Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Cleaning up Oscar Wilde

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 18th December, 2011

This weekend in Paris the usual tide of pilgrims to the tomb of Irish playwright Oscar Wilde were able to see the product of approximately 40,000 euros-worth of renovation, most of that funding being provided by the Irish government. The maginificent carving by Jacob Epstein — commissioned by Oscar’s friend and patron, Helen Carew — has sat in the Pere Lachaise cemetery for over a hundred years, but over the last 50 or so it has suffered from repeated assaults by the passionate lips of female admirers, who left stains of lipstick all over the solid base. Not only did this require considerable cleaning to get the marks off, but there had even been a corrosive effect on the stone. To prevent this happening again, a two-metre high plate-glass screen has been erected round the cleaned tomb. Some fans are distraught and a few lip impressions have already appeared on the glass. But I think most Wildeans will concur with Oscar’s grandson, Merlin Holland, who unveiled the restoration earlier this month and who was not only concerned about the damage being done to the monument (which had its prominent genitalia chopped off by a vandal some time in the 1960s) but also argued that the effect of the kisses was unsightly. The glass screen itself is pretty unsightly, it has to be admitted, but at least it should perform a useful function. Wilde himself would be amused that 111 years after his death he is still hailed as a literary genius as well as a social reformer and (some would argue) LGBT martyr, and that his tomb is the subject of so much conversation in Paris. But as he himself said, there is only thing worse than being talked about and that is not being talked about.

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