Dublin, Paris Go Wilde

Celebrated Irish writer and wit Oscar Wilde once said the only thing worse than being talked about was not being talked about.

He would have no cause to worry in Dublin or Paris this weekend.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of his death, scholars and fans from around the world are due to descend on the city of Wilde's birth to pore over every aspect of his colorful life and work.

"We have people coming from all over the place, from Britain, Switzerland, Germany and Bulgaria -- this has generated a lot of interest," said an organizer of "The Wilde Legacy" international symposium which begins in Dublin on Friday.

At parallel celebrations in Paris, admirers laid lilies on his grave and toasted Wilde over tea at the Irish Embassy, reports CBS News Correspondent Elaine Cobbe.

St. Joseph's Church, the English-speaking Catholic parish in the French capital, planned a memorial Mass on Thursday to be attended by Wilde's grandson, Merlin Holland, and several actors and artists from London.

Despite his decadent reputation, Wilde flirted with the Church for decades and had an Irish priest from St. Joseph's administer the last rites the day before he died.

"The Catholic Church is for saints and sinners alone," he once quipped. "For respectable people, the Anglican Church will do."

Wilde's Wallpaper Duel
"My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death," Oscar Wilde reputedly said just before his death. "One or the other of us has to go." One hundred years later, Wilde has got his wish. Vibrant blue-green frescos have replaced the shabby flowered wallpaper that riled him in the room of the dingy Hotel d'Alsace pension house where he passed away. L'Hotel, as it's now called, is a plush four-star establishment on the Left Bank. A small plaque outside the hotel on the rue des Beaux-Arts mentions Wilde's name, but the building otherwise gives few hints about the final weeks of its most famous guest.

-Retuers
Wilde's 46-year journey from his Dublin home to his deathbed at the Hotel d'Alsace on the rue des Beaux-Arts brought him first to worldwide fame and then equally renowned shame.

A brilliant student at Dublin's Trinity College and Oxford in England, he was the toast of London in the 1880s and 1890s, knwn as much for his eccentric clothes as his successful plays.

In 1882, a nine-month lecture tour through the United States and Canada made him a celebrity there long before he wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray or The Importance of Being Earnest.

His high-flying career crashed spectacularly in 1895 when he was jailed for two years for his romance with his young lover, Sir Alfred Douglas.

After serving his sentence, Wilde went into exile in Paris where a long-standing ear infection slowly spread to his brain. Doctors now say this is what caused his death, not syphilis as was long believed, even by his biographer Richard Ellmann.

On November 29, 1900, as he lay dying with two leeches on his forehead to drain blood from his brain, a friend heeded Wilde's long-standing request and summoned a priest.

"There was enough in his life to tell us this was no aberration by a dying or frightened man," said Father Thomas Scanlon, the current pastor of Saint Joseph's.

While in prison, Wilde regretted his extravagant ways but never tried "to reinvent his personality like modern politicians do when they fall into disgrace," he noted.

The Paris commemorations highlight all these facets of Wilde's life. Three theatres -- two in English, one in French -- are putting on his plays and holding readings from his works.

Merlin Holland, Wilde's grandson who has just brought out a new collection of his grandfather's works, launched a French-language selection of Wilde's witticisms in a ceremony at the hotel where he died.

In Dublin, television and radio broadcasts of his writings, live performances of his plays, and a choral adaptation of one of his best-known works, De Profundis, are planned.

"Despite the fact he died in 1900, Wilde is thought of as a modern figure," said Gerald Dawe, director of the Oscar Wilde Centre for Irish Writing at Trinity College Dublin.

"His appeal is timeless, partly because you can make him whatever you want him to be -- he's English, he's Irish, he's a playwright, a poet, a critic, a stylist, a gay icon, an outsider, a class hero, a wit," said Dawe. "He's a kind of Rubik's Cube."

Ireland, which prides itself on its long and distinguished literary heritage, from Jonathan Swift to James Joyce, has reclaimed Wilde as its own in recent years, and he is now a firm fixture on the country's literary tourist trail.

Despite having famously described his native country as "a nation of brilliant failures" and scandalized 19th century Irish society with his sexual adventures in neighboring England, Wilde is looked on with affection in a newly-confident Ireland.

"He is almost fatally attractive to people here," said Declan Kiberd, professor of Anglo-Irish Literature at University College Dublin.


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