Jesuits Go Wilde, or A Conversion of No Importance

VATICAN CITY (AP) - An influential Jesuit publication has rehabilitated Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde on the centenary of his death, praising his turn to spiritual values and deathbed conversion to Roman Catholicism. La Civilita Cattolica, a quarterly whose articles often receive Vatican endorsement, noted it had once condemned Wilde and his most famous poem, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol,” which was inspired by his imprisonment for homosexual offenses.

He was sentenced to two years in jail in 1895 for homosexual practices revealed during an unsuccessful libel suit against the Marquis of Queensberry. The Catholic church condemns homosexual acts. In the edition out this week, the Rev. Antonio Spadaro said the years spent in jail were “really tough for Wilde, comforted only by some letters, even of a spiritual nature.”

“The time spent behind bars was decisive” for Wilde, Spadaro wrote, in marked contrast to the life of “vanity and silly frivolity” he lived until then. Wilde died in Paris on Nov. 30, 1900. Spadaro wrote that the priest summoned to his deathbed was “absolutely sure” Wilde knew he was converting even though he appeared semiconscious. As further evidence of Wilde’s interest in the Catholic church, Spadaro wrote that Wilde wanted to go to a Jesuit retreat upon his release from prison in 1897. The Jesuits asked him to wait a year as a test that his desire was real. Wilde never went to the retreat and only converted on his deathbed.

—Oh, bite me. Oscar’s life of “vanity and silly frivolity” produced some of his era’s greatest works; he was also a kind, intelligent and humorous man. He was delerious, in pain and in and out of consciousness for weeks before he died; his supposed “conversion” means more to the church than how he lived his whole life? Another example of the silliness of religion: as far as I’m concerned, it’s the Jesuits and not Oscar Wilde who are in need of rehabilitation.

Reminds me of all the Soviet prisoners who were “rehabilitated” after Stalin’s death. How utterly meaningless. I hope Oscar is having a good laugh (and a good shag) over this.

Mickey O’Doule was on his deathbed, 90 years old and wasting away from disease. Feeling that his time was finally coming, he motioned his old friend Davey Fitzgerald over.

“Davey, go and be gettin’ me Pastor Jones. I’ll be wantin’ to convert before me time is up.”

“Mickey, ya canna mean that. You’ve been a good Catholic all yer life!”

“Aye, I know, but the way I figure it, better one a them should pass on than one a us.”

(Apologies in advance for the bad Irish accents.)

Yup, I’d say catching the pneumonia that ultimately led to his death was pretty decisive.

But yes, Eve, the conversion means much more to the Christians than how he lived his life. From their perspective, he was a sinner and a deviant before he shuffled off this mortal coil. . . but he eventually gained the love of the Lord and eternal (non-perverted) life.


Does the conversion matter? No, not really. But, if you believe Wilde was awake and sincere at the time, and that he regretted those things in his life that he felt were wrong, and sincerely wished he had been better, if he beleived that it meant that he was going to a better place, than that, in and of itself is a good thing.

BTW, the Jesuits are a pretty serious and sincere group. The idea that they turned Wilde away for a year to be sure he was sincere seems pretty reasonable to me.

I thought it was TB that Wilde contracted in Reading Gaol.

The bastards who sentenced Wilde to prison knew it might as well have been a death sentence. These latterday efforts by the church and state to “rehabilitate” Wilde are nothing more than transparent attempts to repair their own damaged and intolerant positions.

Maybe someone can verify this anecdote please.

When Wilde was on his death bed, he was housed in a garishly decorated room. Wilde lifted a dying hand and, pointing at the hideous wallpaper, uttered;

“Either that wallpaper goes, or I do!”

At which point he promptly expired.
Any man who could maintain such wit up to the bitter end can only be regarded as a true genius.

“The only thing worse than being popular, is not being popular.”

According to a new bio of Oscar (very good book, can’t recall the author offhand), he fell in prison and injured his ear, which led to an ongoing infection that killed him (in those pre-antibiotic days).

The Last Words are so good I’d love for them to be true, but actually he had written in a letter shortly before his death “the wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death.”

