I have a confession to make: I have never read anything by Oscar Wilde, none of his plays, his epigrams, and not his one novel; and very consciously so. And when I say “never read”, I am not being very accurate really, because growing up and as a teenager, I was exposed to Wilde through translated quotes occasionally appearing in various magazine and newspaper sections as well as in a daily Al-Ahram column whose author dedicated it every Friday to a list of quotes he’d share with his readers. I don’t know if those translated quotes were by Wilde himself or his characters, it never said in those publications, they were always cited something like “Oscar Wilde – famous British playwright” or “Oscar Wilde – the sarcastic writer”, or similarly, but all these quotes had one thing in common: in a way, they were all sexist, sometimes downright misogynistic – even when I still didn’t know to define them as such, at that age, most of these quotes left me feeling bad I would never be on this Oscar-Wilde-person’s imaginary list of invited or people to hang out with because I belonged to this uncool group, the women.
And so it was that, up to now, I have avoided reading Wilde; there is almost nothing that feels as bad as consuming the literature of a sexist writer, a celebrated one at that, and the bitter aftertaste it leaves. However, with time I was also introduced to stories about Oscar Wilde’s life and lifestyle, his defiance of Victorian norms and traditions, his openness about his sexuality, and his persecution and imprisonment for all that. And I began to review my established, and, in a sense, admittedly uneducated, opinions about him. Were these quotes by him or his characters? Could it be that the writer who went against type and made a mockery of all of his society’s traditions and views, be they pertaining to conduct, morality, or art, could it be that he used his characters to also mock his society’s views regarding women?
I had just watched a documentary on Wilde, which really sparked my interest in him and his work, when I found three of his books at bargain prices in one of the bookstores I frequent: The Collected Poems of Oscar Wilde, Complete Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde, and The Plays of Oscar Wilde, all three at about the price of one book. I am still missing The Picture of Dorian Gray which I will pick up at another bookstore, and De Profundis, which I am reading online once I post this entry.
I guess if I make good use of my latest library additions, I’ll be able to find my answers to the above questions, to judge if Oscar Wilde really was a sexist, and more importantly, to find out once and for all if it was really Oscar Wilde who said women had minds like Swiss cheese.