With world news lately dominated by tedious stories of war and political intrigue, it was truly refreshing to read this morning about the Brits honoring one of their greatest: Oscar Wilde, named in a poll of 3,000 people to be Britain's greatest wit. My first introduction to Oscar Wilde was back in the early 90s when I was a graduate student. A fellow classmate from the Netherlands made a reference to the play The Importance of Being Earnest, upon which I went out and bought a copy of the Irishman's collected writings. Without knowing anything of Wilde's sexuality, (and still in denial over my own) I was completely captivated by the power of his language, the way it contrived nothing and everything all at once. (A year later in Paris, I visited his grave at Pere Lachaise Cemetery to pay my respects.)
Although a celebrated playwright in the 1890s, Wilde was eventually brought to trial for his gay lifestyle; convicted; and imprisoned. The years in jail were not kind to him, and he would only live two more years as a free man. On his death bed, he is reported to have said: "Either those curtains go, or I do." Money and friends had deserted him in the end, but his wit and style served him until the last. Indeed, money and friends will come and go but once you lose yourself, you have nothing. Wilde was proud to know it then. I am humbled to know it now.