Sandra Mayer: The Importance of Commemorating Literary Celebrity: Oscar Wilde and Contemporary Literary Memorial Culture
← 38 | 39 → SANDRA MAYER
‘A kiss may ruin a human life’, laments one of Oscar Wilde’s ‘fallen women’, Mrs Arbuthnot, in A Woman of No Importance.1 Recalling how, during his cross-examination in court, the author got himself into fatally deep waters over the question of kissing a male servant,2 one may be inclined to detect at least a modicum of truth in the claim. What has been established with a fair degree of certainty, however, is the fact that such expressions of human affection – especially when they come adorned with creamy lipstick – apparently prove ruinous to even such sturdy materials as Portland stone, as evidenced by the recent cleaning project and subsequent reopening of Wilde’s tomb at the Paris Père Lachaise cemetery in November 2011.
Ever since the late 1990s, when notes and flowers were replaced by permanently destructive forms of literary hero-worship, the fad of planting lipstick smears all over Jacob Epstein’s controversy-riddled 1912 monument with its characteristic Assyrian angel developed into a popular pastime on the Paris tourist trail, in spite of a heavy €9,000 fine for defacing listed historical monuments.3 Already in 2000, on the eve of the centenary of Wilde’s death, the author’s grandson Merlin Holland appeared seriously concerned that, after surviving censorship, graffiti and vandalizing attacks ← 39 | 40 → on the angel’s genitals, the monument might be ‘suffering from its most damaging assault’ yet in the guise of lipstick fats eroding the substance of the stone; hence, in mock...
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