Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Pop History Moment: The Death of Oscar Wilde

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketOne story surrounding the death of Oscar Wilde - itself a typically Wildean anecdote - is too good to be true; in fact, it's even better that it is true. As he lay dying in room 16 of the Hôtel d'Alsace in Paris, he quipped: 'Either this wallpaper goes or I do.' It was the sort of ultimatum that only a true aesthete could make, and even in the face of death, beauty mattered most to him.

When Oscar Wilde died, on this day in 1900, it wasn't the decor that killed him, but cerebral meningitis, although his time in jail (1895-7) - first in Pentonville, then in Wandsworth, and finally, most famously, in Reading Prison - had ruined his health.

Today he lies in the Père Lachaise Cemetery, his tomb covered in lipstick traces left by a growing legion of fans, people who have sensibly evolved past the judgemental Victorian hypocrisy which proved his downfall.

The biography of choice remains Richard Ellmann's immensely readable memoir Oscar Wilde; those unwilling or unable to lug around a boat anchor in a slip cover might find Stephen Fry's equally scholarly performance in the 1997 film Wilde more to their liking.
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