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西绪福斯

来自: 西绪福斯(为现实所伤,但又去追寻现实) 2016-11-16 09:03:32

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  • 西绪福斯

    西绪福斯 (为现实所伤,但又去追寻现实) 2016-11-16 09:03:40

    Five days later, Wilde was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment with hard labour for ‘acts of gross indecency’. There are no more letters for almost a year. Between January and March 1897, Wilde worked on a long letter to Douglas, later known as De Profundis, the governor of Reading Gaol having given permission for the pages to be taken away each night and brought back in the morning. On his release Wilde gave the manuscript to Ross, who gave a copy to Douglas, who would claim that he never received it. Although it appeared in various versions after Wilde’s death, the complete text was not published until 1949.
    The tone of De Profundis was calm; there was a hurt beauty in the sentences, and a sense of urgency, a sense of hard things being said for the first time. Wilde’s old skills with paradox, his ability to use words as a way of turning the world on its head, were no longer intended to seduce an audience but to kill his own pain and grief. He was ready to accuse, who was once so ready to praise and flatter. He had suffered too much to care if it all seemed too emotional, written not as art, but as matter. ‘If there be in it one single passage that brings tears to your eyes, weep as we weep in prison where the day no less than the night is set apart for tears.’ ‘The supreme vice’, he wrote in what is perhaps the most shocking sentence in the whole long letter, is ‘shallowness’.
    He accused Douglas of distracting him from his art, of spending his money, of degrading him ethically, of constant scene-making, of deliberately mistreating him and then of thoughtlessly mistreating him. He went over Douglas’s bad behaviour, sometimes citing dates and places and details, but managing throughout to hold a tone which was fluent, to write a prose of sweeping cadences and measured elegance, to create a voice both indignant and controlled. ‘Had our life together been as the world fancied it to be, one simply of pleasure, profligacy and laughter, I would not be able to recall a single passage in it. It is because it was full of moments and days, tragic, bitter, sinister in their warnings, dull and dreadful in their monotonous scenes and unseemly violences, that I can see or hear each separate incident in its detail, can indeed see or hear little else.’
    His cry from the depths was in places so sad that it would make you want to burst with laughter. He recalled Douglas’s fever while staying at that well-known Irish haunt, the Grand Hotel in Brighton: ‘Except for an hour’s walk in the morning, an hour’s drive in the afternoon, I never left the hotel. I got special grapes from London for you, as you did not care for those the hotel supplied, invented things to please you, remained either with you or in the room next to yours, sat with you every evening to quiet and amuse you.’ Soon afterwards Wilde himself fell ill: ‘the next two days you leave me entirely alone without care, without attendance, without anything. It was not a question of grapes, flowers and charming gifts: it was a question of mere necessaries: I could not even get the milk the doctor had ordered for me.’
    ‘Of course,’ he wrote, ‘I should have got rid of you.’ Instead, ‘through deep if misplaced affection for you: through great pity for your defects of temper and temperament: through my own proverbial good nature and Celtic laziness: through an artistic aversion to coarse scenes and ugly words . . . I gave up to you always.’
    But he did not answer the question which every forlorn phrase of De Profundis begged: why did he not get rid of Douglas, walk away from him, grapes and all? Since Wilde’s good nature and his Celtic laziness, not to speak of his pity and his artistic aversion, did not cause him to remain with Constance Lloyd, what made him stay with Douglas? In De Profundis, he wrote about love. ‘You loved me far better than you loved anybody else. But you, like myself, have had a terrible tragedy in your life . . . Do you want to learn what it was? It was this. In you Hate was always stronger than Love.’ Why did it take two years’ hard labour for him to realise this? Why did he not put an end to what Ellmann calls his ‘berserk passion’ much earlier? In De Profundis, the love that dared not speak its name was love in a dark time, in what Ellmann called ‘a clandestine world of partial disclosures, blackmail and libel suits’. The emotions around the time when Wilde and Douglas found happiness with each other remain private and undocumented, yet this fierce attachment formed the basis for every decision made. And the emotion arising from those nights they first spent with each other, which does not speak its name much in De Profundis, made him and Douglas, despite all the treachery and all the badness, inseparable.
