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Author: Oscar Wilde (1854 - 1900)
Written in 1897, by Oscar Wilde - De Profundis depicts his morose state of abandonment in an elongated letter to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas, whilst in Reading Gaol for homosexual deviances. Wilde's lover's Father the Marquess of Queensberry repulsed by the intimate relations, made life particularly difficult for Wilde, until Douglas successfully baited Wilde to bury the hatchet with his own Father, once and for all. Wilde's attempt of suing the Marquess of Queensbury failed. He was therefore imprisoned for two years, hereon ruining his reputation and finances accordingly. Subsequently his health suffered due to the dire embarrassment of his situation. In the depths of obscene despair, raw creativity looms up like a faithful friend allowing Wilde an outlet to the outside world and ultimately, namely to Lord Douglas. Wilde called the script Epistola; however, the eventual published piece after Wilde's death was re-named De Profundis, by comrade Robbie Ross. Addressed in his unmistakable pen; Wilde fortifies reflections and muses with such bumptious clarity, only a few authors would be able to muster such eloquent wordage. He didn't end his relations with Lord Douglas, albeit with the quill, anyhow - disdain script did suffice instead flirting precariously close to his lover's weakness of overt vanity, pompous stances, and blamed his existence for being a distraction for ones work; viewing from within the prison walls to what existed beforehand. A practice Wilde intrinsically mulled over, in obsessive detail.
"Clergymen and people who use phrases without wisdom sometimes talk of suffering as a mystery. It is really a revelation."
Iron-barred in the physical entity as well as in heart; Wilde in close circles was renowned to slip into an alcoholic stupor, pouring out grandeur romanticisms, embellished in beautifully hand written scripts, under the influences of deep sorrow and inebriation. American writers prized their worth on their tool the liquor bottle as did Wilde. Notably being the ticket for winning the Nobel Prize - Swimming in an ocean of declined responsibility - flooding the liver with alcoholic beverages and recording the occasions via the quill, certainly pronged at the heart-strings of the aristocrat hierarchy while offering such awards. Wilde's wistful accounts reflect on faith - Wilde's artistic licence and lists off the masters like the arts Who's Who? A remembrance of the grandeur masters written as if old acquaintances; collectively suffering for their own creative performance in unison, as one. 'The voiceless world of pain,' Wilde continues. "Feeling with the artistic nature of one to whom suffering and sorrow were modes through which he could realise his conception of the beautiful, that an idea is of no value till it becomes incarnate and is made an image, he made of himself the image of the Man of Sorrows, and as such has fascinated and dominated art as no Greek god ever succeeded in doing."
Bereft of spirituality, love and comfort in reality, plagues the content of the letter - Either he is duly sorrowful with gusto. Or he is preaching from a higher realm, pampering himself of his literacy greatness, garishly wallowing in self importance, to the extent Lord Douglas found admirably attractive. There is no middle road. 'How the mighty have fallen?' As witnessed whilst on a train platform, Wilde was spotted - The embarrassment consumed him beyond anything he had dealt with before. At least in the cell his mind would give him sanctuary, in the cold light of day, only then he'll know how far he had fallen. Wilde had lost more than wealth. A snippet of when his Father first sent him to Oxford to study gave him respite from jail ridicule; it barely was a letter footnote, among the deep sorrow, although Wilde disclosed Oxford was a positive turning point. When studies endeared him to his art - When he was full of hope and aspiration - When blessed by wealthy influential scholars peruses - "I altered the minds of men and the colour of things."
Abstract anecdotes sporadically display a hive of activity from Wilde's quill, reflecting his frame of mind; sometimes he's focus, sometimes not. Probably feverishly eager to capture the beauty of rain that may've descended from the heavens - relaying that Byron's romanticism scripts were merely amateurish to those that he had endured for love. Now he knew what it was like losing freedom, love; for that is the ultimate of sacrifices. Now living with the perversions of yester-year played out on a repetitive loop; reminding Wilde of where he'd been and what he'd become; galvanising impatience in his wordage, inducing an edgy, speedier pace. The fact Wilde had barely several months till his release, made for a more relentless piece of suffering. Wilde's letter De Profundis - emulates a sufferance an injustice of immeasurable quantity. Wilde never got over it. Bereaved at the loss of his Mother early on in his prison sentence, emotionally shook him to the core - re-iterating what she use to read to Wilde moved me; the German Classics of Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe - although it is stated as a matter of fact; his love for his Mother lures itself from the page. Notably the stark, vividly dark times seemed to be when he was at Wandsworth Prison, whereby he contemplated suicide, and soulfully wished he could just die. Albeit morose in content, Wilde never failed to stimulate a beautiful script.
Miniscule moments have been recorded in the letter - such as the slow hat removing gesture of respect in the nineteenth century to Wilde when he was restricted in movement due to being handcuffed; this sign of respect moved Wilde; 'lesser acts have been rewarded into the kingdom of heaven.' Reciprocation of the gesture was merely a head nod - hardly a notification of what that gesture deserved - but remembered with warmth whilst gazing through the twilight gloom at the cell walls. Such small offerings can lift a mood, just for a glimpsing respite from the gloom.
