Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde (Dublin, 1854 – Paris, 1900) was the son of an eye-surgeon and a literary hostess and writer (known under the pseudonym “Speranza”). After studying at Trinity College, Dublin, Wilde went to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he achieved a double first and won the Newdigate prize for a poem Ravenna.
While at Oxford he became notorious for his flamboyant wit, talent, charm and aestheticism, and this reputation soon won him a place in London society. In 1882 Wilde gave a one year lecture tour of America, visiting Paris in 1883 before returning to New York for the opening of his first play Vera. In 1884 he married and had two sons, for whom he probably wrote his first book of fairy tales, “The Happy Prince”. The next decade was his most prolific and the time when he wrote the plays for which he is best remembered. His writing and particularly his plays are epigramatic and witty and Wilde was not afraid to shock.
This period was also haunted by accusations about his personal life, chiefly prompted by the Marquess of Queensberry’s fierce opposition to the intense friendship between Wilde and her son, Lord Alfred. These accusations culminated in 1895 in Wilde’s imprisonment for homosexual offences.
While in prison, Wilde was declared bankrupt, and after his release he lived on the generosity of friends. From prison he wrote a long and bitter letter to Lord Alfred, part of which was afterwards published as “De Profundis”, but after his release he wrote nothing but the poem “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”.
A LOVE LETTER
In the summer of 1891, Oscar Wilde met Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas, third son of the Marquess of Queensberry and Oxford student, and he fell in love. Wilde and Bosie were lovers for four years until, in 1895, the Marquis led the writer to trial – on charges of “committing immoral acts with boys” – and Wilde was sentenced to two years imprisonment with hard labor.
The following correspondence was presented as evidence during the trial:
January 1893, Babbacombe Cliff
My Own Boy,
Your sonnet is quite lovely, and it is a marvel that those red-roseleaf lips of yours should be made no less for the madness of music and song than for the madness of kissing. Your slim gilt soul walks between passion and poetry. I know Hyacinthus, whom Apollo loved so madly, was you in Greek days.
Why are you alone in London, and when do you go to Salisbury? Do go there to cool your hands in the grey twilight of Gothic things, and come here whenever you like. It is a lovely place and lacks only you; but go to Salisbury first.
Always, with undying love,
THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY
“The Picture of Dorian Gray” is the only published novel by Oscar Wilde, appearing as the lead story in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine on 20 June 1890, printed as the July 1890 issue of this magazine. Wilde later revised this edition, making several alterations, and adding new chapters; the amended version was published by Ward, Lock, and Company in April 1891.
The novel tells of a young man named Dorian Gray, the subject of a painting by artist Basil Hallward. Basil is impressed by Dorian’s beauty and becomes infatuated with him, believing his beauty is responsible for a new mode in his art. Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton, a friend of Basil’s, and becomes enthralled by Lord Henry’s world view. Espousing a new hedonism, Lord Henry suggests the only things worth pursuing in life are beauty and fulfillment of the senses. Realizing that one day his beauty will fade, Dorian (whimsically) expresses a desire to sell his soul to ensure the portrait Basil has painted would age rather than he. Dorian’s wish is fulfilled, plunging him into debauched acts. The portrait serves as a reminder of the effect each act has upon his soul, with each sin displayed as a disfigurement of his form, or through a sign of aging.
“The Picture of Dorian Gray” is considered a work of classic gothic fiction with a strong Faustian theme.
Among the many film versions for Wilde’s novel, I highlight only the 1945 movie directed by Albert Lewin, one of my favourites classics. Released in March 1945 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the film is directed by Albert Lewin and stars George Sanders as Lord Henry Wotton and Hurd Hatfield as Dorian Gray. Shot primarily in black-and-white, the film features two inserts in 3-strip Technicolor of Dorian’s portrait as a special effect (one of his portrait’s original state, and the second after a major period of degeneracy).
The painting entitled Picture of Dorian Gray used in the film was painted on commission during the making of the film in 1943-1944 by Ivan Le Lorraine Albright, an American artist who was well-known as a painter of the macabre. Created specifically for use in the film, it is now part of the art collection of The Art Institute of Chicago. Albright had to paint the picture while the movie was being made in order to show Dorian Gray’s physical transformation as his evil actions changed him into a horrid image in the painting, while his actual physical appearance remained that of a young man. At the film’s climax, Gray “killed” the painting by piercing it through its heart with a knife, thus killing himself when his physical appearance changed to that of the painting.
THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY
Directed by Albert Lewin
Produced by Pandro S. Berman
Written by Albert Lewin (screenplay) and Oscar Wilde (Novel)
Cast: Hurd Hatfield, George Sanders, Donna Reed, Angela Lansbury, Peter Lawford.
Music by Herbert Stothart
Cinematography by Harry Stradling
Editing by Ferris Webster
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release: March 1, 1945
Running time: 110 minutes
Country: United States
POEMS OF OSCAR WILDE
FLOWER OF LOVE
Sweet, I blame you not, for mine the fault was, had I not been made of common clay
I had climbed the higher heights unclimbed yet, seen the fuller air, the larger day.
From the wildness of my wasted passion I had struck a better, clearer song,
Lit some lighter light of freer freedom, battled with some Hydra-headed wrong.
Had my lips been smitten into music by the kisses that but made them bleed,
You had walked with Bice and the angels on that verdant and enamelled meed.
I had trod the road which Dante treading saw the suns of seven circles shine,
Ay! perchance had seen the heavens opening, as they opened to the Florentine.
And the mighty nations would have crowned me, who am crownless now and without name,
And some orient dawn had found me kneeling on the threshold of the House of Fame.
I had sat within that marble circle where the oldest bard is as the young,
And the pipe is ever dropping honey, and the lyre’s strings are ever strung.
Keats had lifted up his hymeneal curls from out the poppy-seeded wine,
With ambrosial mouth had kissed my forehead, clasped the hand of noble love in mine.
And at springtide, when the apple-blossoms brush the burnished bosom of the dove,
Two young lovers lying in an orchard would have read the story of our love;
Would have read the legend of my passion, known the bitter secret of my heart,
Kissed as we have kissed, but never parted as we two are fated now to part.
For the crimson flower of our life is eaten by the cankerworm of truth,
And no hand can gather up the fallen withered petals of the rose of youth.
Yet I am not sorry that I loved you -ah! what else had I a boy to do? -
For the hungry teeth of time devour, and the silent-footed years pursue.
Rudderless, we drift athwart a tempest, and when once the storm of youth is past,
Without lyre, without lute or chorus, Death the silent pilot comes at last.
And within the grave there is no pleasure, for the blindworm battens on the root,
And Desire shudders into ashes, and the tree of Passion bears no fruit.
Ah! what else had I to do but love you? God’s own mother was less dear to me,
And less dear the Cytheraean rising like an argent lily from the sea.
I have made my choice, have lived my poems, and, though youth is gone in wasted days,
I have found the lover’s crown of myrtle better than the poet’s crown of bays.
I have no store
Of gryphon-guarded gold;
Now, as before,
Bare is the shepherd’s fold.
Rubies nor pearls
Have I to gem thy throat;
Yet woodland girls
Have loved the shepherd’s note.
Then pluck a reed
And bid me sing to thee,
For I would feed
Thine ears with melody,
Who art more fair
Than fairest fleur-de-lys,
More sweet and rare
Than sweetest ambergris.
What dost thou fear?
Young Hyacinth is slain,
Pan is not here,
And will not come again.
No horned Faun
Treads down the yellow leas,
No God at dawn
Steals through the olive trees.
Hylas is dead,
Nor will he e’er divine
Those little red
Rose-petalled lips of thine.
On the high hill
No ivory dryads play,
Silver and still
Sinks the sad autumn day.
The western wind is blowing fair
Across the dark Ægean sea,
And at the secret marble stair
My Tyrian galley waits for thee.
Come down! the purple sail is spread,
The watchman sleeps within the town,
O leave thy lily-flowered bed,
O Lady mine come down, come down!
She will not come, I know her well,
Of lover’s vows she hath no care,
And little good a man can tell
Of one so cruel and so fair.
True love is but a woman’s toy,
They never know the lover’s pain,
And I who loved as loves a boy
Must love in vain, must love in vain.
O noble pilot tell me true
Is that the sheen of golden hair?
Or is it but the tangled dew
That binds the passion-flowers there?
Good sailor come and tell me now
Is that my Lady’s lily hand?
Or is it but the gleaming prow,
Or is it but the silver sand?
No! no! ’tis not the tangled dew,
‘Tis not the silver-fretted sand,
It is my own dear Lady true
With golden hair and lily hand!
O noble pilot steer for Troy,
Good sailor ply the labouring oar,
This is the Queen of life and joy
Whom we must bear from Grecian shore!
The waning sky grows faint and blue,
It wants an hour still of day,
Aboard! aboard! my gallant crew,
O Lady mine away! away!
O noble pilot steer for Troy,
Good sailor ply the labouring oar,
O loved as only loves a boy!
O loved for ever evermore!
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