Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde: 16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900

Oscar Wilde, 1889, Cameron Studio

Robert Ross to More Adey, December 14, 1900:*

During my absence Reggie went every day to see Oscar, and wrote me short bulletins every other day. Oscar went out with him several times driving, and seemed much better… but on the Wednesday evening, at five-thirty, I got a telegram from Reggie saying, ‘Almost hopeless.’

… His appearance was very painful, he had become quite thin, the flesh was livid, his breathing heavy. He was trying gto speak. He was conscious that people were in the room, and raised his hand when I asked him whether he understood. He pressed out hands. I then went in search of a priest… You know I had always promised to bring a priest to Oscar when he was dying… I then asent wires to Frank Harris, to Holman… and to Douglas… A garde-malade was requisitioned as the nurse had been rather overworked.

Terrible offices had to be carried out into which I need not enter. Reggie was a perfect wreck.

He and I slept at the Hôtel d’Alsace that night in a room upstairs. We were called twice by the nurse, who thought Oscar was actually fying. About 5.30 in the morning a complete change came over him, the lined of the face altered, and what I believe is called the death rattle began, but I had never heard anything like it before; it sounded like the horrible turning of a crank, and it never ceased until the end. His eyes did not respond to the light test any longer,  Blood and foam came from his mouth, and had to be wiped away by someone standing by him all the time… From 1 o’clock we did  not leave the room; the painful noise form the throat became louder and louder. Reggie and myself destroyed letters to keep ourselves from breaking down. The two nurses were out, and the proprietor of the hotel had come up to take their place; at 1.45 the time of his breathing altered. I went to the bedside and held his hand, his pulse began to flutter.He heaved a deep sigh, the only natural one I had heard since I arrived, the limbs seemed to stretch involuntarily, the breathing became fainter; he passed at 10 minutes to 2 exactly.

After washing and winding the body, and removing the appalling debris which had to be burnt, Reggie and myself and the proprietor started for the Mairie to make the official declaration. There is no use recounting the tedious experiences whcih only make me angry to think about. The excellent Dupoirier lost his head and complicated matters by making a mystery over Oscar’s name, though there was a difficulty, as Oscar was registered under the name of Melmoth at the hotel, and it is contrary to French law to be under an assumed name in your hotel…

While Reggie stayed at the hotel interviewing journalists and clamorous creditors, I started with Melmoth to see officials. We did mot part till 1.30, so you can imagine the formalities and oaths and exclamations and signing of papers. Dying in Paris is really a very difficult and expensive luxury for a foreigner.

It was in the afternoon the District Doctor called and asked if Oscar had committed suicide or was murdered. He would not look at the signed certificates… GEsling had warned me that due to the assumed name and Oscar’s identity, the authorities might insist on his body being taken to the Morgue. Of course I was appalled at the prospect; it really seemed the final touch of horror. After examining the body, and indeed everybody in the hotel, and after a series of drinks and unseasonable jests, and a liberal fee, the District Doctor consented to sign the permission for burial. Then arrived some other revolting official; he asked how many collars Oscar had, and the value of his umbrella. (This is quite true, and not a mere exaggeration of mine.)…

I am glad to say dear Oscar looked calm and dignified, just as he did when he came out of prison, and there was nothing at all horrible about the body after it had been washed. Around his neck was the blessed rosary which you gave me, and on the breast a Franciscan medal given me by one of the nuns, a few flowers placed there by myself and an anonymous friend who had brought some on behalf of the children, though I so not suppose the children know that their father is dead…

photograph Robert Loerzel 2000


Merlin Holland has been trying to keep his grandfather’s grave tidy, but each year crowds of visitors come searching in the vast Père-Lachaise cemetery for Wilde’s final resting place. They express their affection for the writer with graffiti messages and it has become fashionable to smear kisses in lipstick over the tomb.

“On the one hand it is quite touching,” said Holland, 59, a writer who lives in Burgundy. “It is touching that they remember him with such affection. But on the other hand it is really tiresome.”

* Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde, ed. Merlin Holland and Rupert Hart-Davis, 4th Estate, 2000

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