    ‘The only beautiful things,’ Wilde had said in ‘The Decay of Lying’ (1889), ‘are the things that do not concern us.’ In time he discovered that no aspect of this sentence was true. For good reason, he had ceased to care about beautiful things and developed a serious need to deal precisely with what concerned him. And since De Profundis was his best prose and The Ballad of Reading Gaol his best poetry, the story of his downfall is not interesting simply for its own drama but for what it did to him as an artist, how it forced him to abandon everything he believed in to find a new tone. ‘Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry,’ Auden said of Yeats. For Wilde, disgrace and two years in prison hurt him into a new style, direct, confessional and serious. His words now were arrows rather than feathers. He retained, however, aspects of the genius he declared when he first passed through customs in America: a sense of shape and form, an ability to create memorable phrases. He knew how to harness his old skills so that he could haunt the world with the experience he had been through.
    Wilde wrote no plays after being in prison. The four best ones, written between 1891 and 1894, seem to have been effortless and this, most of the time, is unfortunate: they needed more effort. Lady Windermere’s Fan, A Woman of No Importance and An Ideal Husband depend too much on the jokes; the plotting is often clunky and the tying up of the plot seems lazy and mechanical like a bad French farce. Wilde was not good at creating character, and in these years he would, in any case, have despised the idea. This did not prevent him carefully considering other writers’ characters. It is interesting how close Mrs Erlynne in Lady Windermere’s Fan, for example, is to Madame Merle in The Portrait of a Lady (‘oh so flat “fizz”,’ James wrote of the play in 1911), or how close the character of Hester in A Woman of No Importance is to many of James’s heroines or how close Lady Bracknell is to Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
    It is important to remember that these plays were written by an Irish nationalist living in London in the few years after the fall of Parnell, when two of the most virulent strains of hypocrisy ever known – English hypocrisy and Irish hypocrisy – joined forces for the first and only time in history. Wilde had been a supporter of Parnell and had attended meetings of the Parnell Commission in the late 1880s, when the leader was accused of collusion with political violence. An Ideal Husband placed at its centre a story of corruption in the British Cabinet. Wilde’s last play, however, his most perfect work, did something more powerful and subtle. It dealt with two subjects about which he had strong and complex feelings in 1894 – England and marriage. It mattered enormously to him that both should fall into decay. His play was set among an idle and cynical English ruling class, and it is a play about love and marriage where love is governed by whim and marriage is mercenary. His genius in The Importance of Being Earnest was to weave all this so tightly into the fabric of the play that the audience wouldn’t notice it. They would notice instead the jokes and the perfect patterning, every piece of action mirrored, the development of the plot ingenious and perfect. The audience would not notice the poisoned arrows buried in the feathers.
    The plays seem haunted now by the story of the life. When Jack in The Importance of Being Earnest says that his brother ‘expressed a desire to be buried in Paris’, Dr Chasuble replies: ‘In Paris! (Shakes his head.) I fear that hardly points to any great state of mind at the last.’ Later, Gwendolen says: ‘And certainly once a man begins to neglect his domestic duties he becomes painfully effeminate.’ And since Wilde’s greatest public humiliation occurred, as he recounted in De Profundis, at a railway station where he was jeered by a crowd while being taken from one prison to another, Lady Bracknell’s line ‘Come, dear, we have already missed five, if not six, trains. To miss more might expose us to comment on the platform’ may affect the audience in a way that Wilde never dreamed of. Both Lady Windermere’s Fan and A Woman of No Importance rehearse the issue of morality and forgiveness. In An Ideal Husband Lady Chiltern says that life ‘has taught me that a person who has once been guilty of a dishonourable action may be guilty of it a second time, and should be shunned.’ When Lady Windermere is asked if she thinks that ‘women who have committed what the world calls a fault should ever be forgiven,’ she says: ‘I think they should never be forgiven.’ ‘And men?’ she is asked. ‘Do you think that there should be the same laws for men as there are for women?’ ‘Certainly!’ she replies. ‘If we had these “hard and fast rules”, we should find life much more simple.’
