Like all good Precocious Young Gays, I read Wilde during my formative years. As I have matured, like a fine wine (and full of fine wine), I have grown less enamoured of Wilde and now I find him to be a bit of an insufferable git. But he is still my insufferable git, and I will always have a place for him on my bookshelf. So in honour of this day, the day of Oscar Wilde’s birth, here are some of my favourite Wilde facts.
1. Wilde made out with Walt Whitman.
This is a fairly well-known fact, I think, especially as The Toast published an article on it a couple years back. But just in case you were unaware: Oscar Wilde put his mouth on Walt Whitman’s mouth. It is possible he also put his mouth on other parts of Walt Whitman, but we will never know for sure. I would at least bet on there having been some heavy petting involved.
On a related note, I’m truly shocked that there are only two Wilde/Whitman fics on AO3 and neither of them are traumatically explicit. I was really expecting more depravity from the internet.
2. Wilde cosplayed as a cello.
There’s not much more to be said here. Oscar Wilde literally wore a coat shaped like a cello to an art opening; he went about as an anthropomorphic musical instrument for a whole evening.
3. Wilde gave silver cigarette cases to his rent boys.
I think it’s sweet that Wilde gave his boytoys presents, even though handing out silver cigarette cases, often engraved with loving little messages, was basically the equivalent of carving I’M A SODOMITE into a block of marble and dropping it on a magistrate’s lap. When Wilde was arrested and searched, his pockets were found to be full of unpaid bills for silver cigarette cases. He just, like, compulsively bought cigarette cases for everyone he shagged.
This is why I have been meaning to get “from O.W.” engraved on my own silver cigarette case, so that I can complete my “one of Oscar Wilde’s renters” aesthetic.
4. Wilde wrote a book from beyond the grave.
20+ years after Wilde gave up the ghost, said ghost apparently dictated a book to a medium known as Hester Travers Smith. If you are so inclined, you may peruse the volume here. I haven’t read it; I am just happy with the knowledge that even after death Wilde still did not know how to shut the fuck up.
5. Wilde offended Arthur Conan Doyle’s sensibilities.
Wilde started bragging about how great his own play was to Conan Doyle and Conan Doyle thought he was a self-aggrandizing dick. Conan Doyle was right.
6. Wilde had an erotic daydream about Saint Sebastian while lying prostrate on John Keats’s grave.
This is it, this is my very favourite Wilde fact. Every time I think of it I am overcome with emotion. It has everything I love: Catholicism, self-theatricality, John Keats, and inappropriate levels of sexiness in graveyards. I will let Wilde speak for himself:
“As I stood beside the grave of this divine boy, I thought of him as a Priest of Beauty slain before his time; and the vision of Guido’s St. Sebastian came before my eyes as I saw him at Genoa, a lovely brown boy, with crisp clustering hair and red lips, bound by his evil enemies to a tree, and though pierced by arrows, raising his eyes with divine, impassioned gaze towards the Eternal Beauty of the opening heaven.”
Only Wilde could turn getting a boner in a graveyard into something erudite and clever.
Sources and further reading:
- Ellmann, Richard. Oscar Wilde.
- Gomel, Elana. “Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the (Un)Death of the Author.”
- McKenna, Neil. The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde.
- Najarian, James. Victorian Keats: Manliness, Sexuality, and Desire.