Paris has its first Oscar Wilde exhibition

Oscar Wilde's cell in Reading Prison
Oscar Wilde's cell in Reading Prison

Regular readers may recall (old-Portoran) Roamer’s recent visit to (old-Portoran) Oscar Wilde’s cell in Berkshire’s Reading Prison.

The flamboyant playwright’s tiny, thick-walled ‘slot’ in the brutal penal system that rendered him ‘a broken man’ was opened to the public on September 1 for the first time since Ireland’s best-known thespian was incarcerated therein.

It was extremely poignant to linger in the crushingly claustrophobic vault where Wilde penned one of history’s greatest and most harrowing love letters - De Profundis (Latin ‘from the depths’), beneath the heavily-barred prison window that inspired Ballad of Reading Gaol -

‘I never saw a man who looked

With such a wistful eye

Upon that little tent of blue

Which prisoners call the sky.’

I’ve just received a News Letter reader’s e-mail which will probably initiate another ‘Earnest’ pilgrimage!

(The night that Importance of Being Earnest was premiered in London - Wilde’s most popular play - marked the beginning of a tortuous legal mêlée that deposited the playwright in prison.)

“Paris has finally got its first ever Oscar Wilde exhibition,” the reader’s message proclaimed, ending on a jubilant and probably prophetic note - “Happy days! There may soon be an old-Portoran Roamer here?

It has taken almost a century for France to pay proper tribute to Wilde, who died a pauper’s death in a cheap Paris hotel after uttering a characteristic quip about his room’s grubby wallpaper - “One of us has got to go!”

Paris’s first major exhibition about Wilde is in the city that he fled to in 1897, hounded out of England because of his homosexuality.

The disgraced literary superstar died there aged just 46, after his two-year ‘entombment’ in Reading Gaol.

The exhibition in the city’s hallowed Petit Palais displays the calling card left for Wilde by the Marquess of Queensberry, his lover Alfred Douglas’s father, on the opening night of the Importance of Being Earnest.

The misspelt card referred to Oscar as a ‘Somdomite’, and Wilde instigated a libel case against the Marquess.

Oscar lost the case and ended up in Reading Gaol.

The Petit Palais’s exhibition about Wilde’s final sojourn in Paris runs from October 19 until the middle of January.

The reader who alerted Roamer sent some intriguing details: there are photographs of the seedy hotel bedroom where Wilde spent his final, penniless days, staying there free-of-charge thanks to its charitable proprietor.

Oscar’s more luxurious existence as an internationally acclaimed writer is well recounted, along with his decadent friend Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations for Salome, the play that Wilde wrote for Sarah Bernhardt.

The Petit Palais’s curator Dominique Morel is reported to have said that a Wilde show in France is long overdue. His exhibition entitled ‘Insolence Incarnate’ “contains many unseen and extremely hard to acquire material” including “an astonishing collection” of Wilde’s letters and papers.

l Details of the exhibition are at