Perhaps an impending trip to Paris was what made me include Oscar Wilde's De Profundis into my summer books list, but I don't think there was a conscious link. Maybe I desired an encounter with the memory of my idealistic, youthful self who first engaged with this arresting work some seventeen years ago. Above all I suppose I wanted to be moved by beautiful language, intensity of feeling and as the title suggests, something profound.
The re-visit hasn't been disappointing. The bare historical facts (of course from Oscar's side of the story) of his relationship with 'Bosie', or rather the portrait Wilde produces of the destructiveness of the friendship, is harrowing. His propensity to forgive is admirable. The determination to find hope, joy and further artistic achievement in the future beyond his imprisonment is inspiring but of course deeply saddening when we know from our perspective how those dreams were never properly realised.
It all amounts to a transformation from being a man who symbolised the quest for pleasure in material things and the delights of frivolity to one who finds all his consolations in spiritual values. Reading his words, hearing his voice as he outlines his new-found value system is both intriguing and instructive. When my friend Oliver heard I was visiting Paris this weekend that has just passed he insisted I use his empty appartment. When he mentioned that it was one minute's walk from Pere Lachaise cemetery I had to accept.
Youthful...idealistic...back-twinged...bald: it was time to pay my respects in person to one of Ireland's greatest and most poignant lives in letters.
The full text of De Profundis is here.