Oscar Wilde's Paris tomb made safe from admirers' kisses
PARIS - Agence France-Presse
Oscar Wilde's renovated Paris tomb is to be unveiled on Wednesday, complete with a new glass barrier to shield the monument to the quintessential dandy from a torrent of admiring kisses.
Kiss upon lipsticked kiss in honour of Wilde, who died penniless aged 46 in a Paris hotel room in 1900, has worn down the elegant memorial at Pere Lachaise cemetery, as cosmetic grease from tourist lips sinks into the stonework.
The tomb, designed by modernist sculptor Jacob Epstein and featuring a flying Assyrian-style angel, survived almost unscathed until 1985, except for the angel's genitals being hacked off, according to the Irish Cultural Centre.
Then, the expense of cleaning operations to deal with increasing graffiti on the tomb led the descendants of Wilde and of his friend and executor Robert Ross to try, successfully, to get it listed as an historic monument.
The hope was that fines of thousands of euros for defacing the monument would deter fans of the author of "The Importance of Being Earnest."
But in 1999 the graffiti was replaced by a much more worrying phenomenon when someone had the idea of planting a large, lipsticked kiss on the tomb, sparking a craze for Wilde's many admirers visiting Paris.
"The grease base of the lipstick penetrates the stone and long after the colouring pigments have faded, a grease 'shadow' is still visible," the Irish Cultural Centre said in a statement.
Wilde left London after serving two years in prison for homosexuality, a crime in the eyes of Victorian society, and never regained the creative impetus that had made him a hugely popular, if controversial, playwright.
When the disgraced Irishman died of meningitis in a Paris hotel, famously remarking that "My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One of us has got to go," he was initially given a "sixth class burial" outside Paris.
His friends, in particular his literary executor Ross, managed to annul Wilde's bankruptcy, buy a plot at Pere Lachaise and have Wilde's body transferred to its more dignified and appropriately Gothic surroundings.
Ross's own remains were in 1950 placed inside the tomb, which is a big draw but nevertheless fared better than the nearby much-abused grave of Doors singer Jim Morrison, who died in Paris in 1971 at the age of 27.
A ceremony to unveil the new Wilde tomb on Wednesday, exactly 111 years after his death, is to be attended by Irish and French officials as well as Wilde's only grandson, Merlin Holland, and British actor Rupert Everett.
Everett, who came out in the 1980s, starred in the 2002 film version of Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest".