We don't need a pardon.
We need an apology.
And financial compensation
|A portrait of Oscar Wilde at Reading prison, |
where he was jailed from 1895-97 for 'gross indecency'
|Alan Turing (front) at Bosham in August 1939|
In 1952 he pled guilty to a charge of public indecency, admitting he was in a homosexual
relationship with Arnold Murray. Offered the choice between prison and libido-reducing
injections, he opted for the latter. The chemical castration rendered him impotent, and
he is believed to have killed himself in 1954 by eating an apple laced with cyanide.
For authoritative information on Alan Turing, I strongly recommend reading Andrew Hodges'
remarkable biography Alan Turing: The Enigma. Unless you have received some
serious mathematical training (the author was Tutor in Mathematics at Wadham College,
Oxford University) you will need to skip some very obtuse paragraphs to access the core
of the book, namely the narration of a life made miserable and unendurable at times,
and finally cut short by institutionalized prejudice and bigotry. Hodges' monumental book is a new
kind of biography, with mathematics, science, computing, war history, philosophy, fundamental
physics and gay liberation woven in a single personal narrative.
Ludwigmania : le train royal de Louis II de Bavière
au Musée des transports de Nuremberg
En 1876, le train royal comportait huit wagons. En dehors du wagon salon et du wagon panoramique, il y avait encore deux wagons pour le commissaire au voyage et la suite, un wagon pour les serviteurs, un wagon à bagages et deux wagons-cuisine. De ces six derniers wagons n'existent plus que des dessins.
On en sait peu sur les voyages de Louis II avec le train royal. C'est avec ce train qu'il réalisa en 1866 son voyage triomphal en Franconie. A cette époque le wagon salon était encore dans son ancien état et n'avait pas encore connu les transformations que nous pouvons voir aujourd'hui. D'autres voyages furent réalisés par le Roi qui souhaitait l'incognito et le train royal ne pouvait convenir à cet usage. Il voyagea alors dans des wagons servant au service ordinaire. En 1876, un train fut commandé qui devait servir aux voyages incognito.
En savoir plus : Munich and Co, 20 octobre 2016
|Painting by R. Williams|
By Donald Hall
AT eighty-seven, I am solitary. I live by myself on one floor of the 1803 farmhouse where my family has lived since the Civil War. After my grandfather died, my grandmother Kate lived here alone. Her three daughters visited her. In 1975, Kate died at ninety-seven, and I took over. Forty-odd years later, I spend my days alone in one of two chairs. From an overstuffed blue chair in my living room I look out the window at the unpainted old barn, golden and empty of its cows and of Riley the horse. I look at a tulip; I look at snow. In the parlor’s mechanical chair, I write these paragraphs and dictate letters. I also watch television news, often without listening, and lie back in the enormous comfort of solitude. People want to come visit, but mostly I refuse them, preserving my continuous silence. Linda comes two nights a week. My two best male friends from New Hampshire, who live in Maine and Manhattan, seldom drop by. A few hours a week, Carole does my laundry and counts my pills and picks up after me. I look forward to her presence and feel relief when she leaves. Now and then, especially at night, solitude loses its soft power and loneliness takes over. I am grateful when solitude returns.
Born in 1928, I was an only child. During the Great Depression, there were many of us, and Spring Glen Elementary School was eight grades of children without siblings. From time to time I made a friend during childhood, but friendships never lasted long. Charlie Axel liked making model airplanes out of balsa wood and tissue. So did I, but I was clumsy and dripped cement onto wing paper. His models flew. Later, I collected stamps, and so did Frank Benedict. I got bored with stamps. In seventh and eighth grade, there were girls. I remember lying with Barbara Pope on her bed, fully clothed and apart while her mother looked in at us with anxiety. Most of the time, I liked staying alone after school, sitting in the shadowy living room. My mother was shopping or playing bridge with friends; my father added figures in his office; I daydreamed.
In summer, I left my Connecticut suburb to hay with my grandfather, on this New Hampshire farm. I watched him milk seven Holsteins morning and night. For lunch I made myself an onion sandwich—a thick slice between pieces of Wonder Bread. I’ve told about this sandwich before.
At fifteen, I went to Exeter for the last two years of high school. Exeter was academically difficult and made Harvard easy, but I hated it—five hundred identical boys living two to a room. Solitude was scarce, and I labored to find it. I took long walks alone, smoking cigars. I found myself a rare single room and remained there as much as I could, reading and writing. Saturday night, the rest of the school sat in the basketball arena, deliriously watching a movie. I remained in my room in solitary pleasure.
