Before the Great Computer Crisis of 2009, I shipped a doll version of my favourite aesthete, Oscar Wilde, off to a lovely dramaturge in Florida. I studied some of Wilde's work in my Fin-de-Siecle literature course last year, and fell in love with its beauty and abundance. In earlier writings, Wilde claimed to believe in nothing other than beauty, so it was also fascinating to see his work evolve after he was imprisoned for "gross indecency".
I also made a tiny book to accompany Oscar, in which I inscribed one of my favourite passages from Wilde's play, Salomé, based on the biblical story of John the Baptist (so suitable, as today St. Jean Baptiste day here in Quebec):
I have topazes yellow as are the eyes of tigers, and topazes that are pink as the eyes of a wood-pigeon, and green topazes that are as the eyes of cats. I have opals that burn always, with a flame that is cold as ice, opals that make sad men's minds, and are afraid of the shadows. I have onyxes like the eyeballs of a dead woman. I have moonstones that change when the moon changes, and are wan when they see the sun. I have sapphires big like eggs, and as blue as blue flowers. The sea wanders within them, and the moon comes never to trouble the blue of their waves.
I love the beauty-for-beauty's sake of his earlier works, such a Salomé but I was staggered by the sadness and intelligence of De Profundis, which he wrote from prison. It was very long letter to his lover, Alfred Lord Douglas, and was written on paper that Wilde was only allowed to keep in his cell for an hour each day. Here is a very brief excerpt:
I am a born antinomian. I am one of those who are made for exceptions, not for laws. But while I see that there is nothing wrong in what one does, I see that there is something wrong in what one becomes.