So Teleny has sent me off on a fin de siècle kick, which has naturally led me back to Oscar Wilde.
Oscar Wilde, you see, is sort of my ex.
I’ve always had a tendency to form profound and peculiar passions for historical personages –while simultaneously recognising that these belong to the unreachable world of the past and even their ghosts are constructions of our present. Being, a committed Barthesian, perhaps it is the impossibility of any certain truth that appeals to me; forget the death of the author, this is the death of the self, the ultimate interpretative space.
And you’ll have to forgive me, on account of taking too much undiluted Oscar I’m currently suffering under a stacking Pretentiousness Debuff that is affecting my ability to express myself. I hate the florid utter utterly utterness (as Punch would put it) of his style but it seeps into me and I find myself imitating it (badly). But … then … is not imitation the sincerest form of mockery? And, seriously, damn him for having a neat quote for every conceivable occasion. He’s like the written equivalent of an earworm.
I am going somewhere with this, I promise. You see, Wilde was my first great literary love. I discovered him at about the age of 15 and, oh yes, I was smitten, less for what he had written because, let’s face it, that amounts to a very slim (though charming) volume, but for who he was – by which I mean, of course, by who he was to me, which was, at least to some extent, filtered through how Wilde was determined to present himself, for he was nothing if not an excellent self-promoter. There is a lot about Wilde, real, imagined and self-invented, to which I think a certain type of teenager would cleave.
And later, of course, I grew up a bit and discovered self-irony. And by the time it was fin de siècle week, I was far out of love with Wilde, and the teenager I used to be, that I pointedly and aggressively refused to even countenance writing about him. I did Dowson, a charming, self-destructive, drug-addicted poet with a dubious fondness for little girls, who I seem to recall died penniless in a gutter in Paris and probably, ironically, slept with Wilde. Or at least carried on with him in an absinthe haze.
So it’s more than a little strange to come back to Wilde after all these years. And there are few eyes more critical than previously adoring ones. Also I am slightly embarrassed to recognise the profound similarities between the two great literary loves of my life, Oscar Wilde and the Earl of the Rochester: the first would wish to be seen as a martyr to love, the second as a martyr to sin. They both died young, loved not wisely but too well, slept with both men and women and made a big deal about it, wrote fabulous letters, scandalised their society, spent time in prison, produced works considered obscene, were renowned for their wit, were kind of hot, noticeably challenged and rejected the conventions of their day, had STDs, were most likely alcoholics, and they both said more than they did and did more than they wrote. Maybe it is just the human capacity for pattern recognition but it seems I haven’t changed all that much.
Oscar and Johnny… THEY FIGHT CRIME.
Although to be honest I could not imagine a more inept pair. Rochester would drunk, trying to smash shit up and occasionally railing about the inadequacies of his cock. While Wilde would be smoking, posing and discoursing interminably about beauty and pretty boys. Although I think he might quite like Rochester because Rochester was a lord and Wilde was a snob, and also he was a rather attractive young man though not in the prescribed ‘Greek’ way and would probably seem quite wild, rough and dangerous. And Wilde was, by all accounts, into that – feasting with panthers, I think he called it. They would have no sexual tension but would probably shag unsuccessfully anyway. And Rochester would probably not be able to get it up and then would write a filthy poem about Wilde’s arse.
And I find it highly unlikely that any crime would get solved.
If anyone wants me to write this book… yeah, there’s nobody right?