Today would be Oscar Wilde’s 166th birthday, and what better time for it to be than sandwiched between National Coming Out Day and Halloween? Oscar Wilde was an Irish writer in the late Victorian Era. His father was a well-known doctor and his mother a popular poet (although she wrote under a pseudonym), so Wilde grew up living a very cultured life, surrounded by beautiful things. His mother was also the first to introduce Wilde to reading Walt Whitman, by reading Leaves of Grass to him when he was only eleven years old. Whitman was one of the most groundbreaking poets of Wilde’s childhood and by the time Wilde would come to the States, he would be completely enamored by Whitman’s writing. The two met when Wilde was 27 and Whitman was 62, and Wilde’s recounts make it sound like a dream-come-true to have met one of his inspirations.
Of course, we know that Wilde would go on from there to have an incredibly successful writing career of his own. Wilde began his career in academia, studying at both Trinity College in Dublin and Magdalen College in Oxford (two very impressive places to attend school, might I add). Wilde was still studying in Oxford when he began writing, and as the saying goes, the rest was history. He went on to become a writer of many successful plays, poetry, and one wonderfully-gruesome novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Wilde was married and had two children, but history tends to focus more on his affair than on his marriage. His affair was with a man named Lord Alfred Douglas and when Douglas’ father, the Marquess of Queensberry, found out about the affair, he left a calling card for Wilde which read “For Oscar Wilde, posing somdomite,” (he had misspelled sodomite, by the way). In response, Wilde sued the Marquess for criminal libel.
Today we know, though, that this would be the worst mistake Wilde could have made. In fact, it became the starting-point for a case to be built against Wilde to charge him with gross indecency. On May 25, 1985, he would receive two years of hard labor, which was the maximum sentence for this crime. After his sentence, Wilde was left with nothing, and so he went to spend the rest of his days exiling in France. He would write very little after his release and then died of meningitis on November 30, 1900. He was only 46 when he died. With that being said, today, we celebrate his life. We study the idea of aestheticism, which was a movement he was a key player in, discussing the concept of “art for arts sake.” We also study his work, specifically, all of which read like poetry, whether you’re holding a play between your fingers or his novel in your hands. We recognize the heinous acts which were committed against him, but we pay tribute to the groundwork which he was laying for the LGBTQA+ community in the process.
With that being said, let us turn to a more encouraging point to make about Oscar Wilde – the fact that he was unapologetically himself. He coined the famous saying “be yourself; everybody else is taken,” which is something that we should all be reminding ourselves with each day we still get to inhabit this earth. He also said “To live is the hardest thing in the world. Most people exist. That is all.” Let us take his advice and live our lives. Instead of sitting back and letting each day pass by, let’s do the things that bring us joy, part of which includes making the most of our Halloween spent in quarantine this year. So, after this detailed introduction to Oscar Wilde and serpentine-approach to why we should commemorate his life on his 166th birthday, let’s now turn our attention to four ways in which you can celebrate Wilde’s birthday and Halloween simultaneously, from the comfort of your own home.
1. Put on something that makes you feel beautiful.
Oscar Wilde was a major advocate for “art of art’s sake,” and said himself that “One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art.” While I believe we are all works of art, I think there is something still to gain from feeling like one as well. So, put on anything that makes you feel good. It could be a dress you wear to only the most-special occasions, it could be your favorite suit, it could even be your most-comfortable pair of pajamas. Whatever it is, just put something on that is going to make you feel happy. If you really must know, this will entail me pulling a teenager’s Gryffindor-styled pajama set over my no-longer-teenage-body and tucking my feet into a pair of fluffy slippers. In my book, that is a work of art. Sure, it probably wasn’t Wilde’s intention is saying this, but it’s how I want us to approach our first task of celebrating his life. Not for nothing, it could also count as my Halloween costume – win, win!
2. Light a candle.
On one hand, you can light this Oscar Wilde-inspired candle that I found on the internet and therefore directly correlate the lighting of the candle with Wilde. The literary-themed candle comes from Paddywax, which describes its intention as “pairing favorite quotes with exquisite fragrances, we pay homage to the literary greats.” On the other hand, though, you could light a candle just for the fact it is one of life’s simple pleasures. One of my favorite Wilde quotes is “Pleasure is the only thing to live for. Nothing ages like happiness.” I don’t know about you, but lighting a candle, smelling its sweet scent taking residence in my room, and watching its flame dance in the darkness is one of my favorite things to do. You can make this more or less spooky and more or less fall-themed, based upon what kind of scents you prefer.
3. Make yourself a drink… or go grab one.
It can be an alcoholic one, it can be a sweet one like hot chocolate, or it can be a fall-themed one like a nice pumpkin spiced latte. We spend hours a day working, even if we are not going into the office right now. Maybe you’re an essential worker and you have to go in, maybe you’re a parent and you’ve had to set up remote learning for your child, or maybe simply hearing of the atrocities of the world right now has the same effect on you as does an eight-hour workday. Either way, we are all exhausted. While this is more of a funny quote than anything, Wilde said “work is the curse of the drinking class.” So, let’s reverse these things. Let’s take a step back and take a sip for once, instead of always having to put our best foot forward and grind out the day. Let’s learn to work to live again, instead of living to work.
4. Start reading The Picture of Dorian Gray!
Last but not least, after you’ve completed the previous three steps (so you have your feel-good outfit on, you’ve lit your candle, and you have your favorite drink next to you), take a seat in your favorite reading spot, pick up your copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray, and start reading. As I said earlier, this is Wilde’s only novel that he wrote. Not only is it highly studied as part of the aestheticism movement, but it also a gory and gruesome gothic novel. It’s not scary like Stephen King’s style of writing, but it can definitely make your skin crawl at times. Read the novel to watch a young man, Dorian Gray, practically sell his soul in order to remain beautiful as he ages. He alienates himself and repeatedly has ruined the lives of other human beings as well. Does he regret any of his actions? Does he ever suffer the consequences? These are questions you’ll have to answer for yourself by reading this short and intoxicating novel.