I do not appreciate the suggestion that Oscar Wilde’s cleverness consisted in paradoxical epigram. I will accept gracious tributes to Wilde’s way with epigrams, like Dorothy Parker’s:
If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit.
We all assume that Oscar said it.
Thank you, Dorothy Parker. You have lovely qualities and could bang out epigrams with the best of them.
I will not, however, sit idly by in the face of any slighting reference to Oscar Wilde that implies that he was not as witty and charming as he is renowned to be, but only fooled people into thinking he was by inventing, and then saying, little paradoxes. WRONG. He was exactly as witty and charming as he is renowned to be, and I will argue you into the ground on this point; and trust me, you will get tired of arguing about it before I will, because I will never get tired of arguing (about Oscar Wilde).
Last night I was reading The Invention of Love, my current favorite Tom Stoppard play. It is set at Oxford during the youth of A.E. Housman, and also on the rivers Styx and Acheron following the death of A.E. Housman (because Tom Stoppard can do things like that). The play is about Housman, studying Latin and being quietly and hopelessly in love with a classmate, while Oscar Wilde and British concern over homosexuality are always in the background, for Housman to take no notice of. Viz:
Pollard: Ruskin said, when he’s at Paddington he feels he is in hell – and this man Oscar Wilde said, “Ah, but—”
Housman: “—when he’s in hell he’ll think he’s only at Paddington.” It’ll be a pity if inversion is all he is known for.
I read this line and went straight into a snit. I was all, “Um, Alfred Edward, you are cute and all, but out of you and Oscar Wilde, only one of you graduated Oxford with a double first, while the other (I’m not naming names) failed to pass Greats. I think you will find that Oscar Wilde is a bit more than an epigrammatist. I mean if it’s a pity he’s only known for anything, it’s—”
And then I sat up and gazed at the book and read it over twice, and I said, “Oh, well played, Tom Stoppard.” And then I got up out of bed and strode around the room waving my arms around and talking to myself about how good Tom Stoppard is. I did this, you see, because the alternative was me drunk-on-wordplay-dialing one of my friends, and I really don’t think any of my friends would appreciate getting a late-night phone call demanding their vocal appreciation for a play on words that hinges on a term for homosexuality that’s completely out of date.
That is pretty good, though, eh? Inversion? Get it? Get it?