BORN the son of a philanthropic eye surgeon and a celebrated Irish poetess and educated at Trinity College, Dublin, Oscar Wilde is widely considered to be one of the most notable writers of the Victorian era. Although his one novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, was not well-received in its time, his plays, such as The Importance of Being Earnest, were well-regarded. These accolades did not, however, prevent him from dying, broke and with his reputation in ruins, in Paris at the age of 46 years.
In addition to his literary achievements, Oscar Wilde was known, even in his own time, for his flamboyant personality and extravagant lifestyle, and his sexuality was something of an open secret. When his lover’s father made claims that he was homosexual, however, Wilde decided to sue him for libel, but ended up being incarcerated for two years himself, after being convicted of gross indecency. At the end of his prison sentence, Wilde’s health had been damaged irreparably, and he spent the remainder of his life, a period of only three years, drifting around Europe, before dying of cerebral meningitis in 1900.
Although he was initially given a pauper’s funeral in Bagneaux cemetery, Oscar Wilde’s friends and fans later raised the funds to purchase a burial plot in the more fashionable Père Lachaise cemetery and to have his body moved. An additional donation provided for the large statue inspired by Wilde’s poem “The Sphinx” to be added. This statue caused further controversy with its size and depiction of a nude figure, and was vandalised on a number of occasions. In the 1990s it became fashionable for tourists and fans to kiss the tomb, leaving lipstick marks on the monument. By 2011, the lipstick marks – and the additional cleaning that was by then regularly required – had begun to damage the statue, and so a glass enclosure was built around the grave. This has not prevented the tradition from continuing, and now the glass requires frequent cleaning instead.
Other notable literary figures interred in Père Lachaise cemetery include Honoré de Balzac, Marcel Proust, and Gertrude Stein.
Website: http://www.paris.fr/cimetieres (in French)
Physical address: Division 89, Cimetière du Père Lachaise, 16 rue du Repos, Paris
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