Oscar Wilde and . . . who?

We all know about Oscar Wilde’s Famous Last Words: “Either that wallpaper goes or I do.”

But who was in the room to hear him say it, and to tell posterity what he had said?

The best evidence is contained in Fred Shapiro’s wonderful new The Yale Book of Quotations, just released and the most authoritative book on quotations. He backs them up with facts.

The operative phrase is

This was quoted in a 1975 biography.

But, it was a variant of a quote from 1908, a letter from William Butler Yeats to Lady Gregory.

So, the deathbed quote is probably apocryphal, but the sentiment was there all along.

Sorry, no cite, but what I read a few years ago (legitimate bio, just don’t remember title or author) was that the “wallpaper” quip was made a couple weeks before Wilde died, to a friend (identified in the source the cite for which I can no longer recall) he ran into on the streets of Paris. As I recall, the same source gave as Wilde’s last words, “Alas, I’m dying beyond my means.”

Richard Ellmann’s 1987 biography (Hamish Hamilton; Penguin, 1988, p546) attributes the best source for the joke as Claire de Pratz, the correspondent of Le Petit Parisien and Daily News, who came to know him in his last few months in Paris.
In this version, on 29th October Wilde was sufficiently robust that he was able to take a walk in the evening, during the course of which she reported that he said to her “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.” He doesn’t actually die until a month later.
Ellmann’s source for de Pratz’s account is an article “Souvenirs inédits” by Guillot de Saix on p141 of an undated edition of L’Européen. (The point that Ellmann is citing an article seems to have confused people in the past.)

What was so bad about the wallpaper?

I dunno, but everyone who’s seen it is dead, probably.

Thanks, bonzer. That sounds very much like the passage I read, though it may have been another bio which borrowed/repeated the anecdote.

As for what was so bad about the walllpaper: nothing. It won.

Well, the wallpaper in the room with the deathbed is visible in the background of the photograph of the body taken by Maurice Gilbert. That can be seen on this page, though it’s better reproduced in Ellmann’s book.
Looks like some sort of floral design, possibly chinoiserie influenced. An entirely ordinary specimen of wallpaper for the period. Which may, of course, have been exactly what Wilde was objecting to about it.

Tony Bourdain, in his series No Reservations and in the episode in which he visited Paris, stayed in the room in which Oscar Wilde died. They showed the room’s wallpaper, and although they must have certainly changed it since those days, it was certainly a livid and intimidating wallpaper. It is a lurid deep absinthe green with intertwining grotesque peacocks in a belle epoche style.

Assuming it is in the same or nearly the same pattern as back then, and assuming one drank large quantities of absinthe, I can see the paper giving one the paranoid heebie-jeebies.