Writing From Out of the Depths – Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis*

“It is tragic how few people ever ‘possess their souls’ before they die.”


In May 1895, Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde began his prison sentence. Wilde, arrested on charges of indecency, and convicted of “committing acts of gross indecency with certain male persons” was sentenced to two years hard labor. The “love that dare not speak its name” became a source of deep regret for Wilde, not because of what it was, but because of what it became. The passion for youth and beauty that had inspired Wilde had run unchecked and had flung him into ruin. Wilde took on full culpability writing, “I ruined myself, and nobody great or small can be ruined except by his own hand.” (32).

Wilde was transferred from Pentonville to Wandsworth before finally being sent to Reading, where he began writing De Profundis.

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31st edition published 1915

Wilde spent three months crafting his personal manifesto. He was permitted to write during the day, surrendering the pages to the warden at night, and having them returned to him the next morning.

In a letter to his friend Robert Ross, dated April 1, 1857, Wilde wanted Ross and others to understand why he wrote it. Wilde wanted to make certain his intentions were not seen as a defense of his behavior, but rather an explanation.  Wilde was in a sense documenting the “evolution of (his) character and intellectual attitude towards life.” (11). He wanted to make certain Ross knew he would not emerge from the prison walls the same man as when he entered them.

Upon his release, Wilde gave Ross the epistle, who had two copies made. One of those copies was sent to Lord Alfred Douglas, (though Douglas claimed he never saw more than a few quotes from it), the man Oscar had written it for and who had been the source of Wilde’s catastrophic ruin. Fate, however, is a funny thing as Douglas himself was imprisoned in 1924 and would pen his own volume of poems titled In Excelsis (in the highest) while incarcerated. 

Douglas and Wilde

There is a desperation in De Profundis as if Wilde suspected he would not be long for the world. Having lost his family and all his possessions, Wilde opened his soul and allowed it to bleed onto the page.

De Profundis, (out of the depths) is a work overflowing (perhaps too much at times) with elegant, fluid lines where Wilde muses about love, art, forgiveness, and humility and the romanticism of Christ.  It is also Wilde’s self-reflection, full of anxious and despairing prose where Wilde, wrapped firmly in the arms of depression, bares his soul, “seeking a fresh mode of self-realization,” and “acknowledging the value of humility” (37).  However, what De Profundis really is, is Wilde’s acceptance of his fate. He realized he was up against an opponent, even his wit could not defeat; he was losing the war with himself. Or was he?

Wilde wrote, “I had lost my name, my position, my happiness, my freedom, my wealth. I was prisoner and pauper…I saw then that the only thing for me was to accept everything. Since then-curious as it will no doubt sound- I have been happier.” (71).   Wilde believed, or so his writings indicate, that the only truth was truth to oneself, to one’s nature. Conformity was the ultimate prison sentence. The true sense of freedom could only come from defiance of morality imposed by society, in favor of loyalty to the self.  The new-found liberation of his soul caused Wilde to consider that it “may be worthwhile going to prison,” (93), despite its miseries or perhaps because of them.

“Suffering is one very long moment.” (21), and suffer, Wilde did.  Wilde was subjected to hard labor, illness, injury, oscar-wildeand humiliation, “…in prison tears are a part of every day’s experience.” (103). But Wilde’s arrogance sustained him and it was those tears that emboldened Oscar to write. It was not that prison made him a better person, but rather made him a stronger opponent against cruelty.    For all that Wilde lost, what he kept was the very thing that defined him, his art.

A self-proclaimed “Lord of Language” Wilde never lost sight of his strength. Society may have stripped his pride, but it could not strip his genius. Wilde was determined to make happiness, no matter how humble, his objective. Even if it meant being on his own. Wilde wrote “I can be perfectly happy by myself. With freedom, flowers, books and the moon, who could not be perfectly happy?” (98).

In 1898, after his release, Wilde published his final poem, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.” Instead of being published under his name, it was published under his prison number, C.3-3. Wilde would die two years later in a Paris hotel room at the age of 46.

Wilde’s cell


*The edition I am reviewing is from 1915 and was published in London by Methuen & Co. LTD, and includes additional text from Wilde in the form of letters. It is edited and does not contain the complete text. The reason being that Douglas was still alive and Ross wanting to avoid a lawsuit, had all mentions of Douglas removed. An expanded, yet still incomplete version was published in 1949.  The complete text was first published in 1962.


