My lover, Lord Alfred Douglas.

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Lord Alfred Douglas, nicknamed Bosie, was a young aristocrat and poet, the youngest son of the Marquess of Queensberry. He looked like an angel: fragile, with a very pale complexion, blonde hair and blue eyes, but often appearances can be deceptive and this case was no exception. The story of his relationship with Wilde began in 1892. Bosies’s  cousin, Lionel Johnson, had lent him a  copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray“, and after reading it  fourteen times in a row” he wished to be introduced to the author and so at the end of June 1891 Lionel Johnson accompanied his cousin in Tite Street and introduced him to Oscar Wilde. At the end of June 1892 Douglas needed Oscar’s help, because he was being blackmailed. Oscar, thanks to his lawyer George Lewis, solved all and since then they started to date and by the end of December 1893 they had become inseparable. The rumors about their lives ran all over London. The writer had little desire to hide that relationship and Bosie was even more eager to show it, as he wanted everyone to know that he was Oscar Wilde’ s “favorite”. In a letter to his friend Robert Ross Oscar writes:”My dearest Bobbie, Bosie has insisted on stopping here for sandwiches. He is quite like a narcissus – so white and gold (……..)Bosie is so tired: he lies like a hyacinth on the sofa, and I worship him”. Oscar was even introduced to Bosie’s mother, Lady Bracknell, and he made her one of the characters of his most popular comedy: “The Importance of Being Earnest“.

wi.3However, Bosie was not that “angel” he apparently seemed to be,  but rather,  he was usually described by his closest friends as spoiled, reckless, insolent and extravagant. He used to spend money on boys and gambling and expected Wilde to contribute to his expenses. It was Bosie who introduced Oscar to the circles of young  male prostitutes, rent boys who were readily available in spite of (or perhaps because of) the moral climate of the straight-laced Victorian Period. Wilde did nothing but follow him dispensing money, gold or silver cigarette cases and other gifts. He once said that attending these young guys was like feasting with panthers. Alfred Taylor (son of a manufacturer), Sidney Mavor (future priest), Maurice Schwabe and Freddy Atkins, Edward Shelley for a short time and Alfred Wood, a boy of seventeen, who blackmailed him obtaining 30 pounds, were some of those “panthers” who crowded Wilde’s chamber.

wi.5Since 1893 Wilde preferred to stay in a hotel to avoid scandals in order to meet freely and secretly his young lovers, but Douglas, instead, was not interested in hiding at all: he always entered from the main entrance. His friends were concerned and disappointed mainly because Bosie’s imprudent behavior exposed Oscar to very serious risks: it openly violated the “Criminal Law amendment Actof 1885 , an amendment which made “gross indecency” a crime in the United Kingdom. His friend Pierre Louys visited Wilde in the hotel with his wife Constance, who tearfully pleaded her husband to come home, but it was a failure.

wi.2Wilde’s first serious risk was the case of Philip Danney, a sixteen year old son of a colonel who on Saturday went to bed with Douglas, with Wilde on Sunday  and on Monday with a girl at Douglas’s expense. When the young man then returned to school, he was not able to produced a justification for the school days he had missed, the whole thing was discovered. His father went immediately to the police, but on the advice of his lawyer, as the guy seemed unwilling to make the name of Wilde, he realized that it was better not to act, even because his son risked to be imprisoned. After a furious fight with Oscar, Alfred Douglas left for Cairo, while Wilde hid in Paris and somehow he regained a certain serenity and he also went to applaud  the poet Paul Verlaine, who had recently been released from prison after his troubled vicissitudes with Rimbaud. At that time he also found his creativity back, as he wrote among other things The Canterville Ghost“, but the sudden return of Douglas ended his desire to write. Once again everything was as it used to be.

wi.12Alfred’s father, the Marquess of Queensberry, had tried in vain to convince his son to end the relationship, furthermore he was disappointed as Bosie had left Oxford without achieving a degree and he could not see any prospect of his taking up a proper career. He threatened to “disown [Alfred] and stop all money supplies” and to “make a public scandal ” if he continued his relationship with Wilde. Alfred ‘s answer was  “I detest you” on a postcard. It was clear that he would take Wilde’s side in a fight between him and his father. Queensberry also planned to throw rotten vegetables at Wilde during the premiere of The Importance of Being Earnest, but, forewarned of this, the playwright was able to deny him access to the theatre.Queensberry, now exacerbated, publicly insulted Wilde by leaving, at the latter’s club, a visiting card on which he had written: “For Oscar Wilde posing as a somdomite“–a misspelling of “sodomite.”

