“Experience is merely the name men gave to their mistakes.” – Oscar Wilde in the Picture of Dorian Gray. He died on November 30, 1900.
I was in high school when I read most of Wilde’s work. The first one being ‘The Happy Prince’, a story that could bring any kid to tears. And I was no different. In my possession was a gigantic book that consisted all of Oscar Wilde’s work and so drawn was I into his world, that even though I did not understand all the deeper meanings some of the text had, I ended up reading most of it.
The Picture of Dorian Gray was the most haunting of it all. It was fantastical, beautiful and grotesque, all at the same time. Writers like him make you wonder about the power of imagination, they lure you to the writing dream – of one day being able to tell stories like your favorite author did. Gray was the perfect paradox, a beautiful monster, a man you first fall in love with and then loathe from the bottom of your heart.
For the uninitiated – In the book, Dorian Gray is a stunning young man, whose physical beauty is captured by a painter. When he sees his painting, he grieves that the painting will always remain the same, while he will become wrinkled and ugly and wither away with age. He wishes it could be the other way round. And his wish somehow becomes true, as if he made a bargain with the devil without even knowing it. So while people he knows age around him, he stays the same – beautiful and filled the arrogance of youth. What it does to him is the rest of the story.
At the time, I had no idea about the controversy surrounding Wilde’s homosexuality (I probably wasn’t even aware what it was) or the charges he faced while he lived. He was accused of engaging in sexual intercourse with a 17-year-old boy when he was 31. It is widely believed that the young man in question had initiated the sexual liaison and was very promiscuous. Oscar was charged with ‘gross misconduct’ and sodomy.
Even if he were a horrible (and by horrible I don’t mean gay but a pedophile) person in real life, in paper, he was master extraordinaire.
I can still mouth many of his quotes that have stayed with me and I can’t tell the same for any other author. “The only way to fight temptation is to yield to it,” Oscar said, I am not sure in which work or where, but by far, its one of my most favorite quotes.
His works enraged his contemporaries and sparked much controversy. But Wilde never stopped writing, not even in jail. Until I saw the movie Velvet Goldmine — which stars Ewan McGregor, Christian Bale and Jonathan Rhys Meyers (all of whom are gay in the movie, just saying) –I didn’t even know that Wilde was not just a literary giant but also a gay icon.
Wilde like to live large, and spent faster than he made money. He died in penury, just as he himself predicted, despite his fame as a writer. But his legacy will never die.