Happy Birthday Mr. Huxley


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Aldous Huxley


I read Brave New World several years ago. It was one of the books, like many others, that I read because I felt I should. Now it is time for a confession; I did not like it. I stuck with it to the end, because once I crack a spine and read a few pages, I have entered into a commitment. Giving up on a book is like breaking a promise to a friend; it happens, but you never get over the guilt. I stayed with it and checked it off my “need to read” list, and decided I was done with Mr. Huxley. However, Mr. Huxley was not done with me.

A few years later my philosophy professor assigned us Brave New World Revisited. I was thankful I had read its predecessor, but spending more time with Mr. Huxley was not something I approached with optimism until I started reading.

Huxley hooked me on the opening sentence. “In 1931 when Brave New World was being written, I was convinced that there was still plenty of time.”

Time for what? I wondered and kept reading. Huxley started with over-population, going on to state over-population was creating “greater numbers [of] biologically poorer quality.” Much of this was due in part, according to Huxley, with advances in science. Drugs were keeping us alive longer, but were little benefit as these “wonder drugs” were causing deterioration in health and a “decline in average intelligence.” Huxley went on to examine propaganda, brainwashing, various persuasion methods and education for freedom. This was serious shit; it was also terrifying. I had found my Soma and wanted more. I decided I had been rather unfair to Huxley. Brave New World Revisited had been a good, sharp smack on the back of my head. Stuff was happening, and Mr. Huxley knew it wasn’t the good kind.

I became obsessed with Huxley, even naming my cat after him. I began collecting everything I could get my hands on three volumes of essays, a collection of letters, a biography, a few of his other novels, including his first three, and watching interviews and documentaries on YouTube.13442223_1075822155837863_8946657273670261987_n

Huxley had a sharp satirical wit. In “Silence is Golden,” an essay he wrote in 1929 Huxley describes his first experience with Jazz.

“The jazzers were forced on me; I regarded them with a fascinated horror. It was the first time, I suddenly realized, that I had ever clearly seen a jazz band. The spectacle was positively terrifying.”

Huxley’s first novel, Crome Yellow, has become one of my favorite books. It has often been criticized for being a book with no plot, but that is the genius behind it; Crome isn’t a single plot, it’s several. Each of Crome’s characters inhabits their own self-absorbed private world. Written in the style of Wodehouse and Waugh, Crome Yellow, exposed me to a side of Huxley I didn’t know existed. Crome Yellow and Antic Hay, Huxley’s second novel, made me laugh as much as Brave New World Revisited had frightened me.

Huxley didn’t stop at novels and essays. He also wrote poetry. Even though T.S. Eliot accused Huxley of “borrow[ing] a good deal from my poetry” he felt Huxley’s talent was in prose instead of verse. Finding a good selection of Huxley’s poetry is not easy. I had to do a bit of searching before I finally found a decent collection of them. In spite of Eliot’s (one of my favorite poets) criticisms, I found Huxley’s poetry meaningful and contemplative.

Darkness had stretched its colour,

Deep blue across the pane:

No Cloud to make night duller,

No moon with its tarnished stain;

But only here and there a star,

One sharp point of frosty fire,

Hanging infinitely far

In mockery of our life and death

And all our small desire. ~ From Waking

For Huxley, writing was essential. “I never feel I am performing a really moral action, except when I am writing,” I find that a very romantic view. Writing defined Huxley and that definition goes far beyond Brave New World. Huxley saw the world, perhaps because of his limited eyesight, differently than those around him, without losing his humanity. If anything, he can only be blamed for being too human.

I’ve got a long way to go before I exhaust all of Huxley’s writing if that’s even possible. I have learned something from every essay, novel, poem and letter Huxley wrote. Perhaps, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is not to judge a writer by one book. I may never come to appreciate Brave New World, but I will never stop appreciating the man who wrote it.

Happy 122nd birthday, Mr. Huxley.

Death of a Polaroid – A Manics Family Album

Death of a Polaroid
Death of a Polaroid

“As is so often the case with art-whether music, film, photography or painting-true beauty shines through in the imperfections.” -Nicky Wire

I love books. I’m actually kind of manic about them. (See what I did there?) Sometimes you come across one that is more than just a book. It’s an experience.