wi.11Against the advice of his closest friends, Wilde was convinced by Bosie to sue the Marquess for libel in a private prosecution. It was the wrong choice.  Queensberry was arrested, but he not only avoided conviction demonstrating in court that the charge was not true, but Wilde found himself involved in a new trial with the accusation of “gross indecency”. Witnesses, private letters, it had not been difficult to find evidence. Three days after the beginning of the trial, on April 29, Wilde wrote from prison a moving letter to Bosie, who had gone to Paris in the meanwhile. On 25 May 1895  Wilde was sentenced to two years and three months of hard labour, first at Pentonville, then Wandsworth, then in the famous Reading Gaol

wi8The prison regime was tough: the poet had serious health problems and by the way, falling awkwardly because of a collapse, he got himself a wound in his right ear that probably would cost him his life five years later, because the infection degenerated and turned into meningitis. Meanwhile, Wilde had vainly hoped for solidarity and support from his beloved Bosie, who instead had turned away from him proving coldness and callousness; the boy  even told him, during his illness, that when (he) was not on (his) pedestal (he) was not interesting.”Hurt and disgusted by the attitude of his lover, Wilde wrote from jail a very long letter entitledDe Profundis, in which he expressed his sorrow and his contempt for the vanity and the inconsistency of Lord Alfred, repudiating him formally. Wilde was not authorized to send it, so when he was released, he gave the manuscript to his friend Robert Ross, with the  instructions to send a copy to Bosie, who however denied for life to have received it.The letter was published only in 1905, five years after the poet’s death.
wi.10The prison experience had affected him deeply, since then he cultivated the dream of escaping from the world that had sentenced him and refused his way of being. He moved to France and lived in Paris for four months trying to rebuild his life and trying to forget the man who had brought him to ruin. But love is stronger than reason. He got back in touch with Douglas and  they decided to spend the winter together in Naples.The two lovers lived on Posillipo hill, at Villa Giudice. Although Wilde was traveling as Sebastian Melmoth, his arrival in the city became public soon, the news was even reported by the newspaper Il Mattino” in an article by Matilde Serao.
wi.9When they were in Capri, at the Quisisana, as soon as they sat down to dine, the owner invited them to go somewhere else as some fellow countrymen, who had recognized the poet, did not  tolerate to be in his proximity. The incident did not remain confined in the island and the two were again on everyone’s lips and the scandal forced the relatives of both to find a remedy. The British Embassy was involved and the two were deprived of their income. Wilde was thus dispossessed of his small income granted by his ex-wife, while Bosie’s funds were cut by his mother. Bosie‘s mother paid the bills of the couple, and forced him to go back home, while Wilde went to Taormina with the little money received from the mother of his lover. In February 1898 he left for Paris.

wi.6The relationship with Lord Douglas was now finished. Bosie had finally abandoned Wilde, probably for fear of being disowned by the family. In 1902, Douglas married Olive Eleanor Custance, heiress and poet. They had a son, Raymond, who suffered from a severe form of schizophrenia and died in a nursing home in 1964. The marriage ended soon in a legal separation, but there was no divorce. In the last years of his life, Douglas lived mainly thanks to his maternal inheritance. His father, in fact, had squandered much of his fortune. After the outbreak of the Second World War, he left London and took refuge with a couple of friends in Lancing, West Sussex, where he died of heart failure in 1945.

 

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My husband, Oscar Wilde.

con1Whenever I think about Constance Lloyd  Wilde, and what she had to endure, all alone in an age when  it was important to be “earnest”, respectable and have the sense of decorum, I cannot help but wonder: what was her marriage like? When did she understand about her husband’s sexual behaviour? How did she feel? Let’s start from the beginning.

con4As far as we know, Constance first met Wilde at a party given by Lady Wilde for her two sons at Merrion Square in Dublin on 6 June 1881. Constance was a passionate reader of poetry and discovered soon that Wilde shared with her a deep admiration for Keats. On the following day, she wrote to her brother Otho:
“O. W. came yesterday at about 5.30 (by which time I was shaking with fright!) and stayed for half an hour, begged me to come and see his mother again soon…. I can’t help liking him, because when he’s talking to me alone he’s never a bit affected, and speaks naturally, excepting that he uses better language than most people.

