13 January 2008

Oscar Wilde's De Profundis

I recently saw the film Wilde, about Oscar Wilde, a man whose wit will be forever quoted. I was a little disappointed that the film was more about Wilde's homosexuality than his writing, but that seems to be the trend these days.

Oscar Wilde's De Profundis is a long and sappy letter he wrote to his lover while imprisoned for their 'transgressions'. (Yes, I'm obviously obsessed with all things de profundis.)

I've included here some of the more notable quotes from the text:

Suffering is one very long moment. We cannot divide it by seasons. We can only record its moods, and chronicle their return. With us time itself does not progress. It revolves. It seems to circle round one centre of pain.


Prosperity, pleasure and success, may be rough of grain and common in fibre, but sorrow is the most sensitive of all created things. There is nothing that stirs in the whole world of thought to which sorrow does not vibrate in terrible and exquisite pulsation.


The poor are wise, more charitable, more kind, more sensitive than we are. In their eyes prison is a tragedy in a man's life, a misfortune, a casuality, something that calls for sympathy in others. They speak of one who is in prison as of one who is 'in trouble' simply. It is the phrase they always use, and the expression has the perfect wisdom of love in it.


Nothing seems to me of the smallest value except what one gets out of oneself. My nature is seeking a fresh mode of self-realisation. That is all I am concerned with. And the first thing that I have got to do is to free myself from any possible bitterness of feeling against the world.


I am completely penniless, and absolutely homeless. Yet there are worse things in the world than that.


I am a born antinomian. I am one of those who are made for exceptions, not for laws. But while I see that there is nothing wrong in what one does, I see that there is something wrong in what one becomes.


Religion does not help me. The faith that others give to what is unseen, I give to what one can touch, and look at[...] Every thing to be true must become a religion. And agnosticism should have its ritual no less than faith. It has sown its martyrs, it should reap its saints, and praise God daily for having hidden Himself from man.


Reason does not help me. It tells me that the laws under which I am convicted are wrong and unjust laws, and the system under which I have suffered a wrong and unjust system.


The only people I would care to be with now are artists and people who have suffered: those who know what beauty is, and those who know what sorrow is: nobody else interests me.


I now see that sorrow, being the supreme emotion of which man is capable, is at once the type and test of all great art. What the artist is always looking for is the mode of existence in which soul and body are one and indivisible: in which the outward is expressive of the inward: in which form reveals.


We call ours a utilitarian age, and we do not know the uses of any single thing. We have forgotten that water can cleanse, and fire purify, and that the Earth is mother to us all. As a consequence our art is of the moon and plays with shadows, while Greek art is of the sun and deals directly with things. I feel sure that in elemental forces there is purification, and I want to go back to them and live in their presence.


I have grown tired of the articulate utterances of men and things. The Mystical in Art, the Mystical in Life, the Mystical in Nature this is what I am looking for.


Anonymous said...

Disappointed that the film dealt with Wilde's homosexuality? Why do I suspect that you would have objected less if his love affairs had been with women?

As for your dismissal of DE PROFUNDIS as "sappy": Wilde certainly can't compare with you as a prose stylist. But then who can?



Hmmm. I believe I said "disappointed that the film was more about Wilde's homosexuality than his writing" -- the key phrase you missed, Anonymous, being "than his writing."

Anonymous, you seem a bit touchy. Ubersensitive, even.

As to whether his affairs were with men or women is irrelevant. The film greatly lacks the topic of writing -- and writing is the reason we know the name Oscar Wilde, is it not?

Sexual orientation to me is about as important as one's height. Sure, it affects the art - but it should not replace the art as a focal point.

AlexFemme said...

I know this was all a while ago...but I just want to pipe in and say I too was horribly disappointed by the film. I was so excited as a Fry fan...and then it failed miserably and focused far more on the sexier aspects of the scandal than the actual man.

Anon -- There was nothing in this post to suggest homophobia. Personally, I'm fighting for gay rights in Idaho every day and feel the same way about this movie. If anything, it was insulting because it reduced Wilde to little more than his sexuality.

Also, love the quotes!

oscarwildefan said...

As an Oscar Wilde fan I was somewhat disappointed with the portrayal in the film but let's not talk about that as de profundis is truly a remarkable piece.