At college, dormitory suites had single and double bedrooms. For three years, I lived in one bedroom crowded with everything I owned. During my senior year, I managed to secure a single suite: bedroom and sitting room and bath. At Oxford, I had two rooms to myself. Everybody did. Then I had fellowships. Then I wrote books. Finally, to my distaste, I had to look for a job. With my first wife–people married young back then; we were twenty and twenty-three–I settled in Ann Arbor, teaching English literature at the University of Michigan. I loved walking up and down in the lecture hall, talking about Yeats and Joyce or reading aloud the poems of Thomas Hardy and Andrew Marvell. These pleasures were hardly solitary, but at home I spent the day in a tiny attic room, working on poems. My extremely intelligent wife was more mathematical than literary. We lived together and we grew apart. For the only time in my life, I cherished social gatherings: Ann Arbor’s culture of cocktail parties. I found myself looking forward to weekends, to crowded parties that permitted me distance from my marriage. There were two or three such occasions on Friday and more on Saturday, permitting couples to migrate from living room to living room. We flirted, we drank, we chatted–without remembering on Sunday what we said Saturday night.
After sixteen years of marriage, my wife and I divorced.
For five years I was alone again, but without the comfort of solitude. I exchanged the miseries of a bad marriage for the miseries of bourbon. I dated a girlfriend who drank two bottles of vodka a day. I dated three or four women a week, occasionally three in a day. My poems slackened and stopped. I tried to think that I lived in happy license. I didn’t.
Jane Kenyon was my student. She was smart, she wrote poems, she was funny and frank in class. I knew she lived in a dormitory near my house, so one night I asked her to housesit while I attended an hour-long meeting. (In Ann Arbor, it was the year of breaking and entering.) When I came home, we went to bed. We enjoyed each other, libertine liberty as much as pleasures of the flesh. Later I asked her to dinner, which in 1970 always included breakfast. We saw each other once a week, still dating others, then twice a week, then three or four times a week, and saw no one else. One night, we spoke of marriage. Quickly we changed the subject, because I was nineteen years older and, if we married, she would be a widow so long. We married in April, 1972. We lived in Ann Arbor three years, and in 1975 left Michigan for New Hampshire. She adored this old family house.
For almost twenty years, I woke before Jane and brought her coffee in bed. When she rose, she walked Gus the dog. Then each of us retreated to a workroom to write, at opposite ends of our two-story house. Mine was the ground floor in front, next to Route 4. Hers was the second floor in the rear, beside Ragged Mountain’s old pasture. In the separation of our double solitude, we each wrote poetry in the morning. We had lunch, eating sandwiches and walking around without speaking to each other. Afterward, we took a twenty-minute nap, gathering energy for the rest of the day, and woke to our daily fuck. Afterward I felt like cuddling, but Jane’s climax released her into energy. She hurried from bed to workroom.
For several hours afterward, I went back to work at my desk. Late in the afternoon, I read aloud to Jane for an hour. I read Wordsworth’s “Prelude,” Henry James’s “The Ambassadors” twice, the Old Testament, William Faulkner, more Henry James, seventeenth-century poets. Before supper I drank a beer and glanced at The New Yorker while Jane cooked, sipping a glass of wine. Slowly she made a delicious dinner—maybe veal cutlets with mushroom-and-garlic gravy, maybe summer’s asparagus from the bed across the street—then asked me to carry our plates to the table while she lit the candle. Through dinner we talked about our separate days.
Summer afternoons we spent beside Eagle Pond, on a bite-sized beach among frogs, mink, and beaver. Jane lay in the sun, tanning, while I read books in a canvas sling chair. Every now and then, we would dive into the pond. Sometimes, for an early supper, we broiled sausage on a hibachi. After twenty years of our remarkable marriage, living and writing together in double solitude, Jane died of leukemia at forty-seven, on April 22, 1995.
Now it is April 22, 2016, and Jane has been dead for more than two decades. Earlier this year, at eighty-seven, I grieved for her in a way I had never grieved before. I was sick and thought I was dying. Every day of her dying, I stayed by her side—a year and a half. It was miserable that Jane should die so young, and it was redemptive that I could be with her every hour of every day. Last January I grieved again, this time that she would not sit beside me as I died.
- Double Solitude was published in The New Yorker on October 15, 2016
The revolutionary love letter
Oscar Wilde wrote in prison...
Oscar Wilde wrote in prison...
Suffering is one very long moment.
Stepping into the disused Reading prison is an instantly unsettling experience. The air changes inside, and feels leaden; narrow corridors of numbered cells extend in four directions. It was here, in a stifling cell in C block, that Irish playwright, poet, essayist and iconic wit Oscar Wilde spent two years in isolation from 1895, during his imprisonment for “gross indecency”.
It was a nightmarish contrast to the high-society success he had sealed through literary and theatrical masterworks such as The Picture Of Dorian Gray (1890) and The Importance Of Being Earnest (1895). And it was here, in the months before his 1897 release, that Wilde penned what would widely come to be regarded as one of the great letters of the English language, addressed to his lover and betrayer Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas: De Profundis.
On 16 October, 2016 – 162 years to the date of Wilde’s birth – the Irish novelist Colm Tóibín returns to Wilde’s original cell to read De Profundis aloud. The recital forms part of an ongoing major exhibition inspired by Wilde’s letter. Inside: Artists And Writers In Reading Prison is presented by British organisation Artangel and features site-specific artworks from an international cast including Ai Weiwei (who writes one of several intensely personal “letters of separation” left in the cells), Nan Goldin, Marlene Dumas, Tahmima Anam and Juergen Teller.
