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Three days before he died in the Hotel d'Alsace, Oscar Wilde was asked by the proprietor Jean Dupoirier about his life in London. 'Some said my life was a lie but I always knew it to be the truth; for like the truth it was rarely pure and never simple', he replied, echoing Algy Moncrieff, paradoxical as always and never one to lose the opportunity of recycling a well-turned phrase. Biographers ever since have been by turn delighted at the rich pickings and exasperated by the contradictions. The duality of Wilde in all aspects fascinates, confuses: the Anglo-Irishman with Nationalist sympathies; the Protestant with life-long Catholic leanings; the married homosexual; the musician of words and painter of language who confessed to Andre Gide that writing bored him; the artist astride not two but three cultures, an Anglo-Francophile and a Celt at heart. And overlaid on it all is the question of which facets of the Wildean dichotomy were real and involuntary and which were artificial and contrived for effect.
For the biographer it becomes important to find out, but for Wilde, who confessed that he lived in permanent fear of not being misunderstood, it becomes equally important that he should not. What is one to make of Wilde's response to the New York reporter who asked whether he had indeed walked down Piccadilly with a lily in his hand? 'To have done it was nothing, but to make people think one had done it was a triumph.' Wilde blurs the edges and hides behind a non-alignment with his own utterances:
Not that I agree with everything that I have said in this essay. There is much with which I entirely disagree. The essay simply represents an artistic standpoint, and in aesthetic criticism attitude is everything. For in art there is no such thing as a universal truth. A Truth in art is that whose contradictory is also true.
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