Wednesday 30 November 2022

Oscar Wilde Memorialised

 It was on this day in 1900 that Oscar Wilde died, at the age of 46, in a cheap hotel in Paris, having lost his 'duel to the death' with the wallpaper. Perhaps the best account of his final days (in terms of truth if not of strict factual accuracy) is to be found in Peter Ackroyd's early novel, The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde (1983), a brilliant piece of literary ventriloquism. When Wilde died (of meningitis, brought on by an ear infection), shortage of funds meant that his body was buried cheaply in the Cimetière de Bagneux, southwest of Paris, but when royalties started coming in again, the devoted Robbie Ross bought a plot in the more fitting Père Lachaise. Here Wilde's remains were reburied and, a couple of years later, a rather hideous Art Deco/Assyrian monument, sculpted by Jacob Epstein, was erected to mark the spot. This raised eyebrows, even among Parisians, because the angel figure on the monument was generously endowed with male genitalia. At one point the authorities even draped a tarpaulin over the offending area. In later years Wilde's memorial became a hugely popular attraction, and visitors took to kissing it with such enthusiasm that it was permanently covered with red lipstick marks, hard to remove and damaging to the stone. In the late 1990s the monument, after being thoroughly cleaned and restored, was further protected by a glass barrier, installed largely at the expense of the office of public works in Dublin (Ireland always cherishes its literary offspring once they are safely dead). As for the history of those scandalous genitalia, I wrote about that on this date some years ago...

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