The Perils of Photography (or, My Life-Long Obsession With Oscar Wilde)

My whole life, I’ve wanted to be this guy:

Oscar Wilde. Man of wit, elegance and grace. His stories were delicate, lovely and brutal. He managed to be both honest and coy at the same time and managed a frankness in literary subterfuge that I have always admired and will never, ever master. Indeed, I’ll never come close. He was lovely to behold, lovely on the page; his words could insinuate themselves into underclothes, convince buttons and laces to spontaneously undo, unravel a “yes” with the flick of an eye.

What I’m saying is that dude got around, and got some. And bully for him.

And he’s my total hero.

Which may sound weird, given that I’m a happily married (and matronly) wife and mama of three. Why is it that I am so utterly, utterly delighted by Oscar Wilde? Honestly, I have no idea, but I’ve been in love with him since I was eleven years old – when I first read “The Fisherman and His Soul”, and I’ve never looked back.

I love him for his cunning duality, his dark humor, his moral ambivalence. I love him for his loneliness, for his joyful and unabashed love of his own body and its appetites, for his hunger for true love, even as it eluded him. Even as it betrayed him. Also, to be perfectly frank, I love him for his fashion sense.

Indeed, if I were to name my two fashion heroes in life, it would be Oscar Wilde and Catherine the Great. Because if I could pull off these outfits (which, by the way, I can’t. As I mentioned: matronly; mama-ish) I totally would.

Oh Oscar! That wrap! That saucy mug! That hat pulled rakishly to one side! That is the face of a young man who honestly wants nothing more than to make love to the entire world, and I for one thinks that he should go right on ahead. But first, he must sit at my table so that I may feed him as he tells me stories.

And the only reason why I bring up my dear, dear Oscar at all is because the good folks at Little, Brown were pestering me last week for a photograph. Something authory and not-horrible, which was problematic, because I have an issue with taking not-horrible photographs. Or, in other words, I tend to be so terribly un-photogenic that cameras, when they are in my vicinity, have been known to spontaneously combust and sometimes explode.

I will never be Oscar Wilde! I will never be dashing or debonair or devastatingly clever. Oh Oscar! A lifetime of loving you and yet you give me nothing! It’s enough to make a lady want to despair.

Still, a photograph was owed, so I endeavored to do my best. I had already made it clear that I did not want any images of me to appear on my book at all. Indeed, as a reader, I always find it jarring to see a snapshot of the author who wrote the book on the book. Do I need to know what the carpenter looked like who made my diningroom table? Or the craftsman who built my piano? Or the architect who designed my house?

(Actually, scratch that one. The guy who designed my house also lives in my house. He eats the food that I cook and wears the clothes that I wash and sleeps in the bed where I sleep and I love him very much.)

Anyway, the point is that I had a very bad attitude about any publicity photograph involving yours truly. I didn’t see the point, I was sure that the results would be horrifying, and for god’s sake it would just be further proof that I was not, nor would I ever be, as awesome as Oscar Wilde, and it was as though the universe was just rubbing it in.

Fortunately for me, I have nice friends.  Bruce Silcox, photographer, and all-around Nice Person, was kind enough to snap some photos for me. I’ve known Bruce for years – our daughters have been friends since Kindergarten – and he managed to quell any camera-exploding mojo that I had radiating from my skin. And he took a few good pictures.

I’m not Oscar Wilde, and I never will be. I am neither dashing nor quick-witted nor devastatingly handsome. I do not write with his sly grace, nor his looming heatbreak. I do not have the power to make men weep for me like he could. Still, my lifelong obsession with Oscar Wilde has built me into the writer I am today. He was my first love, my first writer-crush, and I will always appreciate him for it.

I will never photograph as well as he could on an off-day. Still I like these pictures a lot. So I feel a strange kinship with my hero right now, and I have a hankering to say something devastatingly witty to someone who richly deserves it. Perhaps I need to be invited to more dinner parties. Or, even better, perhaps I should start crashing dinner parties.

Yes. I think I would like that very much.

10 thoughts on “The Perils of Photography (or, My Life-Long Obsession With Oscar Wilde)

  1. I’ve always been especially struck by those photos of Wilde, too. It’s not only his dapper clothes and unfathomable eyes, but also the sepia tones of the prints of that period. As to choosing heroes, you should be more concerned about exalting Catherine the Great. She may have been a swell dresser and generous patron of the arts, but wasn’t she also a megalomaniac who arranged for her husband’s assassination?

    Any of those photos of you would look nice on a book cover.

  2. Oh, lovely, lovely, lovely!
    Oscar, his words, your words and your photos… and you give me courage that my photo shoot tomorrow will also not end in exploding cameras!

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