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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Oscar Wilde was born 158 years ago today

A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.
- Oscar Wilde (The Portrait of Mr. W. H.)

Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.
- Wilde ("The Soul of Man Under Socialism," Fortnightly Review, February 1891)

A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
- Wilde (his famous definition of a cynic in Lady Windermere's Fan)

Yet each man kills the thing he loves,
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word.
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword.
- Wilde. (The Ballad of Reading Gaol, Pt. 1, St. 7)

And the wild regrets, and the bloody sweats,
None knew so well as I:
For he who lives more lives than one
More deaths than one must die.
- Ibid., Pt. 3, St. 37

Like a many-coloured humming top, he was at once a bewilderment and a balance. He was so fond of being many-sided that among his sides he even admitted the right side. He loved so much to multiply his souls that he had among them one soul at least that was saved.
- G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936) (of Oscar Wilde, in October 1909)

Today is the 158th anniversary of the birth in Dublin of Irish poet,  dramatist, and wit Oscar (Fingal O'Flahertie Wills) Wilde (1854-1900) to  unconventional parents, both writers. Wilde attended Oxford and became a cult figure in the cause of art for art's sake while pursuing a career as a  poet and playwright. His most famous plays are the witty comedies, Lady
WIndermere's Fan (1892), A Woman of No Importance (1893), and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), and he is also remembered for a single novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891).* Wilde was a controversial figure on the late Victorian literary scene, and his outrageous wit and bizarre behavior earned him many enemies. Eventually, he served a two-year prison term for homosexuality, which resulted in his two poetic masterpieces, The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898) and De Profundis (published 1905). After his release in 1897 from prison, the experience of which left him a broken man, Wilde spent the last several years of his life in Paris. The inscription on his tomb in the Pére Lachaise cemetery there is drawn from Part 4 of The Ballad of Reading Gaol:

"And alien tears will fill for him
Pity's long-broken urn,
For his mourners will be outcast men,
And outcasts always mourn.")

* N.B. Wilde's play Salome (1893), his version of the biblical story about the step-daughter of King Herod and John the Baptist, was adapted by Austrian writer Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874-1929) for the libretto of Richard Strauss's 1905 opera of the same name - a major landmark of early 20th-century opera. Here's Ljuba Kazarnovskaya in the "Dance of the Seven Veils" from the opera, which is both an orchestral showpiece and a great piece of theater:

The iconic image of Oscar Wilde:

His grave in Paris, designed by Sir Jacob Epstein:

Taken from Ed's Quotation of the Day, only available via email.  If you'd like to be added to his list, leave your email address in the comments.

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