Here for 8 days of summer school with the Faculty of Astrological Studies, of London — “here” being Oxford — I could’ve gone with the package and stayed in Exeter College, where classes are, but I saw my chance to commune with the spirit of Oscar Wilde by paying a bit more for a room in his college, Magdalen. Booking online was easy, if somewhat hard to believe.
My first inspiration was spiritual, my second corporeal. Here’s how oxfordrooms.com describes Magdalen’s supplemental attraction:
“English Breakfast is served in the medieval Hall. Choose from a full selection of cooked items as well as cereals, fresh fruit and continental pastries on display in our buttery — then take your tray into the panelled Hall to enjoy your breakfast with other guests, students and visitors with the portraits of famous alumni looking down.”
They don’t mention Oscar’s bust. A nice tall red-faced man with white hair entering the Old Kitchen as I was exiting yesterday tipped me to it. This morning I sat facing Oscar’s bronze effigy, speaking to him in my mind.
“Oscar, I’m so glad we can have this chat, head to head. I’ve read your plays and stared at photos of you in velvet knickers and silk hose, looking languid and girly. You’re a gender-bending god, Oscar. A fashion plate for bohemians, an alternate lifestyle guru. I adore you. I want to be you.
“Oscar, now we’re in the same college together, I see how far short I’ve fallen of my goal to be as brilliant as you. What can be done about it? At this stage, at my age, is there anything I can salvage? Am I doomed to mediocrity and obscurity? God, oh God, why hast Thou forsaken me?
“Oscar, I don’t think you’ll mind I’m half-asleep and shovelling in baked beans, hashbrown wedge, vegetarian sausage, pork sausages, sunny-side-up eggs, Weetabix and milk, fresh and dried fruit with yoghurt. You were a bit of an eater yourself.
“Oscar, you’re so inspiring. You make being human seem like glorious fun. But of course you were supremely gifted, and what’s equally important or possibly the same thing, you followed your muse. That’s what I’ve failed to do. Either I picked the wrong muse or somehow mistreated her. So I’m here to commune with you, Oscar, in hopes you’ll give my aesthetic output a jumpstart.
“Of course, I realize there’s a flipside. There’s the Irish question, the gay question, and the being so ruddy tall question. I’m tall, gay, and part Irish. It’s not easy being any of those things in a short, straight, English world, any more than it’s easy being brilliant in a stupid world. It’s a question not only of muse, but of cross, or the muse who becomes the cross.
“Oscar, the blighters threw you in prison for the love that dare not speak its name — at the height of your theatrical glory, with two hit plays in the West End, one of which, The Importance of Being Earnest, is unrivalled as metaphysical comedy, although I’m not sure it’s ever been performed as such. You took on the challenge of the law and prison with the same genius you’d applied to the rest of your life. You rose to the level of Socrates and Joan of Arc, two other eccentric heroes martyred to the cause of spiritual evolution.
“Oscar, grant me the grace to fight the powers of cultural darkness wherever I meet them with something approaching your grace and wit. Need I say I’m delighted to be eating breakfast for two? Until tomorrow. Pacem.”