The following months, she slowly grew attached to him, but her parents were not that impressed by Wilde’s extravagance and furthermore, the eccentricities of his parents were notorious.  Somebody asserts that Wilde was more interested in her family ‘s wealth than Constance herself, but some others, like Ann Clark Amor, believe that he just fell in love with her because:
“... she shared with Oscar a love of beauty and simplicity of form. Her high intelligence and deep knowledge of art and literature made her an ideal companion at theatres, art galleries and social gatherings, yet she combined this with a clinging trust in Oscar which was very endearing.”
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Certainly, she had her firm points of view. For example she disagreed with Wilde’s aesthetic view on the relationship between art and morality, in fact, she clearly explained in a letter to him that “... that there is no perfect art without perfect morality, whilst you say that they are distinct and separate things...”. On 26 November, Constance wrote to her brother, Otho, that she was engaged to Wilde “and perfectly and insanely happy”, and Wilde wrote to Lillie Langtry in December: “…I am going to be married to a beautiful girl called Constance Lloyd, a grave, slight, violet-eyed little Artemis “. On 29 May 1884, at 2:30 p.m., Wilde and Constance were married in St. James’s Church, Sussex Gardens, the witnesses including Lady Wilde and Oscar’s brother, Willie. Shortly after their marriage Wilde will write to her : “I feel incomplete without you” .
In the years before 1895, their relationship was based on their admiration of each other’s unique qualities, as Amor writes:
“He adored his shy young bride with her radiant beauty and slim form; he was proud of her, took infinite interest in her clothes (a rare quality in a husband) and loved going with her to choose more. He was her ideal mentor in matters of culture and taste, her professor in the art of love. He was the center of her universe, till death and no doubt beyond.
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The dinner parties at their Tite Street home attracted all the most important figures of the time. As a hostess, Constance was a success, though inevitably she was overshadowed by Oscar, as, indeed, almost everyone else was in his company. Constance’s pregnancies and births of Cyril and Vyvyan had an adverse effect on Wilde, for Constance was often unwell during this time, so they slowly become sexually estranged. His social relationships now tended to exclude Constance, who turned to her writing and participated actively in the Liberal politics of the day. It was about this time that the Wildes welcomed young Robbie Ross into their home. Robbie, a loyal friend to both throughout the rest of their lives, became Oscar’s lover. The situation had changed, and it didn’t go unnoticed  Oscar started to drop hints to various young men that his sexual preferences had changed, while Constance, with seeming innocence, welcomed them all as family friends. After all, she was just following the Victorian motto :”public virtues and hidden vices” .
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By 1892, a new lover was about to come on stage. Spoilt, selfish and immensely in love with what he believed was his own genius, Lord Alfred Douglas, better known as Bosie (the name derived from Lady Queensberry’s pet-name of “Boysie” for her third son) upset the Wildes’ life. Astonishingly, following Wilde’s break with his expensive, untalented young lover (Bosie’s translation from the French of Wilde’s Salome was so poor that it had to be rewritten by the embarrassed author), it was Constance who succumbed to Lord Alfred’s pleas. In February 1894, she invited him to return. Douglas incredibly wrote about her:
I was always on the best of terms with Mrs. Wilde. I liked her and she liked me. She told me, about a year after I first met her, that she liked me better than any of Oscar’s other friends“.
Wilde seems to contradict these words as he wrote to Douglas that their friendship had always distressed Constance. Still, whatever confusion existed in Constance’s mind before the trials concerning Douglas and Wilde, she was “wonderfully loyal,” Wilde told Robert Ross, adding: “She could not understand me, and I was bored to death with the married life”.
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Bosie was the cause of Wilde’s vertiginous downfall, in 1895, at the top of his fame:
It was Bosie who urged Wilde to prosecute Lord Queensberry for the infamous “posing Sodomite” card left, without an envelope, at Wilde’s club. It was Bosie’s careless gifts of suits, their pockets still filled with incriminating letters, that linked Wilde to the world of rent-boys into which his young lover had led him. It was Bosie who hurt Constance’s reputation most, by declaring her responsible for the failure of Wilde’s marriage.”
Harsh new rulings on homosexuality were introduced to England and Wilde was sentenced to two years of hard labours. After Wilde’s imprisonment, Constance changed her and her sons’ last name to Holland to estrange themselves from Wilde’s scandal and forced him to give up his parental rights. The couple never divorced. Constance visited Wilde in prison and paid his expenses when he left it. She planned, as he did, for a reunion, but when Bosie resurfaced, Constance accused Wilde only of being “weak as water” and refused to sent him money.

