Sunday, December 6, 2009

Wilde and Crazy Guy

Oscar Wilde
The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898)
De Profundis (1897)

If I were overly harsh, I'd say that the true crime Oscar Wilde was guilty of wasn't "somdomizing" (as his accuser, the Marquess of Queensberry wrote) a young man (the Marquess' son, Lord Alfred Douglas), but that he couldn't self-edit in gaol ("jail" to us - and Reading is pronounced "redding," but you knew that).
In other words, these two works are a bit unfocused and meandering. It appears that Wilde meant to edit De Profundis for publication, but the ballad is as it stands, a bit odd in its relation of form to content. The ballad is a ballad without real plot - which is, I guess, what prison life was for Wilde. The plot was an internal one of self-forgiveness and learning the redemptive power of tears.
De Profundis puts it better, but it takes a long time to get to the wonderful passages about Sorrow:

Behind Joy and Laughter there may be a temperament, coarse, hard and callous. But behind Sorrow there is always Sorrow.

Pleasure for the beautiful body, but Pain for the beautiful Soul.

and the analysis of Christ as artist:

He realised in the entire sphere of human relations that imaginative sympathy which in the sphere of Art is the sole secret of creation.

[...] Christ is the most supreme of Individualists. [...] one only realises one's soul by getting rid of all alien passions, all acquired culture, and all external possessions be they good or evil.

But all this is wrapped in long diatribes on the sins of the addressee of the eighty-plus-tightly-written-page letter, Lord Alfred Douglas. All I can say after having read about all of this kid's selfish and nasty behaviour is, Dang, he must have been really hot.

(To sum up: I'm glad I read them, but I only recommend the middle part of De Profundis. You're better off with the Happy Prince stories, the plays, or The Picture of Dorian Gray, which I will probably reread soon even though it's not on my list, making me fall even further behind.)