    In November 1895 Henry James refused to sign a petition for mitigation of Wilde’s sentence. Through his friend Jonathan Sturges, he made clear that ‘the petition would not have the slightest effect on the authorities here . . . and that the document would only exist as a manifesto of personal loyalty to Oscar by his friends, of whom he was never one.’ In his biography, Ellmann wrote: ‘People not familiar with prisons had no idea what their procedures were. That is perhaps the only excuse for Henry James, who wrote to Paul Bourget that Wilde’s sentence to hard labour was too severe, that isolation would have been more just.’
    Close to Wilde’s release date, the governor of Reading Gaol said to Ross: ‘He looks well. But like all men unused to manual labour who receive a sentence of this kind, he will be dead within two years.’ Wilde couldn’t sleep on the board provided; he couldn’t eat the food and suffered from dreadful diarrhoea. He was alone for 23 hours a day, and was not allowed to speak during the hour of exercise. For most of the time he had no writing paper, and was allowed two books a week from the library, but the library was useless. He had problems with his ears and his eyes. He had to work at picking oakum, or at the treadmill. Letters and visits were strictly limited. He and his friends made various efforts to have his sentence commuted, but he served two years almost to the day. In October 1895, five months into his sentence, Arthur Clifton, whom Wilde wanted to become, with Constance, guardian of his children, visited him: ‘He looked dreadfully thin. You can imagine how painful it was to meet him: and he was very much upset and cried a good deal: he seemed quite broken-hearted and kept on describing his punishment as savage . . . He was terribly despondent and said several times that he did not think that he would be able to last the punishment out.’
    On his release he wrote to the Daily Chronicle about his time in prison. ‘On Saturday week last I was in my cell at about one o’clock occupied in cleaning and polishing the tins I had been using for dinner. Suddenly I was startled by the prison silence being broken by the most horrible and revolting shrieks, or rather howls, for at first I thought some animal like a bull or a cow was being unskilfully slaughtered outside the prison walls. I soon realised, however, that the howls proceeded from the basement of the prison, and I knew that some wretched man was being flogged . . . The next day . . . I saw the poor fellow at exercise, his weak, ugly, wretched face bloated by tears and hysteria almost beyond recognition . . . He was a living grotesque. The other prisoners all watched him, and not one of them smiled. Everybody knew what had happened to him, and that he was being driven insane – was insane already.’
    After his release he wrote to and tried to help several of his fellow inmates. In a letter to a friend, he explained that ‘you must understand that I have the deepest desire to try and be of a little help to other fellows who were in trouble with me. I used to be utterly reckless of young lives: I used to take up a boy, love him “passionately” and then grow bored with him, and often take no notice of him. That is what I regret in my past life. Now I feel that if I can really help others it will be a little attempt, however small, at expiation.’
    In March 1898, less than a year after his release, as reform of the prison system was being debated – reforms were implemented later that year – he wrote to the Daily Chronicle once more. ‘There are three permanent punishments authorised by law in English prisons. 1. Hunger 2. Insomnia 3. Disease . . . Every prisoner suffers day and night from hunger . . . The result of the food – which in most cases consists of weak gruel, badly-baked bread, suet and water – is disease in the form of incessant diarrhoea . . . With regard to the punishment of insomnia, it only exists in Chinese and English prisons. In China it is inflicted by placing the prisoner in a small bamboo cage; in England by means of the plank bed. The object of the plank bed is to produce insomnia. There is no other object in it, and it invariably succeeds . . . Deprived of books, of all human intercourse, isolated from every humane and humanising influence, condemned to eternal silence, robbed of all intercourse with the external world, treated like an unintelligent animal, brutalised below the level of any of the brute-creation, the wretched man who is confined in an English prison can hardly escape becoming insane.’
    In the months after his release Wilde had trouble convincing those around him that he had been broken by his experiences. In June, three weeks after his release, he wrote to Frank Harris: ‘You must try to realise what two years’ cellular confinement is, and what two years of absolute silence means to a man of my intellectual powers.’ A prisoner’s punishment, he continued, ‘lasts intellectually and physically, just as it lasts socially’. In February 1898, he wrote again to Harris, who had suggested that he write another play: ‘As regards a comedy . . . I have lost the mainspring of life and art . . . I have pleasures, and passions, but the joy of life is gone. I am going under: the morgue yawns for me.’ In August he wrote to Ross: ‘I don’t think I shall ever write again. Something is killed in me. I feel no desire to write. I am unconscious of power. Of course, my first year in prison destroyed me body and soul.’