I’m with Zenster. The church pilloried Oscar for being openly gay, their anti-gay stance was repsonsible for his being jailed in the first place. So even if he was brow-beaten into converting while delerious on his deathbed, it hardly makes up for what was done to him by the church in the first place.

I wonder if any Popes have become deathbed atheists?

I was once told that a certain brand of Buddhist monks are expected, upon their imminent death, to write a certain brand of haiku-like poetry that reflects all that they’ve learned in their life, and students study them. Some monks get so nervous about not having anything to write, or, worse, it not being inspirational and insightful enough, that they write them years in advance, memorize them, and then appear to write them spontaneously on their deathbed.

My source for Wilde’s quote was that he was living pennilessly with a friend in Paris, fell ill, and while lapsing in and out of consciousness said, “This wallpaper is killing me - one of us has to go.” He shortly lapsed into a coma from which he never regained full consciousness. (From How Did They Die?, a fab little book that I’m finding out more and more isn’t as accurate as one would hope.)

Oh, and the OP is a bunch of hooey. No doubt Oscar would have written a scathyingly witty play about it, had he had the chance.


You’re correct, Zenster. My bad–I get all those respiratory ailments mixed up. 'Tho I’m thinking (pending confirmation) that he’d had TB for some time, under control, and his stay in the Reading Hilton exacerbated it.

And Eve is correct as well–his death is generally considered to have been a result of his long-standing health problems coupled with the infection that never went away.

Oscar Wilde was a brilliant epigrammitist and playwright, but he should have remembered these sage words: if your boyfriend’s father, who is a raving psycho, leaves a card at your club calling you a sodomite, don’t sue for libel if there are witnesses, aka, rentboys, who can be paraded through court.

And this is a good opportunity to recommend Wilde, a brilliant 1997 film about Oscar starring Stephen Fry, Jude Law, and Vanessa Redgrave. I found it refreshing to see Wilde portrayed as a human being for a change instead of a foppish, screaming chariacture. Beautiful movie visually, and respectful of Wilde while hiding none of his faults.

Fair warning, though: It is a bit sexually graphic at times.

That wonderful new biography is “Oscar Wilde—A Certain Genius,” by Barbara Belford. Here’s its Amazon link:

Finally, a ratings system that I can use - all the other ones tell me what to avoid, but this one… :wink:


I live to serve.

That Jude Law–mrowr. If I weren’t so straight . . .

Uh, you live to serve, and then you, presumably straight, growl over Jude Law?

I’m going to behave myself and just let that sleeping dog lie, eh? :wink:


Good choice.



Especially when the boyfriend’s psycho father is the Marquess (or however you spell it) of Queensbury, as in the “Marquess of Queensbury Rules of Boxing”. An avid fighter, he tried to smack sissy-boy around - and got his ass thoroughly whooped by Oscar. Hee hee.

I’ve heard that after the trial, when Wilde was being led off to jail in manacles, while waiting to board the carriage that would take him away it started to rain; he looked up at the sky and said “Well…if this is how Her Majesty treats her prisoners she doesn’t deserve to have any.”

Actually, I feel obliged to point out that it was the British government, not the RC church, that was responsible for Wilde’s persecution. Last I heard the pope’s influence on Her Majesty’s government was somewhat limited, although they do condemn homosexuality and probably would have approved of the sentence at the time.

Hope this isn’t too much of a hijack, but could you give those of us who’re time-impaired these days (two small kids and a couple of hours of commuting each day) a quick sense of how it compares to Richard Ellman’s Wilde bio?

9999, darling, so nice to see you back!

Rack, I’m ashamed to say this is the only bio I’ve read of Oscar (though I did read his grandson’s “Family Album”). Do I get points, though, for having read all of his works?

Anyway, the Belford book is very well written, well researched and seems to be even-handed. I read it in galleys, so I don’t know about the quality or quantity of the photos.

EVE - I just wanted to say I love your thread title - it’s so clever!

And I had always heard his last words were “Either this wallpaper goes, or I do!” but that doesn’t mean much. It’s probably from one of those books where Mama Cass chokes on a ham sandwich. Maybe?

I was surprised this Christmas when my mother gave me one of my best presents - a book called “The Importance of Being A Wit - the Collected Insults of Oscar Wilde”. Very handy.