In the meantime Constance had started to feel unwell. In 1894, she wrote: ‘I am alright when I don’t walk.’ A year later, her walking had deteriorated. Constance sought help from two doctors. One of them was a “nerve doctor” from Heidelberg, Germany who believed in treating patients with baths and electricity. The second doctor was an Italian, Luigi Maria Bossi, who somehow thought that neurological and mental illness could be cured with gynecological operations. She was therefore operated for uterine fibroid in 1895 and 1898, the latter of which ultimately led to her death.It seems that Constance was wrongly diagnosed, as the symptoms nowadays would be associated to multiple sclerosis. A tragic end to a tragic life.

My father, Oscar Wilde.

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Vyvyan Holland Wilde

Unconventional, scandalous, witty, generous, brilliant, these are just a few adjectives that may suit a man of such genius and personality like Oscar Wilde, a man who knew both the triumph and adoration of people and the brutal disaster at the end of his life. Whenever I think about the swirl of events that characterized his life of man and artist, I can’t help but think about his children. What kind of father was Oscar Wilde? What did it mean growing under the shadow of such a giant of his times?

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Constance Wilde and Cyril

Oscar Wilde had two sons: Cyril (1885-1915) and Vyvyan (1886-1967). Many of my curiosities were satisfied by Vyvyan, who wrote : “Son of Oscar Wilde”. As far as we know, the boys had a marvelous early childhood. They grew up at the Wildes’ fashionable home in Tite Street, Chelsea. As their father was a popular playwright and their mother an attractive and cultured hostess, the litterati of London were often present in their home. People like John Singer Sargent, John Ruskin, Mark Twain, Robert Browning, Algernon Swinburne, and Ellen Terry were often seen at their house.  Wilde by all accounts was a wonderful father and he delighted in playing with the boys. The boys in turn absolutely adored him, “… he was a hero to us both. He was so tall and distinguished and, to our uncritical eyes, so handsome …. He was a real companion to us, and we always looked forward eagerly to his frequent visits to our nursery…. He would go down on all fours on the nursery floor, being in turn a lion, a wolf, a horse, caring nothing for his usually immaculate appearance.

os1The sense of style was not only their father’s issue. They seem to have been dressed very fashionably, apparently in matching outfits.We are not sure to what extent their father was involved in choosing their clothing, however, they wore Little Lord Fauntleroy suits, sailor suits and other outfits. The boys also wore berets and blouses with large collars and despite their father love for velvet suits, it seems that the boys were much less enamored of them. They much preferred their sailor suits.

os2Wilde’s legal problems shattered the boys’ pampered life. When Constance, their mother decided that the boys could no longer stay at their school, they had not a clue of what had happened. She decided to send them to Switzerland with a French governess, where they stayed for 3 years. Once in Switzerland they were instructed that they had to forget their name Wilde and that they would now be called Holland. This was the name of their mother’s relations. Vyvyan was told that his name was now Vivian and the Oscar Beresford dropped. The boys were not told what had happened, but they were told in no uncertain terms that there would be serious repercussions if their old identity slipped out. Vivian recalls that even 2 years after their father’s disgrace that he still did not know just what his father had done. Somehow Cyril found out,  but he did not tell it to his little brother. Constance Wilde’s family wanted to eradicate all memory of his father and insisted that he was dead and that his literary work was not important. Vivian recalls that he was so miserable that he once lay down in the snow wanting to die. Constance did not hate her disgraced husband, but she needed to defend her children from the consequences of the public scandal. She wrote to Vivian shortly before her death, “Try not to feel harshly about your father; remember that he is your father and that he loves you. All his troubles arose from the hatred of a son for his father, and whatever he has done he has suffered bitterly for“.

