Today in Literary History – November 30, 1900 – Oscar Wilde dies

Oscar Wilde died in Paris on November 30, 1900, at the age of forty-six. (For years it was believed that he died from syphilis, but it has been proved that the cause was actually cerebral meningitis after an ear infection.)

After serving a prison term for sodomy he was released from Reading Gaol in May, 1897. He went into a European exile, first in Italy then in France. He was mostly broke but still managed to keep up appearances thanks to the generosity of friends.

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Wilde in 1898

According to George Bernard Shaw Wilde maintained “an unconquerable gaiety of soul” in exile despite his financial worries. Other friends who visited or bumped into Wilde were shocked by his unhealthy and shabby appearance.

Wilde’s wife, Constance, died in 1898 and after that he was denied the right to see his children. Wilde tried to write and revive his career but the only work he completed was The Ballad of Reading Gaol in 1898.

Wilde’s former lover Lord Alfred Douglas (‘Bosie’) visited him in Paris. Wilde asked if he could have a stipend from Douglas’s wealth but was sternly refused.

Wilde became seriously ill in 1900 and by September he was completely bedridden.

In his last few weeks he received friends who recorded his mordant witticisms on his thoughts of death which have become famous, such as “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or other of us has got to go,” “I am dying beyond my means,” and, “I can’t even afford to die.”

On his deathbed Wilde converted to Catholicism and was given a small Catholic funeral and burial in Paris.

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