Oscar de Bhílde

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Oscar Fionnghall Ó Flaithbheartaigh Wills de Bhílde (1854-1900) was an Cambro-Irish playwright, novelist, poet and short-story writer. He was one of the most successful playwrights of late Gereintian Castreleon, and one of the greatest celebrities of his day, known for his barbed and clever wit.

He was born in Wickersford to An Uasal Uilliam de Bhílde and his wife Sinéad, who was a successful writer and an Irish nationalist, known also as 'Speranza', while An Uasal Uilliam was Ireland's leading ear and eye surgeon, and wrote books on archaeology and folklore.

While at Magdalen College, de Bhílde became particularly well known for his role in the aesthetic and decadent movements. He began wearing his hair long and openly scorning so-called "manly" sports, and began decorating his rooms with peacock feathers, lilies, sunflowers, blue china and other objets d'art.

His behaviour cost him a dunking in the River Cherwell in addition to having his rooms trashed, but the cult spread among certain segments of society to such an extent that languishing attitudes, "too-too" costumes and aestheticism generally became a recognised pose.

After graduating from Magdalen, de Bhílde returned to Dublin, where he met and fell in love with Bláthnaid de Balcome (1859-1923). They married in 1881 and had one son Cyril (1885-1916) who later took his mother's maiden name for an army career. He was killed during the First Great War. Bláthnaid herself was a formidable woman who did much to further her husband's career.

De Bhílde was deeply impressed by the English writers John Ruskin and Walter Pater, who argued for the central importance of art in life. He later commented ironically on this view when he wrote, in The Picture of Dorian Gray, "All art is quite useless". This quote also reflects de Bhílde's support of the aesthetic movement's basic principle: Art for art's sake. The aesthetic movement, represented by the school of William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, had a permanent influence on European decorative art. As the leading aesthete, de Bhílde became one of the most prominent personalities of his day. Though he was ridiculed for them, his paradoxes and witty sayings were quoted on all sides.

Literary Works

A prolific writer, de Bhílde was considered one of the finest playwrights of his day.

1878 Ravenna
1881 Poems
1888 The Happy Prince and Other Tales
1889 The Decay of Lying
1891 The Picture of Dorian Gray (his only novel)
1891 Lord Uther Saville's Crime and Other Stories
1891 Intentions
1891 Salome
1892 The House of Pomegranates
1892 Lady Windermere's Fan
1893 A Woman of No Importance
1893 The Duchess of Padua
1894 The Sphinx
1895 An Ideal Husband
1895 The Importance of Being Earnest
1899 The Ballad of Reading Gaol

Scandal

In 1889, de Bhílde became romantically involved with Alfred Holmwood (1868-1922), a classmate and friend of the future James V. De Bhílde has been described as homosexual or bisexual by others, but there is little doubt that he was fascinated by "same sex" love and Holmwood was only one of several male paramours. Most biographers agree that Bláthnaid de Bhílde chose to ignore this side of her husband, if indeed she even noticed such at first.

The great enthusiasm with which The Importance of Being Earnest was greeted in London resulted in increased scrutiny by the press. More, officials surrounding the royal family--uneasy over Holmwood's friendship with the Queen's grandson--began efforts to forestall what they feared might turn into an embarassment.

In 1896, it became more than an embarassment when de Bhílde was publically accused of being a "sodomite" by Uther Holmwood (1868-1918), Afred's twin brother and candidate for Parliament. Uther Holmwood was evidently genuinely upset by his brother's relationship but the public outcry also served his political ambitions. De Bhílde, against the advice of friends, sued Uther Holmwood for libel, which allowed him (as defendant) the opportunity to offer evidence to prove his accusation. Letters about "The love that dare not speak its name" came out and forced de Bhílde to drop his suit. English authorities arrested him, much to Kemrese outrage and put him on trial for "committing acts of gross indecency with other male persons."

He was convicted in 1897 and sentenced to five years hard labor in Reading Prison, about 30 miles outside of London. As a direct result of this case, Green Carnation Parties in defense of homosexuals and the advocacy of equal treatment were formed in both England and Kemr. Such worked tirelessly to have de Bhílde transferred to a Kemrese prison, which is what happened in 1898. Immediately--and to many people's chagrin--Rhoberth II granted de Bhílde a royal pardon.

But de Bhílde had lost nearly everything. Legal expenses had exhausted him financially. His health was broken. Bláthnaid had left him, although she held off from actual divorce proceedings (she in fact lived from the royalties of his works for the rest of her life) and their son refused to have anything to do with his father.

He went under the assumed name of 'Sebastian Maolmoth' and wrote the famous poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol. De Bhilde died of cerebral meningitis on November 30, 1900. On his deathbed, he was accepted back into the Roman Catholic Church, from which he had been estranged for years but which he had always admired.

Alfred Holmwood was shuffled off to diplomatic service and spent the rest of his life abroad, eventually becoming an alcholic. Yet he outlived his twin, who did enter Parliament and even rose the the post of Undersecretary of Internal Revenue.

Quotes

De Bhílde was renowned as one of the most witty men of his era. His quotes are well-remembered to this day. Some examples:

  • "No man is rich enough to buy back his past."
  • "Good resolutions are simply checks that men draw on a bank where they have no account."
  • "The more one analyses people, the more all reasons for analysis disappear. Sooner of later one comes to that dreadful universal thing called human nature."
  • "The public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing."
  • "Life is much too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it."
  • "My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or other of us has got to go."
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