The Crowd Went Wilde

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” – Oscar Wilde

Unless the Dublin-born playwright had the unlikely powers of prophecy, the mask referred to in his advocacy above was clearly not relating to 21st century COVID-19 risk mitigation.

However, witnessing blatant misinformation from face mask bereft world leaders during this pandemic, with Wilde’s quote in mind, I’d respectfully suggest our masters “Put a bloody mask on, and let the truth roll!”

As copywriters may market brand Wilde to prospective readers, the Irishman has been ‘Provider of thought-provoking, witty and insightfulness vignettes for 150 years’. The wordsmith, who reputedly once announced to US customs officers he’d nothing to declare but his genius, leaving his discerning audience a legacy of whimsical and erudite philosophies in essay.

Works like The Picture of Dorian Gray, Salome, Lady Windermere’s Fan and The Importance of Being Earnest samples of why brand Wilde has hung around for a century and a half. Many writers of his writing genre(s), over generations, upholding him as their literary role model.

In contemporary times Wilde would’ve existed in times of the candidacy now afforded to homosexuals. A lifestyle choice he embarked upon in later life with Lord Alfred Douglas, son of the Marquis of Queenbury. Events which saw him jailed in 1895 for gross indecency, along with misuse of the term forsooth.

As part of the sentence depriving him of his liberty, 1895-1897, Wilde was forced into two years hard labour. A time of his when he wrote De Profundis, a lengthy letter revealing his spiritual journey through trials at the hands of the judiciary; painting a dark contrast to earlier philosophy of pleasure.

With hard labour and poor prison diet, it was a tough couple of years for the playwright. Early in 1897 he wrote a 50,000 word letter to Douglas, handing it to the peer on his release later that year. On regaining his liberty, Wilde held his counsel when confronted by awaiting crowds who witnessed him leave prison. Subject to homophobic slights and placards highlighting grammatical errors in his essay ‘The Decay of Lying‘, the Dubliner kept a low profile departing gaol.

His only utterance that of thanking cell mate Archie Archibald for counting all the words in Wilde’s letter written to Douglas….. The poet adding he’d wished. though, Archibald hadn’t have undertaken the count loudly through the night, especially while endeavouring to grab forty winks.. Circumstances that nearly led to Wilde throttling his cellmate once he got to 41,578.

After his 1897 release Oscar Wilde moved to France, never to return to Britain.

On arrival in France, from a commune in Berneval-le-Grand, he wrote the poem ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol ‘. A warts and all tale of his time incarcerated, including the brutality faced by prisoners and the hanging of Charles Thomas Wooldridge, a former trooper in the Royal Horse Guards who’d murdered his wife.

Footnote – As is my want, to save wasting time researching stuff, I’m presuming that ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ was titled thus as it was the jail in Reading where Wilde was held prisoner. If he’d have spent the predominant part of his sentence in Wandsworth, I guessing he’d have labelled his hard-hitting tome ‘Balled of Wandsworth Prison’.

It was in Normandy where he passed in 1900 after contracting meningitis…… Circumstances where he’d plenty to declare with his literary legacy and anecdotes left.

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