QOTD (2010-06-24), Pride Edition

The inscription on the reverse side of Oscar Wilde’s funerary monument (designed by Jacob Epstein), Cemetière du Pere Lachaise, Paris:

OSCAR WILDE, author of Salomé and other beautiful works, was born at Westland Row, Dublin, October 16, 1854. He was educated as Portora Royal School, Eniskillen, and at Trinity College, Dublin, where he obtained a scholarship and won the Berkeley Gold Medal for Greek in 1874. Sometime Demy of Magdalen College in Oxford, he gained a first-class in Classical Moderations in 1876; a first-class in Literae Humaniores and the Newdigate Prize for English Verse in 1878. He died fortified by the Sacraments of the Church on November 30, 1930, at the Hotel D’Alsace, 13 rue des Beaux Arts, Paris. R.I.P., VERBIS MEIS ADDERE NIHIL AUDERBANT ET SUPER ILLOS STILLABAT ELOQUIUM MEUM JOB. Caput xxix.22

And alien tears will fall for him
Pity’s long-broken urn
For his mourners will be outcast men
And outcasts always mourn

His tomb was the work of Jacob Epstein, was given by a lady as memorial of her admiration of the Poet.

The verse, of course, is from “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”; what shocked me about this inscription is just how little of his career is memorialized in it. So much detail about his early life, right down to the street on which he was born, then Oxford—Salomé—and nothing else. In 1909, you could not pronounce the words “Importance of Being Earnest” or “Picture of Dorian Gray,” even on the memorial to the man who wrote them.

“For his mourners will be outcast men”: I have been thinking recently of the role that Wilde has played in the lives and literary imaginations of gay men looking to learn something about themselves, and the work his life and his letters did long after his death to further the development of community centered around a love that now dares (as we have seen in Pride celebrations all month) to speak its name. I hesitate to expand, as I have an article on the subject forthcoming and don’t want to give too much away, but the “outcasts” who “always mourn” do seem to crop up everywhere you look in this particular story. Outcasts mourned the death of Judy Garland, or so the legend has it, on June 28, 1969, before they fought back against the police officers raiding their bar on Christopher Street. And when plucked out of its context about a prisoner’s execution and placed on the tomb of the biggest gay martyr since St. Sebastian, it is so very touchingly interesting how that word “outcast” takes on its more particular meaning to the clued-in, no-longer-outcasts who come to Père Lachaise, to the only grave in Paris covered in red lipstick.

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