The show marks the first time that the building has been open to the public. While the prison’s use has changed over the years (it was a young offenders’ institute before its official closure in 2013), its ominous atmosphere has not waned. Nor has the power of Wilde’s words. In De Profundis, he describes “the plank bed, the loathsome food, the hard ropes shredded into oakum till one’s fingertips grow dull with pain… the silence, the solitude, the shame – each and all of these things I have to transform into a spiritual experience.”
Reading between the lines
Tóibín tells BBC Culture about his first impression of Wilde’s cell. “I think the building makes clear the extent of the misery. It was organised oppression,” he says. Tóibín’s own fiction and academic writing has regularly reflected on Wilde’s life and work, though he mentions that his first reading of De Profundis came well after his youthful fascination with the famous plays and essays and even Wilde’s sorrowful final opus, The Ballad Of Reading Gaol (1898).
“It was much later that I came across De Profundis, and came to understand the circumstances under which it was written, and to appreciate it for its style and tone,” Tóibín says. “Because of its strange publishing history and its hybrid form, I think it was not as well-known as the rest of Wilde’s work.
“I admire it for its style, for its use of repetitions, for the way the sentences are formed. It seems to me to be Wilde’s best work in prose. And because it was written from the depths and deals with forbidden love, then that adds to its interest.”
The circumstances of the letter’s creation are certainly extraordinary. Wilde was languishing under the harsh conditions and extreme isolation of his sentence (prisoners were not permitted contact with each other, even during chapel services). The new prison governor Major Nelson took a more compassionate approach, allowing Wilde pen and paper daily to write a letter “for medicinal purposes”.
In a story for The Guardian, Tóibín described how prisoners were forbidden to write plays, novels or essays – but could write letters. “Under the previous regime, Wilde had written to solicitors and the Home Office, or in limited quantities to friends, but his letters were inspected and the writing materials removed as he finished,” says Tóibín. “But the regulations did not specify how long a letter should be. And if a letter were not finished, then the prisoner, it was supposed, could be allowed take it with him when he left the prison.”
Wilde wrote feverishly over the first three months of 1897, flowing from passionate hurt and bitter accusations against his decadent lover (“Of course I should have got rid of you”) toward a surprisingly spiritual, transformative tone. Because the letter was technically incomplete, it would be returned to him the next day, and its 20 pages – amassing 55,000 words – were presented to him when he was finally released.
As a free but broken man, Wilde passed the letter to his friend and former lover, the journalist Robert Ross, rather than Bosie, to whom it was written. Bosie would later claim he had destroyed his copy without reading it. Ross oversaw its publication, which originally came in 1905 (five years after Wilde’s death, aged just 46), and named it De Profundis (translated as “from the depths”) from Psalm 130. That first publication was heavily abridged, excising all mention of Bosie and his family; while the text was gradually expanded over later editions (including an attempt by Wilde’s son, Vyvyan Holland, to present the complete letter in 1949), Ross entrusted the hand-written original to the British Library, and the unexpurgated version of De Profundis was only published in 1962 – nearly two decades after Bosie’s own death.
|Oscar Wilde addressed De Profundis to his lover and betrayer|
Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas, pictured here with Wilde
(Credit: British Library Archive, Oscar Wilde Collection Items)
De Profundis has drawn various descriptions over the decades, from revolutionary love letter to autobiography to sermon. It does not fit easily into any one category, which is arguably part of why it still elicits such an emotive range of readings and responses. Artangel co-director Michael Morris explains how the Inside exhibition was fuelled by the letter’s “remarkable paradox of expression”, and notes how his own reaction to De Profundis has shifted with life experience. “When I first read the letter two decades ago, I remember being amused by the first section, in which Wilde petulantly accuses Bosie,” says Morris. “I’m now much more compelled by the latter part, where he interrogates the question of sorrow, and its beauty.”
The weekly live recitals of De Profundis at Reading prison have ranged widely in length and tone, with readers including Ralph Fiennes and Kathryn Hunter. For contemporary artists such as Nan Goldin, Wilde’s prison experience also irrevocably altered what he represented. “In a way, the Oscar Wilde I was so influenced by isn’t here,” she told The Guardian. “The openly gay, witty Oscar Wilde is not here – just as that part of him wasn’t evident in his writing from the prison. It’s like he disappeared into himself just to survive it.”
Many lines in De Profundis feel strangely modern; its assertion that “sentimentality is merely the bank holiday of cynicism” still strikes a sharp chord. But Tóibín argues that Wilde’s most shocking revelation remains “the supreme vice is shallowness”. “He was the high priest of flippancy and searching for seriousness through its opposites,” says Tóibín. “The tone here is fascinating as he searches for a tone that is filled with seriousness and yet manages not to be solemn.
“He understood his own importance. He gave his name to an era, to a type of sensibility. But in the last years of his life, after he had been released, he suffered a great deal – too much, probably, to consider his legacy.”
That legacy feels more multi-layered than ever; the letter that Wilde never sent continues to deliver unexpected details.