While, for Mahaffy, Roman paganism had been tainted as a result of its appropriation by Roman Catholicism the reverse of the argument made by Bennett and Leonard , the Greek Orthodox Church was far enough removed from Classical Greek paganism that neither one was spoiled. However, the conversion did not take place see Wilde , 44, to Reginald Harding. In , Wilde visited Reverend Sebastian Bowden at the Brompton Oratory in London to discuss a possible conversion, but finally, on the appointed day of his baptism with Fr Bowden, he sent a bunch of altar lilies in his place Schuchard , ; Wilde , n.
Wilde , 57; see also Wilde , 54 and Ellmann 32, It is better, thought Wilde perhaps, to stay as a Protestant and a Classical Greek scholar, than a Roman Catholic faced with the worst parts of Roman pagan and Christian culture. He explains to Alfred Douglas in De Profundis :. You admired my work when it was finished: you enjoyed the brilliant successes of my first nights, and the brilliant banquets that followed them: you were proud, and quite naturally so, of being the intimate friend of an artist so distinguished: but you could not understand the conditions requisite for the production of artistic work.
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I am not speaking in phrases of rhetorical exaggeration but in terms of absolute truth to actual fact when I remind you that during the whole time we were together I never wrote one single line. Whether at Torquay, Goring, London, Florence or elsewhere, my life, as long as you were by my side, was entirely sterile and uncreative.
And with but few intervals you were, I regret to say, by my side always. Masurel-Murray explains that there is a certain irony apparent in this scene: Wilde knows that his protagonist is providing a corrupt mouthpiece for the values that he himself is accused of holding by his critics. For this, sir, there is no excuse at all. Dorian confesses to desiring an even more sensuous experience than was had by Petronius, who was notorious for being an amoral product of the Neronian age Tacitus Annals However, the soulless Dorian does not experience life as others do, and, significantly, it is this tainted character that invokes the young despotic rulers of Rome and can only appreciate the ritual of Catholicism in terms of its vestments and objects.
This includes rejecting the traditional symbols of classical paganism as, at this point, they threaten the purity of his Catholicism.
The result is his adoption of an un-decadent and un-Bennett-like Catholicism. We see the manifestation of this in his proceeding letters:.
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I am going tomorrow on a pilgrimage. I always wanted to be a pilgrim, and I have decided to start early tomorrow to the shrine of Notre Dame de Liesse. So I went into the water without being a Pagan. The consequence was that I was not tempted by either Sirens, or Mermaidens, or any of the green-haired following of Glaucus. I really think that this is a remarkable thing. In my pagan days the sea was always full of tritons blowing conches, and other unpleasant things.
Now it is quite different.
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Wilde , Neronian Rome can represent if Wilde so chooses paganism at its worst. Nero, in the early Christian tradition in which he was also an Antichrist, wilfully rejected Christianity because of his veneration of the pagan gods see, for example, Lactantius On the Deaths of the Persecutors 2. At this time we see Wilde retreat into this life and convey an almost child-like vulnerability—he is scared to go somewhere as big and bright as Paris.
Whether this fear is an exaggeration or not, Wilde seems, temporarily at least, to be attracted by the remedies that a frugal life, with regular attendance at Mass on Sundays, could offer. The pendulum has swung back the other way. Wilde leaves for Naples, and we do not hear anything about church visits either while he resides there with Alfred Douglas, or in the period after that during which he resides in Paris.
We see this in two letters to Ross from Paris, his next stop after Naples, in which icons of Roman paganism and Roman decadence take precedence. I mean are they people who were ever my friends? Moreover, while Elagabalus and Antinous are both renowned as freely homosexual figures from the Roman past, they are also important in terms of their religious significance. Owing to his veneration of an eastern solar deity above Jupiter, in the historical tradition Elagabalus is most infamous for his crimes against religion. By mentioning Elagabalus, Wilde not only appeals to the freedom of ancient sexuality, but also to a figure who, according to the historical tradition, dared to threaten the gods of the Roman pantheon themselves.
By referring to Antinous and Elagabalus, Wilde finds figures from antiquity that can represent the true nature, as he sees it, of his relationship with Douglas. He is witty, graceful, lovely to look at, loveable to be with. Naples was fatal. However, Wilde still does not seem to be visiting churches, and does not debate or request debates about Catholicism with Ross.
I live an ordinary life. I dine in modest restaurants for two or three francs. My life is rather dull. The loveliest carriage—all yellow roses, the horses with traces and harness of violets—was occupied by an evil-looking English man: on the box, beside the coachman, sat his valet, a very handsome boy, all wreathed with flowers. Just a month later, Wilde tells Robbie Ross of another young boy, Dario, with whom he goes to see the Pope. Wilde does not deny himself such pleasures, but instead decides to affect a form of separation between the decadent space in which he kisses, and the spiritual space in which he does not.
He enjoys a young boy in his garden, but it is not the only thing he does. Wilde has found his solution: to experience the pagan and the Catholic simultaneously in Rome. Naples was evil and luxurious. If Sicily represents unbridled beauty and Naples represents evil luxury, then Rome represents spirituality. His relationship with ancient Rome through modern Rome is measured, and encompasses all sides of his engagement with religion without one overwhelming the other: decadent while spiritual Catholicism, and decadent while pious paganism.
Wilde does not entirely commit to institutional Catholicism, but neither does he ignore the pagan things that were absent from his almost baptismal bath in Berneval, which provide him with so much pleasure. Thus, the unique place of Rome as pagan and Christian capital allows Wilde first to negotiate and then to reconcile his impulse to turn to religion following his release from prison with his decadence, his materialism, his paganism and his Romanness.
Through his visit to Rome, Wilde can adopt or reject aspects of these concepts in order to create a personal religiosity that can be termed distinctly Wildean. Commentaries on Galatians-Philemon.
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Bennett , William. London: Seeleys, The Idea of Decadence in French Literature Chapman, Raymond. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, Curran , John. Oxford: OUP, Dio Cassius. Roman History. Ellmann , Richard. Oscar Wilde. London: Penguin, Faught, C. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State UP, Mademoiselle de Maupin. Constantine , London: Penguin, Gilman, Richard.
Decadence: The Strange Life of an Epithet. London: Secker and Warburg, Hanson, Ellis. Decadence and Catholicism. London: Harvard UP, Huysmans, Joris-Karl. Against Nature. Icks, Martijn.
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