    After his release, he went to France and worked on The Ballad of Reading Gaol and tried to deal with the two people whom he had most loved – Constance and Alfred Douglas – as they tried to deal with him. In De Profundis, he wrote about his mother’s death while he was in prison: ‘I had disgraced that name eternally. I had made it a low byword among low people . . . My wife, at that time kind and gentle to me, rather than that I should hear the news from indifferent or alien lips, travelled, ill as she was, all the way from Genoa to London to break to me herself the tidings of so irreparable, so irredeemable a loss . . . You alone stood aloof, sent me no message, and wrote me no letter.’ ‘You’, of course, was Douglas.
    Early in his prison sentence Wilde was declared a bankrupt and his possessions were sold, including the rights to his plays. His mother had been buried in a pauper’s grave. Constance had left England and changed her name to Holland. In the vast correspondence between all the main players in Wilde’s life, a short letter from Constance, written to a fortune-teller in April 1895, is perhaps the most poignant: ‘My dear Mrs Robinson, What is to become of my husband who has so betrayed and deceived me and ruined the lives of my darling boys? Can you tell me anything? You told me that after this terrible shock my life was to become easier, but will there be any happiness in it, or is that dead for me? And I have had so little. My life has all been cut to pieces as my hand is by its lines.’
    Constance had money, and Robert Ross arranged with her that Wilde should have an allowance. The details of this arrangement caused Wilde much grief in his last days in prison. In short, he believed that it was not enough and that there were too many strings attached. One of these strings was that she could withdraw his allowance if he created a scandal or spent time with disreputable people – i.e. if he returned to Douglas. And Douglas, who believed that he had suffered just as much as Wilde, wanted to return to him. On 4 June 1897, Wilde wrote to him from the Hôtel de la Plage, Berneval-sur-Mer: ‘Don’t think I don’t love you. Of course I love you more than anyone else. But our lives are irreparably severed as far as meeting goes.’ However, on 15 June he wrote again: ‘You ask me to let you come on Saturday: but dear honey-sweet boy, I have already asked you to come then: so we both have the same desire, as usual.’ He suggested that Douglas use the name Jonquil du Vallon, as he was using the name Sebastian Melmoth. (Charles Maturin, who wrote Melmoth the Wanderer, was Wilde’s great-uncle.) Two days later he changed his mind again: ‘Of course at present it is impossible for us to meet . . . Later on, when the alarm in England is over, when secrecy is possible, and silence forms part of the world’s attitude, we may meet, but at present you see it is impossible.’ On 24 August, he wrote to Ross: ‘Since Bosie wrote that he could not afford forty francs to come to Rouen to see me, he has never written. Nor have I. I am greatly hurt by his meanness and lack of imagination.’ A week later, he wrote to Douglas: ‘My own Darling Boy, I got your telegram half an hour ago, and just sent you a line to say that my only hope of again doing beautiful work in art is being with you . . . Everyone is furious with me for going back to you, but they don’t understand us . . . Do remake my ruined life for me, and then our friendship and love will have a different meaning to the world.’
    Three weeks later, from Naples where he had gone with Douglas, he tried to explain what he had done to Ross: ‘When people speak against me for going back to Bosie, tell them that he offered me love, and that in my loneliness and disgrace I, after three months’ struggle against a hideous Philistine world, turned naturally to him.’ He wrote many letters defending himself, including one to his publisher Leonard Smithers: Douglas, he said, ‘is witty, graceful, lovely to look at, loveable to be with. He has also ruined my life, so I can’t help loving him – it is the only thing to do.’
