Last edited: December 08, 2004

Britain Honors Oscar Wilde

Associated Press, November 30, 1998

LONDON — A century after Oscar Wilde was disgraced and jailed for a homosexual affair, Britain honored the playwright today with the unveiling of a statue in central London — a monument depicting him with head in hands holding a cigarette.

"I think it is wonderful, a wonderful monument for the people of London and of England," said actor Stephen Fry, who played the central character in the film "Wilde."

"Showing him smoking is yet again a big finger shoved in the face of society," Fry added.

The statue near Trafalgar Square is the first significant monument in the capital to Wilde, whose works, including "The Important Of Being Earnest," still draw huge audiences.

While hundreds of passersby stopped to listen, actors Dame Judi Dench and Nigel Hawthorne read an extract from Wilde’s "A Woman Of No Importance."

Culture Secretary Chris Smith said Wilde "challenged prejudice, he took on the establishment and its perceptions."

"It’s due to Oscar Wilde in many ways that we today can celebrate a society that generally appreciates diversity," added Smith, one of two openly homosexual members of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Cabinet.

Wilde was sentenced to two years jail in 1895 for homosexual practices revealed during a libel action against the Marquis of Queensbury, who had objected to Wilde’s association with his son, Lord Alfred Douglas.

Wilde died in exile in France in 1900.

The statue by sculptor Maggi Hambling is titled "A Conversation With Oscar Wilde 1854-1900." It is inscribed with a Wilde quotation, "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."

Wilde’s grandson, Merlin Holland, said he felt there was still some "discomfort" in England about Wilde’s homosexuality.

"But I think we’re reaching a point where I hope ... we will regard him as a writer and his sexuality as his own affair," added Holland.

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