os7The boys were sent off to an English-language boarding school in Heidelberg, Germany–Neuenheim Collage (1896). One day, the boys found some cricket flannels packed in their trunks still had the Wilde name tags. They remember being horrified to find evidence of their former names on their clothes. Even if they had no idea of what had occurred, they, actually, felt like little criminals. Vivian later wrote: “The thought that at any moment an indiscreet remark or a chance encounter … might betray us was a sword of Damocles constantly hanging over our heads.”  It was subsequently decided to separate the boys as an added security measure. Cyril stayed at the school in Germany, while Vivian was sent to a Catholic (Jesuit) school in Monaco. Therefore the  boys had been permanently separated from their father and lived far away from their mother in a foreign country. The situation worsened when their mother died in 1898. They were left in the charge of their mother’s family, who sought legal counsel to prevent Oscar Wilde from seeing his sons again.The family did not even tell them, when their father died.

The boys eventually returned to England after their mother’s death. Vivian was brought back from Monaco by a priest and he was taken in by his mother’s aunt. Cyril who was nearly 2 years older, 13 at the time, was allowed to leave his school at Heidelberg and come home on his own. The family decided to keep the boys split apart and chose two different schools for them. Vivian was sent to Stonyhurst College, Lancashire, a Jesuit public school, while Cyril  attended Radley School. With this separation they no longer spent much time together, but they kept in touch by writing.

os8Vivian was 12-years old when he entered the school and it seems it was a gifted scholar. Oscar Wilde died when he was only 14 and when the Rector of Stonyhurst summoned the boy and to inform him of the tragic occurrence, Vivian remembers saying: “But I thought he died long ago” and began crying. Only a few years later, at age 16  he read Robert Sherard‘s Oscar Wilde: The Story of an Unhappy Friendship (1902) and finally learned what had happened. He remembers being so “depressed” that he determined to read no further books about his father. He decided then to go into mourning. When his schoolmates asked why, he came up with a cover story. He told them that his father’s body was found on a South Sea island after he had long been lost at sea. The colorful narration made him “something of a hero” for a time. He left Stonyhurst in 1904.

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Vyvyan Holland Wilde

Vivian Holland studied law at Trinity Hall in the University of Cambridge from 1905, but tired of his studies, he left Cambridge in 1907. However, he resumed his study of law at the age of 22, and was called to the Bar of England and Wales by the Inner Temple in 1912. He then began to write poems and short stories and in 1913 married Violet Craigie. Unlike his brother, Cyril did not attend university and decided to make a career in the Army. After leaving Radley, he enrolled as a Gentleman Cadet at the Royal Military College. When World War I broke out , Vivian, who had no military background, entered service as a second lieutenant.With his linguistic talents he was assigned to the Interpreters Corps, but unfortunately no more interpreters were needed. Therefore, he was transferred to the Royal Field Artillery, where his brother was serving. Looking back, Vivian wrote, “He was not popular with his brother officers, who considered him pompous and intolerant. He would not join the small talk of the mess, mostly scandal or about sport. And they could not understand anyone who spent his ordinary leave in travelling about Europe and visiting art galleries instead of hunting, shooting, yachting, or fishing”. Cyril was killed during the second battle for Neuve Chapelle (1915). A sniper shot and killed Cyril. Vivian who was only a few miles away was shattered. He wrote: “The last link with Tite Street and the spacious days had snapped“. While still in France, Vivian learned that his wife, Violet, had been terribly burned in a fire. She died before he could get home (1918). Vivian had been wounded and mentioned in several dispatches for his bravery under fire. He was awarded the Order of the British Empire and discharged (1919).

After returning to England, Vivian began a career as a translator, author, and editor. He worked on a wide variety of books in several languages and translated and edited several of his father’s works into other languages.Vivian’s son Merlin is also a writer, but the family has kept the name Holland, never reverting to Wilde.

