Oscar Wilde: a Man Worth Remembering

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Courtesy of newstatesman.com

Lily Ives, Editor in Chief

“We have lived our lives in a land of dreams! How sad it seems”.

This is a line from one of my favorite poems, “Her Voice,” written by Irish poet Oscar Wilde in the 1800s. He is one of the most well-known writers from this era, and works like his short story “The Happy Prince” and his only full-length novel The Picture of Dorian Gray continue to be read by hundreds of people a year, and his influence is felt throughout literature. He also happens to be one of the most important historical figures to me. 

Before I get into how Wilde is still relevant today, I think a brief introduction to him is needed. Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born Oct. 16, 1854. His literary career focused on the aestheticism movement in the arts: a movement that focused on creating beauty for only beauty’s sake (basically, making pretty things just because they are pretty). Throughout his life, he wrote a number of short stories and plays, with one novel, but the majority of his work was in poetry. His career was cut short when, in 1895, Wilde was tried for gross indecency, which basically means that he was arrested for being gay. He was imprisoned for two years and then spent three in exile. He died in 1900 at the age of 45 due to illness from the prison system weakening his body. His final works were a novella length letter called “De Profundis” and the poem “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.” 

Now that the scene is set, we can talk about how important he is to literature and society at large. First of all, his writings went on to influence a number of different works, specifically, Dorian Gray has influenced the plot lines of numerous pieces of media. For example, there have been a number of film adaptations of this novel, including the 2009 movie featuring Ben Barnes and Colin Firth. My personal favorite reinvention of this novel is the 1970s  film Phantom of the Paradise, which is a weird rock opera that mixes Rocky Horror Picture Show and Phantom of the Opera, along with a number of classic novels. 

Besides the practical levels of Wilde’s influence, he has had a number of social influences. Oscar Wilde was an incredibly eccentric man who lived only as himself, and never for anyone else. For a number of people, me included, his self expression has provided so much comfort for those who are somewhat out of the box of what is considered “the average.” He’s also became somewhat of a LGBTQ+ icon, being a hero for queer people around the globe. His complete devotion to be who he was, even in a time when that was punishable by law, is a huge inspiration for queer people who are struggling with accepting themselves. If he could back then, then we can now, we’re allowed to be who we are, completely. Wilde is one of those people who teaches everyone to love who they are, without qualms. His grave is covered in lipstick kisses, a way that fans of his show their love for him even in the afterlife and a lasting testament to how much he means to people, especially queer people. 

His life is, simply put, heartbreaking. To think that such a talented writer’s life was cut short for such a idiotic reason is something that haunts me. I’m always reminded of this part in “De Profundis,” when Wilde is talking about this one moment when he was being taken to prison and he describes an interaction between himself and a lifelong friend and past lover, Robbie Ross. Wilde describes seeing Ross and Ross tipping his hat to Wilde as he is walked away. Wilde talks about how this moment touched him so deeply and that “men have gone to heaven” for smaller acts than this, because, at this point, Wilde considered himself a disgraced person, who didn’t deserve any show of love or support. I think that that perfectly encapsulates how tragic his story is. 

In writing his poetry, novels, plays, and stories, Wilde perfectly spun language and storytelling to create absolutely beautiful pieces of writing. He was truly a master at description and making the reader understand fully how gorgeous something is.  

Oscar Wilde is a name that has gone down in the history books as being an amazing writer, an influencer, and someone that the eccentric can always count on. His short life will always stand as a tragedy, with it being cut short for such a stupid thing. If you’ve never read anything by Wilde and are interested in him, I recommend the story “The Nightingale and the Rose”, the play “Lady Windermere’s Fan”, and any of his poetry.