Paris Marks 100th Anniversary of Oscar Wilde Death
Reuters, November 29, 2000
By Tom Heneghan
PARISIn an ironic triumph that Oscar Wilde would have savoured,
admirers ranging from actors and gay activists to Catholic priests are all marking
Thursdays 100th anniversary of the flamboyant Irish writers 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
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.
"Oscars fan club is a very broad church," remarked an organiser of one
of many events in Paris marking Wildes death on November 30, 1900, in a Left Bank
In fact, St. Josephs Church, the English-speaking Catholic parish in the French
capital, plans a memorial Mass on Thursday that will be attended by Wildes 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. Josephs 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."
WORLDWIDE FAME AND SHAME
Wildes 46-year journey from his Dublin home to his deathbed at the Hotel
dAlsace on the rue des Beaux-Arts brought him first to worldwide fame and then
equally renowned shame.
A brilliant student at Dublins 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
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 Wildes 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
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.
PLAYS, KISSES AND PRAYERS
The Paris commemorations highlight all these facets of Wildes life. Three
theatrestwo in English, one in Frenchare 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, Wildes 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 Josephs.
Gay activists, who have defaced the graves naked marble angel with kisses painted
in lipstick, are also expected to make the pilgrimage to honour the man they consider a
On Wednesday evening, Hollandwho has just brought out a new collection of his
grandfathers letters in Londonwas due to launch a French-language selection
of Wildes 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.