 

The Rebellion of Taste

be4The dandy was a rebel. A rebel who wielded the weapon of his unique refinement to express his contempt toward the triviality, hypocrisy,materialism, prudery of the Victorian bourgeoisie . The dandy did not follow fashion. Such a superior being would have never accepted to be homologated to the rude, tasteless masses. What is fashion after all, but a never-ending process of homologation, which not necessarily coincides with taste. The dandy embodied unattainable models of elegance and sophistication as he was the worshipper of taste, one who elevated aesthetics to a living religion, as Charles Baudelaire affirmed, the elect ” for who beautiful things mean only beauty“. (Oscar Wilde)

be6Yet, when the word dandy first appeared, it had nothing to do with superiority and refinement, but rather, with mockery. We find word dandy, in fact, in a song, ” Yankee Doodle Dandy“, which was sung by the British troops to mock the disorganized “Yankees” with whom they served in the French and Indian war at the end of the 18th century: “Yankee Doodle went to town Riding on a pony/ He stuck a feather on his hat / And called it macaroni/ Yankee Doodle keep it up/ Yankee Doodle dandy..…” In short the Yankees were so unsophisticated that they thought that simply sticking a feather on a cap would make them fashionable like “Macaronis”, which was the label given to those young Englishmen, who adopted feminine mannerism a highly extravagant attire . Hence, the insinuation was that the colonists were womanish and not very masculine.

Tbe2he first recognized dandy was George Bryan Brummell, who  became absolutely iconic in Regency England, so that he had the Prince Regent himself among his admirers and friends. ” Ever unpowdered, unperfumed, immaculately bathed and shaved, and dressed in a plain dark blue coat, he was always perfectly brushed, perfectly fitted, showing much perfectly starched linen, all freshly laundered, and composed with an elaborately knotted  cravat”, an accurate simplicity difficult to imitate. It seems,in fact,  that the Prince attempted in many ways to match the elegance of the famous counselor, but all his efforts proved vain.  George IV ventured to launch a new trend in order to emulate the style of Brummel, that of the waistcoat unbuttoned, but the result was a resounding failure.

be3The fact is that the Beau”, as he was soon nicknamed, was truly inimitable and not only for his attire. His personal habits, such as a meticulous attention to cleaning his teeth, shaving, and daily bathing exerted a great influence on the habits of the upper polite society, who began to do likewise.  His elegance was not simply based on his appearance but also on his poses and especially on his way to make conversation: essential, acute, often snobbish, with superficial humor and quick repartee. Even women found him so charming and charismatic to consider his judgment priority over the same opinion of their husbands. But he was not the kind of man  who enjoyed the excess of compliments. True to the motto of the quintessential dandy – Stay in the company for the time needed to produce an effect: when the effect is produced, go away” – Brummell used to respond to invitations to parties and receptions operating quick and discrete raids ; incursions from which he took leave with a judgment, usually a joke, intended, after his departure, to echo long in the speeches of the other guests.

Unfortunately for him, along with the passion for elegance Brummell started to be attracted by gambling, a passion that will lead him to his downfall. He lived the last years of his life on the third floor of the Hotel d’Angleterre, in Caen, where he became fallen hero for tourists who knew him and asked to have lunch next to the famous master of elegance. Not even the admiration of the people, however, changed his sad fate: The clarity of his appearance had tarnished […] when you met him on the street, he was only a shabby and dirty old man. And after the decline, madness followed. londonrem

The Nightingale and the Rose

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tremontiI still can’t forget one particular answer that former Minister of The Economy Giulio Tremonti, only a few years ago, gave the journalists who wanted some elucidations about the cuts in the state budget, which, as usual, concerned education, school, culture. In a country with such artistic heritage, everybody would expect the Government to raise funds, for example, to help prevent the inexorable degradation of the many archaeological sites scattered around the country just like Pompei, rather than decrease the number of the archaeologists or those who work in those sites. The Minister gave the journalists a stern, cold look and with his arrogant French “r” said: “Culture has never fed anybody“; and he went away, leaving the audience speechless.

Could he be blamable? After all even Benjamin Franklin in his essay titled “Advice to a Young Tradesman“(1748) had said : “Remember that time is money“. He actually didn’t mention the word culture anywhere. That’s why, when nineteenth century artists  understood that materialism had definitively contaminated with its values the contemporary society, they couldn’t but choose to re-define their role and tasks. What was the point of keeping on with the effort of educating to sensibility an ignorant, indifferent, arrogant audience? What for? Hence they decided to turn their backs to their public and cease any attempt of didactic or moralizing effort. They openly rejected the vulgarity of the contemporary world and refused to conform, finding a safe shelter in that exclusive place where taste and beauty ruled and Théophile Gautier‘s  “Art  for art’s sake” became their motto.

