One hundred and twenty years since he died, poet, dramatist and author Oscar Wilde is still remembered as one of the most brilliant personalities of his generation, writes Gerry Breen.
The 120th anniversary of the death of Oscar Wilde, who is still remembered as one of the most brilliant personalities of his generation, occurs on 30th November. Oscar, or Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, to give him his full name, was born in Dublin in 1854. He was a poet, dramatist, author and international celebrity.
The poet Wilfred Scawen Blunt described him as: ‘Without exception, the most brilliant talker I have ever come across.’ It is a description that is echoed in the memoirs of men and women who lived in the late 19th century.
Oscar is best known for his plays which showcased his rapier wit and his genius for language. He also wrote poems and short stories and his work has inspired millions throughout the world.
An accomplished linguist, he was a brilliant conversationalist and brilliant story-teller. He was widely regarded as one of the great writers of the Victorian era, and he was also noted for his extravagant dress and for his promotion of art for art’s sake. He was a richly talented, larger than life character.
In his early forties, when he had the world at his feet, he was at the centre of a notorious trial and he was convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to two years’ hard labour. Following his dramatic fall from grace, he was shunned by friends and admirers, and when he was released from prison he left for France where he spent the last few years of his life in exile, wandering the boulevards and spending what little money he had on alcohol.
His last sad, desperate days were spent in a dingy hotel called Hotel d’Alsace in Rue des Beaux-Arts in Saint-Germain-des-Pres in Paris, where he died on 30th November, 1900.
Today that hotel has changed its name and is Paris’s smallest five-star hotel. Visitors can rent the Oscar Wilde suite for about £850 a night. The suite contains a framed copy of his final bill at the hotel. There is also a copy of the letter from the hotel manager asking Oscar – or Sebastian Melmoth, as he called himself then – to pay the bill. Oscar was unable to come up with the money, as he said: ‘I am dying above my means.’ The bill was paid by a friend two years after his death.
Oscar came from a remarkably talented family. His father, William Wilde, was Ireland’s leading eye and ear surgeon and was knighted in 1864 for his services as medical adviser and assistant commissioner to the censuses of Ireland.