Among the eloquent wordage lives extraordinary humanism and wisdom - one of which stands tall with me is the remark - "To live for others as a definite self-conscious aim was not his creed. It was not the basis of his creed. When he says, 'Forgive your enemies,' it is not for the sake of the enemy, but for one's own sake that he says so, and because love is more beautiful than hate." These words symbolize the need for greater understanding - the truth is.... hatred corrodes humanism. An endearing message through a sorrowful letter - yet still in the bleakest of moments, a shimmering silver-lining appears - That we all must grab at our bleakest moment, for the sake of our sanity.
For Wilde fans, De Profundis is one of his most honest pieces of work. It is available as a freebie e-book - Checkout online.
My thoughts are with Joanna Yeats family at this most painfully enduring time.©1st2thebar 2011
Thanks for reading.
De Profundis ('from the depths') is a long letter (I'm not sure why this has been put in the fiction section) written by Oscar Wilde in 1897 to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas. Wilde wrote the letter towards the end of his imprisonment in Reading Gaol for 'homosexual offences' but it was only published five years after his death. Wilde's intimate friendship with Douglas infuriated Lord Alfred's father, the Marquess of Queensberry, and he baited Wilde, even in public. Wilde, egged on by Douglas (who hated his father), sued Queensberry but lost the case. He was sent to prison for a couple of years and his reputation, finances and health were all subsequently ruined. De Profundis (from what I can gather Wilde called it Epistola: In Carcere et Vinculis but his friend Robbie Ross decided to publish it as De Profundis) is 50,000 words in total and finds Wilde in a reflective and serious mood. He touches of the arrogance and vanity of Douglas and how he was a bad influence on his work but forgives him nonetheless and also writes about his own downfall, spiritual growth through hardship, and what life is like in prison. 'For us there is only one season, the season of sorrow. The very sun and moon seem taken from us. Outside, the day may be blue and gold, but the light that creeps down through the thickly muffled glass of small iron-barred window beneath which one sits is grey. It is always twilight in one's cell, as it is always twilight in one's heart.'
De Profundis is like a drama as a monologue and is quite paradoxical at times. It seems to lament the fact that he did not break off from his relationship with Douglas and criticises him but is also an attempt to restore relations. Wilde stresses that he was someone who lived for pleasure but those days are now over. 'I did it to the full, as one should do everything that one does. There was no pleasure I did not experience. I threw the pearl of my soul into a cup of wine. I went down the primrose path to the sound of flutes. I lived on honeycomb. But to have continued the same path would have been wrong, because it would have been limiting. I had to pass on.' The letter is always quite poignant because it frequently recalls the past when Wilde was feted by society and wealthy and celebrated and now he is remembering all of this as a ruined man in a drab prison. 'The gods had given me almost everything. I altered the minds of men and the colour of things.'
I think the most interesting passages in De Profundis often relate to Wilde's own experiences in prison rather than his musings on the role of an artist and how it is noble to suffer. There are some striking moments here, like a scene Wilde paints of having to stand at Clapham Junction, handcuffed and in prison uniform, waiting for a train while people jeered and laughed at him. 'I am really beginning to feel more regret for the people who laughed than for myself. Of course when they saw me I was not on my pedestal, I was in the pillory. But it is only a very unimaginative nature that only cares for people on their pedestals. A pedestal may be a very unreal thing. A pillory is a terrific reality.' This is a pointed reference to the fact that Douglas had once remarked, while Wilde was ill, 'When you are not on your pedestal you are not interesting.' Wilde never really goes into the specifics of his downfall and writes that many of the things attributed to him by the press and Queensberry were untrue ('revolting malice') but does confess he has also been guilty of 'perverse pleasures' in his life.
Some biographers have said that Wilde's suggestion that the secret of life could be revealed through suffering and there was something noble about sorrow was merely a reaction to his circumstances and dictated by vanity and ego but many of the passages here are nonetheless very striking and interesting. 'There are times when sorrow seems to me to be the only truth. Other things may be illusions of the eye or the appetite, made to blind the one and cloy the other, but out of sorrow have the worlds been built and at the birth of a child or a star there is pain.' De Profundis contains many passages about Christ, who Wilde blends into aestheticism, Christ being someone to Wilde who is a supreme artist and forerunner of the Romantic movement. I can't say I always knew what he was going on about but Wilde's use of language always makes it pleasurable to read De Profundis over the thirty or so pages that it runs to in my Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. A Complete Works of Oscar Wilde is a great buy because you can get one very cheaply and not only do you get De Profundis but all the famous plays and the wonderful children's stories he wrote.
De Profundis is a fascinating document and a must read for Oscar Wilde fans. It sheds more light on his life and thoughts about being in prison and finds him in reflective and sombre mood, looking back at his life and knotty relationship with Douglas. It spins off into many esoteric avenues with his usual flourishes before returning to Douglas again near the end. The author is obviously a man of greatly reduced circumstances but somewhat defiant. There are some moving passages too scattered through the letter like a moment where Wilde recalls someone removing his hat to him as a mark of respect when he entered the courtroom that led to his fall from grace. Wilde is moved almost beyond words by this small act of kindness and says that men have gone to heaven for far smaller gestures. De Profundis is rather short but still has an epic and compelling quality. Anyone interested in Oscar Wilde should definitely read it if they haven't already done so.