the-nightingale-and-the-roseThe story of “The Nightingale and the Rose” iby Oscar Wilde is the proof that their choice was sound. That nightingale should have followed their example and fly away to reach that shelter, rather than feeling compassion for the tears of a Student and stop to give her help. The Student seems desperate, because he is in love with girl who would accept to dance with him, only if he brough her red roses; but unfortunately it’s winter and there is no chance to have roses of any colour at that time of the year. At this point the nightingale makes the greatest error of her life. She mistakes him for a “true  lover” and therefore worthy of her help.

nightingale_and_the_rose_by_malimalia-d4mn4y7She flies from bush to bush and when eventually she finds the one which might give red roses, she is told that winter has chilled its veins and it would have no roses at all that year. But there is still a way. The nightingale can make the rose out of her music singing all night long, but her blood will make the rose red, the blood that will flow away piercing her heart with a thorn of the bush.The nightingale/artist decides to sacrifice her life for the happiness of the boy. It is amazing to see how the Student, who actually stands as symbol of the insensitive, materialistic society, is from the beginning to the end of the story totally unaware :  “The Student looked up from the grass, and listened, but he could not understand what the Nightingale was saying to him, for he only knew the things that are written down in books”. The nightingale/artist doesn’t speak a language intelligible to man.  Even when the Student opens the window and finds the beautiful rose, he thinks it is only “a wonderful piece of luck” and prefers to ponder if that rose could have a Latin name, rather than reflecting on why that rose was there.

000571890That rose had cost the life of the nightingale/artist. It was her masterpiece. It had a supreme value, the value of art. Will it be understood? When the boy meets the girl she refuses to accept the rose as “the Chamberlain’s nephew has sent me some real jewels, and everybody knows that jewels cost far more than flowers” (she must have been Marilyn Monroe’s forerunner, after all diamonds are girl’s best friends). The rose didn’t serve the boy’s cause, but it is beautiful so beautiful that it must have a Latin name, will the Student keep it with him? The fate of the rose is shocking: the Student “ threw the rose into the street, where it fell into the gutter, and a cart-wheel went over it”. So, what is the function of art? “All art is quite useless“, Wilde would answer. Well, isn’t it exactly what Tremonti had said?

Le Poète est semblable au prince des nuées
Qui hante la tempête et se rit de l’archer;
Exilé sur le sol au milieu des huées,
Ses ailes de géant l’empêchent de marcher.”

Charles Baudelaire, L’Albatros

The Romantic defeat

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Do you remember those bedtime stories your parents used to read you ? Those stories where good always won over evil and made you slip into a peaceful and satisfied nap? I guess you do, so you have well understood that Oscar Wilde‘s collection The Happy Prince and the other tales does not belong to this cathegory. The rhythm is that of fairy tales, just like the characters which come mostly from the world of magic or fantastic: giants, speaking animals or statues…but the end……..the end  is shocking. It seems that Oscar Wilde wrote these stories for his children, but how, HOW could a little baby sleep after hearing that, for example, the rose for which the brave nightingale had sacrified her life had been thrown into the street, “where it fell into the gutter” and just like it wasn’t enough  “a cart-wheel went over it”? I coudn’t, for sure. The prevailing sense sadness that overwhelms you at the end of the stories is given by the unexpected harsh realism of the  real world that replaces abruplty the pampered world of magic. Wilde didn’t want to reassure his kids at all, he wanted them to see life as it was: happy ending is never for granted in a world where men are corrupted by material values and deaf to sensibility.In other words in these stories there is the defeat of the Romantic ideals. The Happy Prince is a statue placed “on a tall column”, so that now can be aware of the poverty and suffering of that world he had never seen before. He wants to do something to relieve those people of their pains, so with the help of a swallow, which seems to have missed the last “train” to Egypt he will give away all the precious stones and leaves of gold that cover his body to whoever he sees in need. But when winter comes the helpful swallow dies and the statue seems to have become ugly and shabby at the eyes of the people who count in town:”as he is no longer beautiful he is no longer useful”. So they decide to pull it down. They are unaware and shallow .They cannot see that behind the ugliness of the statue there is the real beauty of his sacrifice. There is love. The deserved reward doesn’t belong to this world, in fact the dead body of the bird and the leaden heart of the Prince will be brought to God because they are the most precious things in the city. Only in the other world they will be recompensed. Maybe.