Monday, November 30, 2009

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.


November 30

1554 – PHILIP SIDNEY, English courtier, soldier, and writer (d. 1586); the English courtier and poet was one of the leading lights of Queen Elizabeth's court and a model of Renaissance chivalry. His Apostrophel and Stella is one of the great sonnet sequences in English and was inspired by his love for Penelope Devereaux, even though he later married Frances Walsingham. (Lest one confuse Renaissance "love" and "marriage" with the modern versions, it should be pointed out that Penelope Devereaux was 12-years old when Sidney fell in love with her, and that Frances Walsingham was 14 when she was married to the 29-year-old courtier. Marriages were arranged then and not made in heaven. More a real estate transaction than love matches.) Sidney was in his teens when the Huguenot writer and diplomat Hubert Languet fell in love with him. Languet was 36 years his senior, lived with him for a time, and, when they parted, wrote passionate letters to him weekly. In his youth, Sidney was strongly attached to two young men, Fulke Greville and Edward Dyer, and wrote love verses to them both, a point not lost on Gay John Addington Symonds when he wrote Sidney's biography. Sidney died in battle at the age of 32.

1874 – WINSTON CHURCHILL, British prime minister and statesman, born (d: 1965); In his wonderfully entertaining and informative biography of W. Somerset Maugham, Ted Morgan tells how Maugham once asked Churchill whether it was true, as the statesman's mother had claimed, that he had had affairs with other young men in his youth. "Not true!" Churchill replied. "But I once went to bed with a man to see what it was like." The man turned out to be musical-comedy star, Ivor Norvello. "And what was it like?" asked Maugham. "Musical" Churchill replied.

1900 – OSCAR WILDE, Irish writer, wit and raconteur died (b. 1854); Prison was unkind to Wilde's health and after he was released on May 19, 1897 he spent his last three years penniless, in self-imposed exile from society and artistic circles. He went under the assumed name of Sebastian Melmoth, after the famously "penetrated" Saint Sebastian and the devilish central character of Wilde's great-uncle Charles Robert Maturin's gothic novel Melmoth the Wanderer.

Nevertheless, Wilde lost no time in returning to his previous pleasures. According to Douglas, Ross "dragged [him] back to homosexual practices" during the summer of 1897, which they spent together in Berneval. After his release, he also wrote the famous poem The Ballad of Readying Gaol. Wilde spent his last years in the Hôtel d'Alsace, now known as L'Hôtel, in Paris, where he was notorious and uninhibited about enjoying the pleasures he had been denied in England. Again according to Douglas, "he was hand in glove with all the little boys on the Boulevard. He never attempted to conceal it." In a letter to Ross, Wilde laments, "Today I bade good-bye, with tears and one kiss, to the beautiful Greek boy. . . he is the nicest boy you ever introduced to me." Just a month before his death he is quoted as saying, "My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or other of us has got to go."

His moods fluctuated; Max Beerbohm relates how, a few days before Wilde's death, their mutual friend Reginald 'Reggie' Turner had found Wilde very depressed after a nightmare. "I dreamt that I had died, and was supping with the dead!" "I am sure," Turner replied, "that you must have been the life and soul of the party." Reggie Turner was one of the very few of the old circle who remained with Wilde right to the end, and was at his bedside when he died. On his deathbed he was received into the Roman Catholic church for some odd reason. Perhaps he really had lost his mind. Wilde died of cerebral meningitis on November 30, 1900.

Wilde was buried in the Cimitiere de Bagneaux outside Paris but was later moved to Père Lachaise inParis. His tomb in Père Lachaise was designed by sculptor Sir Jacob Epstein, at the request of Robert Ross, who also asked for a small compartment to be made for his own ashes. Ross's ashes were transferred to the tomb in 1950. The numerous spots on it are lipstick traces from admirers.

The modernist angel depicted as a relief on the tomb was originally complete with male genitals. They were broken off as obscene and kept as a paperweight by a succession of Père Lachaise cemetary keepers. Their current whereabouts are unknown. In the summer of 2000, intermedia artist Leon Johnson performed a forty minute ceremony entitled Re-membering Wilde in which a commissioned silver prosthesis was installed to replace the vandalized genitals.

1978 – CLAY AIKEN, American singer, born; Rolling Stone magazine featured Aiken on the cover of their July 2003 issue. In the cover article Aiken said, "One thing I've found of people in the public eye, either you're a womanizer or you've got to be Gay. Since I'm neither one of those, people are completely concerned about me." In subsequent interviews he has expressed frustration over continued questions about his sexual orientation, telling People magazine in 2006, "It doesn't matter what I say. People are going to believe what they want." Right. Whatever. Musical.

After several years of public speculation, Aiken confirmed that he is gay in a September 2008 interview with People magazine. Quelle surprise. In April 2009, Aiken was honored by the Family Equality Council advocacy group at their annual benefit dinner in New York City. For what we're not exactly clear.

No comments: