Probably the most quoted man in history. When I was young, I heard people saying “Oscar Wilde once said, …” all the time, but never got around to reading any of his works – except The Happy Prince, that is. To be frank, I suspected him of going largely on his reputation.
My first real encounter with him was, funnily enough, in an Art History class when I was in Angers, France in 2003. In that session, the teacher was showing us Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s paintings, one of which was La danse mauresque (below).
(Displayed in the Musée d’Orsay; photo from insecula.com)
While telling us every story behind this piece, she briefly mentioned the gentleman standing to the left of Jane Avril (the woman in black) was Oscar Wilde then living in exile in Paris. What the teacher wanted us to understand was how the painter had always identified himself with the marginalised in society by placing himself with them both inside and outside of his paintings. It would have been pompous of me if I had pitied either HTL or Wilde. I didn’t. However, the latter kind of stayed with me.
Last March, I happened to pass by Reading prison (above) and learnt that one of his famous poems The Ballad of Reading Gaol had been written based on his experience of imprisonment there.
And last Thu, I went to my office and found a new poster on the wall. A colleague must have put it up. It was a simple collection of Oscar Wilde Quotes. He really is everywhere…
I still haven’t read any of his works, but I can say in the least that his wit is not overpraised. I carefully read all of the entries, and some more on the Web. I was particularly happy when I found the “Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes” one, which seems to support another homemade theory of mine: practice does not make perfection but desensitises us to our imperfection. 😛 Anyway, I am now officially in love with him.