Monday, February 25, 2013

Remembering Oscar Wilde ... Poet, Wit, Playwright, Bon Vivant, Struggling Soul - Catholic

Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde
With a name like that, he just had to be different...

JMJ    Today is not his birthday or the anniversary of his death.  It is not any significant date in his life which would trigger a desire to remember him -- I simply read something that he said about saints and sinners, and it rang true with me.  Oscar Wilde was a man of great intelligence and wonderfully keen and caustic sense of humor.  He was a great poet and playwright.  He was also a Catholic who deeply loved his wife and children, yet was innately homosexual.  He lived with demons as we all do, yet was able to disguise the inner struggles of life better than most because of his intellectual talents.  And, as most of us do, he found himself with an ever-deepening sense of spirituality, looking for closeness with God at the worst time of his life. Oscar had made the decision to sue in open court a man who had insulted him about his homosexuality, and ended up being prosecuted and convicted because of his homosexuality.  He was cruelly betrayed by loved ones and friends, was imprisoned at hard labor, found himself getting older and beginning to deal with illness.  But through the grace of God and Oscar's own searching, he topped his lifelong love for the Church with a true desire to practice Catholicism completely.

Too often, Oscar is remembered for the unhappy and ugly period of his life.  But I prefer to remember his poems and plays, and incredibly funny observations of the world, as well as words of depth and wisdom.  Beginning with keen wit and moving into spiritual contemplation, here are some of my favorites:

*  "I am so clever that sometimes I don't understand a single word of what I am saying."

*  "Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them more."

*  "Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go."

*  "To get back my youth I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early,
     or be respectable."

*  "Be  yourself.  Everyone else is already taken."

*  "Keep love in your heart.  A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead."

*  "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."

*  "We are each our own devil, and we make the world our hell."

*  "Where there is sorrow, there is holy ground."

This is what Oscar said that struck me when I saw it:, and made me want to write this little tribute:

That is such a beautifully-spoken Catholic belief, and one that should give hope to all of us. After all, Jesus said to us, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone ... Go and sin no more."  That is our opportunity and salvation, no matter what we may have been before.

At the end of his life, Oscar had been abandoned by his rich society friends, who turned their backs on him when he was no longer of any use to them.  The life of beautiful surroundings and fine clothes that he loved had ended with his trial and imprisonment.  Only a Catholic priest who had become his friend, as well as Catholic friends he came to know, stuck by him in his need.  He was living in poverty in a badly-decorated, ratty little room.  He lay on his bed dying at the age of 46, and at one point he woke up and said to a friend who was there with him:

Wouldn't you love to have the time and the wit to be able to leave this earthly plane with such words?  Well, it is really true, Oscar did say that -- he had the last word, which would have pleased him immensely.


Susan said...

Thank you for inviting to your site. I like this entry you have made. I can see you are very well read and you write very simply and engagingly.

I never knew those things about Oscar Wilde. Very insightful and humorous. Thanks.

ClassicBecky said...

Susan, I'm so touched by your compliment, and I'm glad you liked finding out some interesting things about Oscar -- he was just plain interesting all the time! LOL! I like your blog, The Eighth Station, too, and look forward to sharing with you.

Greg Jourdan said...

When was he born and when did he die? Where did he live? Did the church persecute him or just high society?

ClassicBecky said...

Greg, Oscar was born in Dublin October 16, 1854. He lived in London most of his life. He died November 30, 1900, at 46, of meningitis. His parents were very well-to-do and Oscar was highly educated. His prime writing and society years were approx. 1880 to 1895. During that time, he wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray and popular plays like The Importance of Being Earnest. He was jailed in 1895 for having a homosexual relationship, and the remaining 2 years of his life found him ostracized by society and living in poverty. The society people he really believed to be true friends just tossed him out like an old shoe and didn't even help him in poverty.

He always loved the beauties of the Catholic Church, went to Mass and Benedictions often, and even was baptized as an adult -- which is funny, because even Oscar didn't know he was already a baptized Catholic. His mother did it in secret since his father was so against it. Anyway, it was never the Church that persecuted him. One group of Jesuits was mean to him after he asked to visit them when he got out of jail, but otherwise Oscar's friends and supporters at the worst point in his life were Catholic priests, nuns and friends. There is a fascinating article, very short and succinct, about Oscar's Catholic experience. Here's the link:

Susan said...

What happened to his family when he was ailed and then living in poverty?

ClassicBecky said...

Hi Susan -- from my readings, I learned that Oscar's two sons, Cyril and Vivian, adored their Dad. He spent more time with them than most Victorian dads, and loved to write for them and play. Likewise, his relationship with his wife Constance was loving but obviously affected by his lifestyle as the years went on. After Oscar was convicted of indecency and sentence to 2 years prison, what money he had went to legal fees, having to pay court costs to the winner, etc. Constance was comfortable as far as money was concerned, through her family income. She took the boys to Switzerland and changed their last name to Holland, a family name, to protect them from the scandal. Constance died suddenly, which was tragic in part because her family hated Oscar, and took steps to make sure he could never see the boys again. The boys were told nothing -- only that their father had done something wrong. They did not know for many years what had happened. Had Constance lived, it is likely she would have made sure Oscar and the boys would remain close.

Susan said...


ClassicBecky said...

Susan, it was indeed a tragic story of this family .. it is best to also remember that there were such good years for them too, years with love and fun for the boys with parents who were affectionate with each other and who loved their sons. I had not intended this little piece to be an all-out biography on Oscar Wilde -- that would have been an entirely different piece of writing and require heavy personal research. I hope we can remember Oscar ending up in the heart of the Church in the end.

Susan said...

In the end that is what matters for all of us. Good indeed.

Aging Catholic Nurse no less said...

What a great article! I am so glad to know the Catholic church did not turn on him at that time. What a full, happy and tragic life he had.

ClassicBecky said...

I'm so glad you liked it, Aging Catholic Nurse, or "Old Bag" for short -- don't worry, folks, it's OK for me to abuse her, she's my sister... I don't know if you read any of the comments, but Greg and a blog friend Susan asked more about him -- I should have just written a more comprehensive article. I think I will do that in the future.