 years, and you have not been forgotten.”

“Quite,” Edward continued Oscar’s line of thought. “I’ve been adopted and adapted by countless so-called musicians who’ve stolen from me wholesale in order to sell records, CDs and iTunes downloads!”

“Well, you were the one who advocated sex and drugs!”

“To direct towards a higher purpose, always!” countered Edward. “Not as another avenue towards useless escapism!”

“Not all of them do.” Oscar pointed a finger toward the diorama, flicked his fingers and zoomed in.

Down below, a woman – not old, not young, typed away at a computer, scratching her nose as she thought before she typed. In an earlier time, Edward thought hazily, she would not been his type at all. Too short, too busty, and judging from the way she banged the keyboard in time to one of those larcenous rock musicians he often railed against, far too quick of mind for him. He loathed smart women. They always had the heretical thought they were equal to any man – even him.

The very idea!

“I don’t know. I can’t take any woman seriously who writes in pink velour pyjamas.”

“Hush. She’s writing about you.”

Rodrigo snuck up from behind and clapped Edward on the back. “And you know what they say, amigo.”

“No, I don’t!” Edward protested hotly. It was his birthday and he could be bad-tempered if he wanted.

“So long as one person remembers you”, Oscar recited in his thrilling, musical voice, “you are immortal.”

“Even to women who write in pink velour pyjamas!” Rodrigo laughed. “Ecce, Eduardo – your cake!”

A seraph wheeled in an enormous cake, and soon, a throng of souls were gathered around it, even a few rock stars who had managed to wrest themselves away from the bathhouse.

He gave it a look. Death by buttercream.

A good thing he was immortal, with a cake like that. It was the perfect illustration to one of his fundamental magickal principles – love under will.

On it was written, in flowing copperplate script, “Happy Birthday, Aleister!”

No wonder he hated birthdays.

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Today, a very long time ago, a boy was born in a distinguished house in Dublin, a man who would later become a byword for all that was decadent, depraved and “inverted”, to use a delicate Victorian euphemism, a man whose person, whose writings and whose very existence flew in the face of the many hypocrisies of his age.

Oscar Finegan O’Flahertie Wills Wilde – and how great a name is that? – was born today, and if anyone remembers Wilde at all in our own decadent, depraved, celebrity-obsessed age, we remember him for a lot less that what he truly was – a gifted observer of people, an indignant social critic, and like so many of his countrymen, one of the finest writers in the English language.

What we remember is what we have today come to define as “flaming gay”, meaning openly homosexual, or we remember the many, many barbed-wire bon mots he also left behind as his legacy, not a few of which are still quoted with equal relevance today, not something too many of his contemporaries can boast.

We might remember the notoriety – of the man, of his “trial”, of the consequences of honesty in an age that was anything but, and bless our fate that we now live in more forgiving, progressive times, when the fact is, that we are no less hypocritical today, no more forgiving than in the Belle Epoque.

We might remember being forced to read “The Picture of Dorian Gray” in English class, and wondering WTF the fuss was about. At 15, I read it, and even though I was precocious for my age, I was not yet old enough to see the book for what it truly was – an incendiary criticism of “society”, a commentary on art and aesthetics, and a horror story that these many years later still makes my skin crawl.

Dorian Gray is not the only one who has a hideous portrait hidden in his attic, reflecting the sum of all previous vices and transgressions…

We might remember amateur or professional performances of plays such as “The Importance of Being Earnest” or “An Ideal Husband”, where the lines come thick and lightning fast, so fast, the real punchline goes missing in the mirth.

There was always a sting in Oscar, a sting that until his dying day made it possible for him to associate with the highest society and the the lowest dregs, from peers of the realm to Colorado miners, a sting that told the careful listener and observer that the fop, the aesthete, the walking exclamation point had something more, and darker, to offer than one-liners.

What we remember, in other words, is the caricature, the public, distorted persona and what we have forgotten is the man’s complexity – as a writer, critic and certainly as a human being.

He is known for his association with Lord Alfred Douglas, who, it must be said, can’t have done poor Oscar many favors, and yet – he was, for a time at least, a devoted husband and certainly a loving father to the end. Along with his plays, essays, poetry and books, he also wrote children’s stories. One of my own near-misses was a first edition of his “House of Pomegranates”, complete with Art Nouveau gilded pomegranates on the cover. It was in deplorable condition. The binding was coming apart, the edges were frayed and dissolving, and the delicate pages had obviously been read – and loved – for several generations. I almost bought it, but I couldn’t afford it at the time. To this day, I still regret it.

What I remember – a man who used his rapier-sharp wit, his persona in the public mind – and his wits – as a smokescreen and a deflector, to hide what he did not want to world to know – that he saw – everything, and felt – even more. The pain of human existence, the high cost of hypocrisy, the price of so-called progress on the human soul, of how, in the light of all our technological advances, we have forgotten much we should have remembered. Mainly that we have forgotten our very humanity, overlooked our complexity and forget to forgive each other’s and our own all-too human failings.

“Some of us”, said Oscar in one of his more reflective moments, “are in the gutter, but we are looking at the stars.”

In the end, even to a man who always loomed larger than life in many ways for many people, his own human failings caught up to him, and nevertheless, he saw it coming.

Alas! it is a fearful thing
To feel another’s guilt!
For, right within, the sword of Sin
Pierced to its poisoned hilt,
And as molten lead were the tears we shed
For the blood we had not spilt.

Fron “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”

Happy Birthday, Oscar Wilde, wherever you may be! Today your grave is covered in roses and peacock feathers, and even now, so long after, you, also, have never been forgotten, and although you have been much maligned, you are, today, much beloved!

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