By Matthew Sturgis
In his new collection of stories, "The Master of Chaos ", the British Guyanese writer Pauline Melville makes one of his Georgetown heroes speculate on the difference between chance and fate. “Chance is random. Fate is not. Fate has a plan and fate wins in the end. But luck makes you think that you are escaping fate for a moment. In trying to tell the story of Oscar Wilde, successive biographers have faced the problem that the impact of Wilde's downfall is so dramatic and so powerful in its resonance for future generations that it is dIt's hard to avoid writing as if his fate was predestined, and as if chance had played no role. At the height of his unique fame as a playwright, Wilde was sent to jail for gross indecency with hire boys. He then died a few years in exile at the age of 46. Icarus phors abound. In popular myth, Oscar Wilde was always heading for destruction, and there was nothing he could do about it.
Matthew Sturgis is a historian, and he believes that with "Oscar Wilde: A Life ", he may be able to refresh the narrative by avoiding interpretation. Rather, he prefers to do what Wilde called "fixing a lot of moldy facts." The aim of Sturgis 's exhaustive scholarship is that the prosaic can better inform the poetic. He even stops to tell you the name of the store where Wilde bought his student glassware, and attention is drawn to the playwright's brief, and upthen unexplored, the passion for golf. Obviously, Sturgis is more interested in what Wilde did than what Wilde means. He wants, he says, to put Wilde back in the 19th century. But his choice of strategy comes up against a second problem. No English writer has ever been better than Wilde himself in acute and devastating self-dramatization. Sturgis may not want to learn lessons, but Wilde has. Not only did Wilde know better than anyone what he was doing. He also had a pretty good idea of how everyone was going to see him.
Born into a prominent and eccentric Irish Protestant family in Dublin in 1854, and with a mother, "Speranza ", who had exposed the horrors of the Irish famine and lambasted the UK government for its indifference, Wilde arrived with a fully formed and suspicious attitude towards London society he was so eager to conquerir: "Virtue in the English sense… is just prudence and hypocrisy. When, shortly after, he found himself criticized on the grounds that he was famous for the sole reason of being famous, he responded - like Andy Warhol years later - with a benevolent gentleness and humor that suggested a man who fully understood the rules and how to break them. The attacks on him were never blocked because he didn't would not solve them. When George du Maurier parodied him in a cartoon as the "aesthetic" poet "Jellaby Postlethwaite", Wilde's good nature led him to offer to sit for the cartoonist, in order to that it can get a better likeness.
Certainly, it took a little time for Wilde to discover his profession. He edited a women's magazine, made a long speaking tour in Americ on art and offered some serious melodramas before realizing that his gift was to write social satire for the theater, where he had an unbroken line of success. Among his contemporaries, he was the first to understand that "we will never have a real drama in England until it is recognized that a play is a form of expression of itself as personal and individual as a poem or an image ”. But while Sturgis is able to annotate Wilde's professional progress, his sexual understanding of self, both before and after his marriage to Constance Lloyd, remains obscure. He loved his wife, and he certainly loved his children. But for all of Sturgis' diligent research, we still don't know through what process and under what circumstances Wilde met her first male lover, Robbie Ross.
Since his first meeting, in 1891, with Lord20-year-old Alfred Douglas, aka Bosie, the deepest mysteries of Wilde's life begin to unfold. Everyone knows that it was Bosie, with his "outspoken paganism", who first introduced Wilde to the gross trade, and got him into a family feud with his father, the Marquis of Queensberry. And they also know that it was Bosie who pushed Wilde into his disastrous private pursuit, when Wilde was accused by the Marquis of posing as a sodomite. Given the obvious dangers of a course that so many friends have warned him against, admirers have since been pummeled. How can someone so self-aware be so ignorant of themselves in their dedication to Bosie's beauty, when no one knew Bosie 's character's flaws better than Wilde? Or was Wilde more than half in love with the tragedy? Had he already started to identify with the myth of Jesus, which would dominate almost allhis thought - until finally a Catholic conversion? Did he, in fact, like Christ, knowingly embrace his destiny?
When Sturgis is confronted with these questions, his approach is 'collapses completely. The most debated point for all of Wilde's students is why, after his prosecution failed, he turned down the chance offered by the authorities for him to take a boat train to France. Why did Wilde seemingly prefer martyrdom to exile? Sturgis' explanation that his choice to stay at the Cadogan Hotel and drink shank and salt was largely due to inertia seems as bizarre as his repeated insistence that Wilde be 'had little interest in politics - a strange suggestion to make about the man who wrote "The Soul of Man under Socialism." Yes, Wilde's interest in creating a company free from all commercial competition was indeed that theindividual should thus flourish. He saw socialism as a way to allow things that mattered more to him. But anyone who remembers Trotsky's argument that under socialism ordinary man and woman are raised to the level of Aristotle, Goethe and Marx, will recognize that these two extremely different characters sound exactly the same. the same bell.
Sturgis is reckless in his introduction to criticize Richard Ellmann's great 1987 biography for seeing the playwright not only through artistic eyes, but through too modern eyes. But how else to see the man who prophetically wrote down his homosexuality: "I have no doubt that we will win, but the road is long and red with monstrous martyrs"? By far the most compelling chapters from Sturgis Reading Center on the practices and customs of his three prisons - Pentonville, Wandsworth and Reading. But their urgency lies in the exact deions of how the different regimes of different governors had the effect of transforming Wilde's early desperation during incarceration into his later feeling that his suffering had a predominantly spiritual dimension. When you read the subtle internal boundaries between the human and the cruel, and their crucial effect on Wilde's survival, you immediately want to rush to the nearest prison and offer them to today's staff as instruction manual.
Throughout history, Wilde 's reputation has been challenged. Henry James called his work "disgusting and silly", while Noel Coward, probably for reasons of his own, contented himself with calling him "a boring jerk". Those of us who love him are most touched by his generosity. He really gave moneyextravagant to every beggar he came across, and was baffled when, in his later years, acquaintances did not show him the same generosity he had once given to strangers. The act of exercising practical, daily benevolence was central to both her beliefs and her way of life. He brought to literature a liberating philosophy that hit Victorian society, but also our own, head-on. He didn't believe that morality was about judging the faults of others. He believed it was judging your own. He complained about the prison that "it is assumed that because something is a rule, it is just". But Wilde, in his own reflection on all aspects of life, never made such an assumption. Hence the voluntary glory and the radical spirit of his work. Instead, he chose to take the more difficult course of examining his own behavior and giving up pleasures a lot.oup easier to condemn others. Who can imagine that such determination has nothing to tell us, at this moment, about the current behavior of our societies? As Ellmann memorably concluded a little over 30 years ago: “He occupied, as he insisted, a 'symbolic relationship' with his time. … He is not one of those writers who, as the centuries change, lose their upliftment. Wilde is one of us. "