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Erik Visits a (Non) American Grave, Part 420

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This is the grave of Oscar Wilde.

I have two choices here. I could do a ton of research on a figure I don’t really know super well and spend way too much time to produce an inferior post that you all will pick apart. Or I could just make a couple points and let you have at it. I am choosing the latter.

First, I find it interesting how fascinated and horrified Americans were by Wilde, even before anyone really knew who hew as. His powerful belief in aestheticism and the curiosity this inspired in the U.S. led to Wilde being invited over to lecture about his beliefs in 1882. Even though he was basically unknown at this time, his style, his wit, and his lecture skills made him a huge hit that extended from an initial 4 months to a full year. The press largely hated him, using anti-Irish stereotypes and seeing Wilde as a savage destroying civilization. But he was nothing if not flamboyant and willing to speak and live his beliefs. Whether he changed many minds is an open question, but he sure challenged a staid and hypocritical society.

Second, while I can’t say I have read too much Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray really is a fantastic work that holds up very well over a century later. Of course reviewers hated it because of it had homosexual allusions, the greatest crime of the Victorian Age. Unfortunately, I don’t actually have that much else to say about his work. I’ve never read Salomé or The Importance of Being Earnest or anything else. A Philistine I am, no doubt.

Third, I have always found that nothing better sums up the toxic masculinity of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries on both sides of the pond that the Marquis of Queensbury, who created the rules of modern boxing that made it acceptable for middle and upper class men such as Theodore Roosevelt is also the person who persecuted Wilde for his homosexuality, specifically for the affair Wilde had with his son. In fact, it was the Marquis’ son that initiated Wilde into the gay prostitution scene in London. When Wilde finally struck back at the vicious attacks by Queensbury, it brought his whole private life into the public eye, which was disastrous for him, including bankrupting him since he had to pay both sides’ legal expenses after Wilde’s libel suit was dismissed. Wilde was imprisoned for two years, between 1895 and 1897. Not a real physically strong or robust man to begin with, he came out with his health broken. The day he left prison he left the United Kingdom for France and never returned. His last three years were marked by poverty and failing health. He died in Paris in 1900.

Oscar Wilde is buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France.

If you would like to help to keep this series alive, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Personally, I wouldn’t give me money to go to England and France to visit graves, but hey, no one is going to stop you. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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