Last edited: February 14, 2005

Paris Marks 100th Anniversary of Oscar Wilde Death

Reuters, November 29, 2000

By Tom Heneghan

PARIS—In an ironic triumph that Oscar Wilde would have savoured, admirers ranging from actors and gay activists to Catholic priests are all marking Thursday’s 100th anniversary of the flamboyant Irish writer’s death in Paris.

Some of his fans would hardly have mixed in the Victorian age, especially after Wilde was jailed for "gross indecency" stemming from his love affair with Lord Alfred Douglas.

But the passage of time has mellowed views on homosexuality, while taking away none of the sparkle from the plays, poems, novels and aphorisms that made Wilde famous.

"Oscar’s fan club is a very broad church," remarked an organiser of one of many events in Paris marking Wilde’s death on November 30, 1900, in a Left Bank hotel.

In fact, St. Joseph’s Church, the English-speaking Catholic parish in the French capital, plans a memorial Mass on Thursday that will be attended by Wilde’s grandson Merlin Holland and several actors and artists from London.

Despite his decadent reputation, Wilde flirted with the Church for decades and had an Irish priest from St. Joseph’s administer the last rites the day before he died.

"The Catholic Church is for saints and sinners alone," he once quipped. "For respectable people, the Anglican Church will do."


Wilde’s 46-year journey from his Dublin home to his deathbed at the Hotel d’Alsace on the rue des Beaux-Arts brought him first to worldwide fame and then equally renowned shame.

A brilliant student at Dublin’s Trinity College and Oxford in England, he was the toast of London in the 1880s and 1890s, known as much for his eccentric clothes as his successful plays.

In 1882, a nine-month lecture tour through the United States and Canada made him a celebrity there long before he wrote "The Picture of Dorian Gray" or "The Importance of Being Earnest."

His high-flying career crashed spectacularly in 1895 when he was jailed for two years for his romance with Douglas.

After serving his sentence, Wilde went into exile in Paris where a long-standing ear infection slowly spread to his brain. Doctors now say this is what caused his death, not syphilis as was long believed, even by his biographer Richard Ellmann.

On November 29, 1900, as he lay dying with two leeches on his forehead to drain blood from his brain, a friend heeded Wilde’s long-standing request and summoned a priest.

"There was enough in his life to tell us this was no aberration by a dying or frightened man," said Father Thomas Scanlon, the current pastor of Saint Joseph’s.

While in prison, Wilde regretted his extravagant ways but never tried "to reinvent his personality like modern politicians do when they fall into disgrace," he noted.


The Paris commemorations highlight all these facets of Wilde’s life. Three theatres—two in English, one in French—are putting on his plays and holding readings from his works.

Admirers have already started laying wreaths at his grave at Pere Lachaise, the Paris cemetery for the famous.

Accompanied by relatives and friends, Wilde’s grandson plans a private ceremony at the imposing gravestone on Thursday morning, followed by a breakfast hosted by the Irish embassy and then a commemorative Mass at Saint Joseph’s.

Gay activists, who have defaced the grave’s naked marble angel with kisses painted in lipstick, are also expected to make the pilgrimage to honour the man they consider a martyr.

On Wednesday evening, Holland—who has just brought out a new collection of his grandfather’s letters in London—was due to launch a French-language selection of Wilde’s witticisms in a ceremony at the hotel where he died.

About 60 fans were due there on Thursday evening for a private party, including a visit to the death room which has just been renovated in the style Wilde would have known.

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