    Wilde and Douglas moved in these months from being an interchangeable Frankenstein and the monster to becoming Romeo and Juliet. Among those who wanted to break up their relationship and put an end to them setting up house in Naples were Douglas’s mother, who controlled his income, Douglas’s father, who still could not control his rage, and Constance, who believed that Wilde had sacrificed himself because of Douglas’s irrational hatred for his father. In early October Wilde wrote to Ross: ‘I am awaiting a thunderbolt from my wife’s solicitor. She wrote me a terrible letter, but a foolish one, saying “I forbid you” to do so and so: “I will not allow you” etc: and “I require a distinct promise that you will not” etc. How can she really imagine that she can influence or control my life? She might just as well try to influence and control my art . . . So I suppose she will now try to deprive me of my wretched £3 a week. Women are so petty, and Constance has no imagination.’
    Constance wrote to her friend, Carlos Blacker: ‘I have today written a note to Oscar saying that I required an immediate answer to my question whether he had been to Capri or whether he had met anywhere that appalling individual. I also said that he evidently did not care much for his boys since he neither acknowledged their photos which I sent him nor the remembrances they sent him. I hope it was not too hard of me to write this, but it was quite necessary.’
    Wilde remained unrepentant. On 16 November, he wrote to Ross: ‘My existence is a scandal. But I do not think I should be charged with creating a scandal by continuing to live: though I am conscious that I do so. I cannot live alone, and Bosie is the only one of my friends who is either able or willing to give me his companionship.’ Two days later Constance wrote to her brother: ‘I have stopped O.’s allowance as he is living with Lord Alfred Douglas, so in a short time war will be declared! His legal friends in London make no defence and so far make no opposition, as it was always understood that if he went back to that person his allowance would stop.’ Wilde was indignant: ‘I did not think that on my release my wife, my trustees, the guardians of my children, my few friends, such as they are, and my myriad enemies would combine to force me by starvation to live in silence and solitude again.’
    As the arguments went back and forth about his relationship with Douglas, Wilde wrote a long letter to his publisher about the design of The Ballad of Reading Gaol and the wording of the dedication. Wilde believed, he said, that dedicating the poem to R.J.M. – the prisoner awaiting execution in the poem – would be enough and then added: ‘Alfred Douglas thinks that if I don’t put that R.J.M. died in Reading Prison people might think that it was all imaginary. This is a sound objection.’ These two sentences are significant, because they are the only time we get Douglas in these years (or indeed any years) not screaming, or complaining, or causing grief, or not being madly loved. This is a brief glimpse of ordinary life between Wilde and Douglas, discussing something of interest to Wilde which Douglas, who also published poetry, knew something about.
    By February they had split up and Wilde was in Paris. On 4 March, Constance wrote to Carlos Blacker: ‘Oscar is or at least was at the Hôtel de Nice, rue des Beaux-Arts . . . He has, as you know, behaved exceedingly badly both to myself and my children and all possibility of our living together has come to an end . . . if you do see him tell him that I think The Ballad exquisite, and I hope that the great success it has had in London at all events will urge him on to write more. I hear that he does nothing now but drink and I heard that he had left Lord A. and had received £200 from Lady Q. on condition that he did not see him again, but of course this may be untrue. Is Lord A. in Paris?’
    Constance was well informed. Wilde had, in fact, received £200 from Lady Queensberry, and it was true that he did nothing in Paris but drink. But Lord A. was not in Paris. ‘I have a sort of idea she really wants me to be dead,’ Wilde said to Carlos Blacker about Constance, while Constance wrote to Blacker saying: ‘Oscar is so pathetic and such a born actor, and I am hardened when I am away from him. No words will describe my horror of that BEAST, for I will call him nothing else A.D. . . . I do not wish [Oscar] dead, but . . . I think he might leave his wife and children alone.’ Soon, Wilde began to think over what had happened between himself and Douglas in Naples and wrote to Ross: ‘I know it is better that I should never see him again. I don’t want to. He fills me with horror.’
    Constance died in April at the age of 40. ‘My way back to hope and a new life ends in her grave,’ Wilde wrote to Harris. But when Ross came to visit he noted that ‘Oscar of course does not feel it at all.’ He had no access to the children, and he never saw them again. He was granted £150 a year from Constance’s estate. ‘He really did not understand how cruel he was to his wife,’ Ross wrote after his death. In Paris he began to see Douglas again, but the meetings were sporadic and difficult.
