Revisiting and reliving past experiences can be fun, especially when there’s a sense of evolution or regeneration. I type now firmly back up north after a fun weekend swaning about down south, including walking along by the Oscar Wilde memorial next to Reading Gaol.
So much of Wilde’s image focuses on his glamour, pose and sparkling achievements as an artist and wit. It therefore seems blinkered to the point of stupidity if the tragic and elegiac parts of his life are not at least acknowledged. There is a place for the grief and sorrow expressed in De Profundis, The Ballad of Reading Gaol or even the Selfish Giant.
Tragedy needn’t be devoid of taste or style though. The designers of this memorial clearly made a ham-fisted attempt at flamboyance by choosing green painted iron depicting lines from the ballad, a proscenium style theatre curtain, and a silhouette of Oscar Wilde in his youth. The shade of green was neither a true emerald, nor a good bottle green, so somehow didn't seem suggestive of either being Irish or being an artist. It looked more like the green velvet of foisty drawing rooms. Perhaps a suburban drawing room aesthetic was what they were angling at, and my image of what was important about Oscar Wilde is utterly misguided.
If we were to put this memorial in the modern vlogers parlance it would say to me ‘It doesn’t get better’. It expresses pity, regret and lamentation while ignoring the strong sense of hope and power of redemption expressed in the ballad. I don’t often get impulses to graffiti public monuments but I felt like scrawling in big red lipsticked letters:
Some love too little, some too long,
Some sell, and others buy;
Some do the deed with many tears,
And some without a sigh:
For each man kills the thing he loves,
Yet each man does not die.
Clearly Oscar Wilde did die. He left prison a ‘broken man’ physically and mentally, but surely when even the déclassé rebel continued to express words of purest beauty and truth while in Reading Gaol and abroad, and still continued relationships based on foundations of love, it is clear his spirit never died.
My normally bona blog is all getting rather too earnest for my liking....Let's shift the focus back onto the here and now.
As an expression of disapproval I led a one woman gay shame parade. With the support of an old friend who took a snapshot, I posed very poorly in an outfit suggestive of the ‘rational dress’ movement. Flagging a vermillion red and white spotted chiffon scarf (international symbol of runaways, and Speranza’s favourite colour) on my right hip*, I rocked a set of pearls and large sunglasses.
I’m sorely tempted to write a Daily Mail reader style letter to Reading Council to protest at the tone of the memorial that relentlessly repeats in large yet obscured letters over and over ‘oh beautiful world’ in such a manner that it entirely misses the point.
To sign off in far better words, this time taken from a book used in Oscar Wilde’s trial:
Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault. Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty. There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all*
*I have no idea if Oscar was top or bottom, I doubt it was important.
*Foreword to The Picture of Dorian Gray.