Nicky Wire’s Death of a Polaroid A Manics Family Album, is a rich, salient collection of stunning, personal images taken primarily by Nicky Wire and long time group photographer Mitch Ikeda. Almost 300 pages of poignant images sit between its pink covers. The images were chosen from Wire’s massive collection of Polaroids taken over the last 20 years. Wire describes it as “the unfolding and unraveling really, of four young kids that grew up in a bedroom, dreaming of taking over the world.”

A thoughtful foreword written by Wire, opens the book as he describes his ardor for the medium, which is followed by a in-depth conversation with Wire and Jeremy Deller. Deller, is an artist that has worked with the band over the years. In 1997 he put together an exhibit of artwork created by Manics fans entitled The Uses of Literacy. You can check it out here. http://www.jeremydeller.org/TheUsesOfLiteracy/TheUsesOfLiteracy.php

In an interview with the publisher, Farber & Farber, Wire stated his love of  Polaroids was due to their “simplicity” and “instantaneous beauty”.

The images are “unplanned randomness”  but placed in an order that creates a visual biography of the band. The majority of band photos are of the three remaining Manics, with Richey Edwards nicely represented in the early pages.

Wire's embellishments of
Wire’s embellishments of “The Everlasting”

The pictures taken by Nicky Wire show his love of the organic and abstract. To Nicky Wire, the Polaroid  “…is perfect for the medium of cataloguing a rock and roll band.” Many of the images embellished by Wire, give the viewer insight to his unique perspective.

This collection  of captured epoch moments in the history of the Manic Street Preachers is as diverse as their music. Like the Manics, it is beautiful, chaotic, and profound. Many of the images are compelling and provocative.

Death of a Polaroid -A Manics Family Album is not a book meant to sit on a shelf. It is an indulgement meant to be savored. As we move deeper into technology and social media, connecting with the rest of the world, a break back into a simpler time acts as a reboot. Nicky Wire may have Killed the Zeitgeist, but not before he preserved it in this book. IMG_2972

If you’d like to have a more thorough look through the book, you can do that here. http://www.farrowdesign.com/blog/nicky_wiredeath_of_a_polaroidbook_design_wk


Alan Davies – One of My Favourite People

8907050Being one of the few people in America who actually knows who Alan Davies is, makes him even more special to me, like being part of an exclusive club. The kind you want to tell people about, but you don’t for fear it’ll get too popular and then it won’t be special anymore. But I couldn’t do a blog about music or books without mentioning this one. “My Favourite People & Me, (also titled “Teenage Revolution” to correspond with the equally excellent documentary) really connected with me. Alan and I may live in different countries, be different sexes and have a different net worth, but one thing I proudly share with him, is that we are both children of the 80’s.

This book was a time warp, a trip back to the best decade ever. If you were there you know what I mean, if you weren’t well, I’m very sorry for you then…you seriously missed out. Our choice of hairstyles may have been questionable but we really did have all the best bands. Some of which are mentioned in this book.

As a life long Anglophile, (that’s just a less creepy way of saying I’m obsessed with anything British) I was familiar with most of the names in this book. Those I didn’t know, I used this amazing thing called the internet and looked them up. We didn’t have the internet in the 80’s but we had Atari and MTV which was all one needed for survival back then. As I read through Alan’s book, I was constantly surprised by how many shared experiences we had. How was it possible for me to have so much in common with a rebellious teenage boy, that lived in a different country? What an amazing, bizarre thing to discover. But I did, and it made me remember the religious devotion unlike any other to the things and people that I swore a lifetime allegiance to, until I tossed them aside for the next things and people. Which, if I’m honest happened on a pretty regular basis.

This book inspired me so much I based a semester research paper on it. It was, without a doubt the most rewarding and enjoyable paper I’ve written.  It also earned me an A, which I shared with Alan via Twitter.

IMG_2791 (2)Needless to say, this made every second I spent on this paper (and there were a lot of them) worth it. But, finding I had a lot in common with someone I admire, was even better.  Unlike so many forgotten idols and passions, my life long love of England is something that has never waivered. The events and people Alan mentions in his book inspired me to dig a bit deeper into what was happening in Thatcherite Britain. This led me into discovering The Jam and the immensely talented, Paul Weller. It also gave me the opportunity to go back and rekindle my love of The Smiths.

The best thing I gained from this book was getting an idea of what it was like to actually grow up British and discover it wasn’t all that different from growing up American. I find that comforting. I can’t thank Alan enough for giving me this trip back. Next time I’ll have to  remember to send myself a postcard.