    Many of the letters from his last three years are about money. He was always waiting for money, writing for money and running out of money. He was petulant and knew how to complain. But there are also brilliant passages, worthy of the old days, but with a new anger and edge: ‘I never came across anyone in whom the moral sense was dominant who was not heartless, cruel, vindictive, log-stupid, and entirely lacking in the smallest sense of humanity. Moral people, as they are termed, are simple beasts. I would sooner have fifty unnatural vices than one unnatural virtue. It is unnatural virtue that makes the world, for those who suffer, such a premature Hell.’ He continued, or so he said, his unnatural vices, writing to Ross from Rome in April 1900 about a young seminarian he had befriended: ‘I also gave him many lire, and prophesied for him a Cardinal’s hat, if he remained very good, and never forgot me. He said he never would, and indeed I don’t think he will, for every day I kissed him behind the high altar.’ Five days later he had more news: ‘I have given up Armando, a very smart elegant young Roman Sporus. He was beautiful, but his requests for raiment and neckties were incessant: he really bayed for boots, as a dog moonwards.’
    In October 1900, Wilde became ill. In late November, Ross, who later wrote that he had always promised to bring a priest to Wilde when he was dying, came to Paris and found a priest who baptised Wilde into the Catholic Church and gave him the last rites. As Wilde lay dying in his hotel room, Ross and Reginald Turner ‘destroyed letters to keep ourselves from breaking down’. Douglas came to Paris for the funeral. He was to live until 1945.
    Wilde was buried first at Bagneaux outside Paris in a cheap grave, but in 1909 he was reburied in Père Lachaise with a sculpture by Jacob Epstein as his gravestone. Ross’s ashes were interred there when he died in 1918. In 1899 Wilde had written to Ross after visiting Constance’s grave in Genoa: ‘It is very pretty – a marble cross with dark ivy-leaves inlaid in a good pattern. The cemetery is a garden at the foot of the lovely hills that climb into the mountains that girdle Genoa. It was very tragic seeing her name carved on a tomb – her surname, my name not mentioned of course.’ In 1963, the words ‘Wife of Oscar Wilde’ were carved on the headstone. A memorial to Lady Wilde was incorporated into the family grave in Mount Jerome in Dublin in 1996 and a headstone erected over her grave in Kensal Green in London in 2000. In 1995, Oscar Wilde was included in a window in Westminster Abbey. As the centenary of his death approached, statues to commemorate him were erected in Dublin and London.
    The personal became political because an Irishman in London pushed his luck. He remains a vivid presence in the world a hundred years after his death. He played out the role of the tragic queer. He was witty, the greatest talker of his generation, skilled in the art of the one-liner, the quick aside. But he was also untrustworthy and he was doomed. He stole some years of pleasure and fame to be rewarded with the plank bed, the treadmill and an early death. He was also an Irish nationalist and socialist wandering among the rich and powerful in London salons, eventually being punished for his cheek. His letters show how ambitious he was, and pompous, and how funny he also was, a lord of language as he said himself, and how savagely he was destroyed by his two years in prison. He invented self-invention. He was pure Fin-de-Siècle in his tone and manners until his tone and manners were forced to change. A few times in his short life he created works which were either brilliant ideas, or masterpieces of tone and cadence, or formally flawless.
    In the summer of 1947, shortly before he was awarded the Nobel Prize and four years before his death, Gide went to Oxford to receive an honorary doctorate. Part of his reason for going there was to visit Wilde’s rooms in Magdalen College. Gide had signed the clemency petition in 1895 and, after Wilde’s release, had gone to visit him at Berneval on the French coast. In Wilde’s last years in Paris, however, Gide had seen him only twice. Although he had given him money, he had been embarrassed by him, by his seediness and his reputation for consorting with local rent boys. Gide, despite everything, had become respectable. At their first meeting, he had tried to sit opposite Wilde with his back to the street so no one would see him. Now he walked into the rooms in Oxford where Wilde had begun the transformation of himself. He stood and looked around as an undergraduate cricket team, who were having a party in the room, fell silent. He paid no attention to them; he ran the fingers of one hand along the wall, saying nothing, trying to conjure up the fearless presence who had guessed the truth about him and changed his life more than fifty years before.

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