By Sharon DelVento
By Sharon DelVento

      October 16 was Oscar Wilde’s birthday. He was born in 1854 and died Nov. 30, 1900. His works always seemed to me, with the exception of The Picture of Dorian Gray, like champagne: light and scintillating, with occasional dips into profundity. 

Some critics feel that he never grew up. Whatever his problems or issues, I admire him for the qualities mentioned in this statement by a biographer: “Wilde always had a measure of innocence[;]…cruelty was not in his own nature.”

Here are some of my favorite Oscar Wilde lines:

“By the artificial separation of soul and body men have invented a Realism that is vulgar, an Idealism that is void.”

“Lord Illingworth: The Book of Life begins with a man and a woman in a garden. Mrs. Allonby: And it ends with Revelations.”

“The good ended happily; the bad, unhappily. That is what fiction means.”

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

On bagpipes: “Thank Heaven there is no smell.”

I finished reading two biographies of Oscar Wilde, one by Hesketh Pearson, who spoke with people who had known Wilde personally, and the “definitive” one by Richard Ellmann, which, although much more recent and accurate, is much drier.

I was repulsed and saddened, not by Wilde’s sexual orientation, nor by the way his success went to his head, nor even by his excesses, which were, well, excessive, and difficult for me to fathom.

No, what made me a little ill was the fact that a man so witty, charming, generally kind, and generous to a fault should have fallen in love with the likes of Alfred Douglas, a spoiled, spiteful, self-absorbed, vindictive little twit who was so consumed with hatred for his own father – another real piece of work – that he used Wilde as “both shield and weapon,” to use Wilde’s phrase, against this cruel and insane parent, to the utter destruction of Wilde himself. There is this line in the movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower: “We accept the love we think we deserve.” In Wilde’s case, that is one scary thought.

Wilde’s friends and family all tried to get him away from this human wrecking-ball, but to no avail. He was in love. Wilde himself knew that this high-maintenance drama addict was bad for him and for his art, and eventually the two parted, but not before Wilde had suffered the trauma and extensive damage of prison and exile. He was 46 when he died.

A passage from The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt poses a thought-provoking question (all ellipses and brackets mine):

“’Follow your heart.’…[But what] if one happens to be possessed of a heart that can’t be trusted---? What if the heart, for its own unfathomable reasons, leads one willfully and in a cloud of unspeakable radiance away from…all the blandly-held common virtues and instead straight towards a beautiful flare of ruin, self-immolation, disaster? … If your deepest self is singing and coaxing you straight toward the bonfire, is it better to turn away? Stop your ears with wax? … Set yourself on the course that will lead you dutifully toward the norm…all with a promise of somehow being a better person? Or---…is it better to throw yourself head first and laughing into the holy rage calling your name?”

Oscar Wilde, obviously, opted for the latter, and he is a shining advertisement for the importance of checking in with one’s brain once in a while, by showing what happens when one doesn’t.

We’ve all seen it, have we not? We’ve all been there on the sidelines, shaking our heads at the various unequal relationships and hasty decisions of certain friends, watching their Greek tragedy unfold before our eyes. “This will all end in tears, you mark my words,” we say, and sometimes it doesn’t, but often it does. We can plainly see that this isn’t going to work; that that way lies, at the very least, some bone-crushing or heart-breaking pain. But do those certain friends turn aside? No, of course not. In fact, attempts at dissuasion seem only to strengthen their determination.

Many of us have been the main actors in our own Greek tragedies. Sometimes we set our hearts on something, and nothing will divert us, even if it seems an obvious case of trying to pound a square peg into a round hole. Spiritual writer Anthony de Mello said, “When reality clashes with a rigidly-held belief, reality is generally the loser.” But only for a time; eventually we all must bow to reality or break.

Robert Heinlein said, “You live and learn. Or you don’t live long.”

After all is said and done, said Aesop, more is said than done; so when you finally take a chance on life or on love, and do something, even if you fall flat on your face, you’re still further along than you would have been otherwise.

But I’m not so sure that applies to old Oscar; I think he’d have