Sunday, 19 July 2009

How Wilde.

"There is a luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves, we feel that no one else has a right to blame us. It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution." These bons mots from Oscar Wilde, taken from The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) are les mots justes in response to what appears to be the Vatican's recent attempt to re-habilitate him.

More precisely, L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s official newspaper, offered up a review of a new book about him. This has produced a frisson in the British press.

The Telegraph:

In a surprise act of reconciliation with the playwright, the Holy See's official newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, praised the poet as a "lucid analyst of the modern world". Wilde, who was sent to prison for acts of gross indecency with Lord Alfred Douglas and later converted to Catholicism, has been regarded by the Roman Catholic Church in the century since his death as a dangerous degenerate and dissolute nonconformist. ...

While acknowledging that Wilde, who died in 1900, was a rebel who delighted in shocking Victorian England, L'Osservatore said he was a profound thinker who spent his professional life asking "what was true and what was false". The
move towards rehabilitation builds on a softening of the previously hardline Vatican stance two years ago, when some of Wilde's best known aphorisms were included in a book of witticisms for Christians collated by the Vatican's head of protocol, Leonardo Sapienza.

The Guardian:

Despite the Catholic Church's condemnation of practising homosexuality, the newspaper has now run a glowing review of a new book about the famously doomed lover of Lord Alfred Douglas. Wilde was "one of the personalities of the 19th century who most lucidly analysed the modern world in its disturbing as well as its positive aspects", wrote author Andrea Monda in a piece about Italian author Paolo Gulisano's The Portrait of Oscar Wilde.

In an article headlined "When Oscar Wilde met Pius IX", Monda wrote that Wilde was not "just a non-conformist who loved to shock the conservative society of Victorian England"; rather he was "a man who behind a mask of amorality asked himself what was just and what was mistaken, what was true and what was false".
"Wilde was a man of great, intense feelings, who behind the lightness of his writing, behind a mask of frivolity or cynicism, hid a deep knowledge of the mysterious value of life," he said.

The Independent:

With his outrageous wit, clear disdain for figures of authority and openly homosexual lifestyle, Oscar Wilde is an unlikely pin-up for the Catholic Church. Persecuted and imprisoned for his sexuality, gay rights campaigners have long idolised the 19th century writer as one of their own. But the Vatican, it
seems, is equally enamoured of Ireland's greatest wit. ...

Pope Benedict XVI has continued to uphold the Catholic Church's strict teachings on homosexuality, which is still very much viewed as a sin that should not be practised. But part of the Vatican's willingness to gloss over Wilde's more "sinful" proclivities may stem from his little known conversion to Catholicism as he lay dying in a Paris hotel room. Irish-born and fascinated by the ritualism of the Catholic Church, as a young man travelling through Rome in 1877 Wilde had managed to secure an audience with Pope Pius IX. During his time in prison he was also known to have devoured the writing of St Augustine, Dante, and Cardinal Newman.

When he left prison in 1897 in frail health, Wilde exiled himself to Paris and continued to engage in the sort of behaviour that the Vatican would certainly have frowned upon. But just before he died three years later a Catholic priest – Father Cuthbert Dunne – baptised him into the Catholic Church. It was, perhaps, a likely end for a writer who once remarked: "I'm not a Catholic – I am simply a violent Papist".

It would seem that the Vatican is trying to 'soften' the harshness of its ideological position on homosexuality by strategically awarding a small measure of approval to Oscar Wilde, a century after his death. "...When we blame ourselves, we feel that no one else has a right to blame us. ... " Indeed. How can anyone blame the Catholic Church for its intransigeance towards homosexuality when it has deigned to embrace Wilde to its damask bosom.

That rumble you hear is not the warning of new earthquakes in L'Aquila, but Oscar Wilde, roaring with laughter from his tomb in the Père Lachaise Cemetery.


Alison said...

Brilliant post.

deBeauxOs said...

Merci Alison.

Once I found the Oscar Wilde quote I wanted, it practically wrote itself.

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