Comic Vs. Audience is proud to present a scintillating new bi-weekly column, Literary Adventure, written by bookish gadabout Doogie Horner. Everything written in Literary Adventure has been vigorously fact-checked by a team of ten graduate students, so don't second guess any of the outrageous claims made within.
Greetings Faithful Literary Adventure Reader (if you are a Casual Literary Adventure Reader, you can fuck off right now): I’d like to preface this Literary Adventure with an apology. This particular adventure, unlike most of my escapades, is not funny. In fact it’s a bit depressing. Also, it’s really long. It’s a long, somber, joy-draining slog punctuated by buggery and weeping. On the plus side, it has a little more adventure than usual. As an incentive for readers to finish this bitter meal, I have devised a contest. Hidden in the story are three funny parts. If you can find them, I will buy you a shot of absinthe. Let the hunt begin!
– – –
Oscar Wilde—novelist, playwright, foppish wit, and convivial conversationalist—was one of the most famous celebrities of late Victorian England. His novels and plays won critical and popular acclaim, but his fame was due just as much to his dramatic and unconventional personal life. He cultivated a indolent, over-dressed, effeminate persona that was in stark contrast to the masculine depiction of manhood then held as the ideal.
His quips and catty remarks were wired around the world as soon as they fell from his languid lips, and his gay society escapades regularly made headlines. His renown opened exclusive, golden doors to parlors where he rubbed elbows with the highest echelons of British aristocracy. Unfortunately he also rubbed penises with some of them, which drew the ire of powerful heterosexuals in the British government. Especially incensed by his shameless buggery was the Marquess of Queensberry, whose son, Lord Alfred Douglas, had been seduced by Wilde. Based on this and other documented gay activities, Wilde was eventually put on trial and convicted of “gross indecency” for which he was sentenced to two years of hard labor in Reading Prison.
When Oscar emerged from prison his fortunes had been scattered in the wind. A penniless, unemployable pariah, he fled England and went into self-imposed exile in Paris, where he depended on the charity of friends to survive. The harsh conditions of prison had done irreparable damage to his health and three years after his release he developed meningitis and died, destitute and forgotten, in a rented hotel room.
His death was a bit of a mystery. Historians are still unsure what brought on the fatal meningitis. At the time, physicians diagnosed that it could have been caused by an ear infection he had a few months prior, but the evidence was inconclusive. Some have speculated it was a side effect of syphilis, which Oscar may or may not have had. Still another cause could have been a skull fracture he received while in prison.
All of these theories are plausible—but they are all wrong.
The truth is far more astounding.
It’s so astounding that it’s scarcely believable, and may cause you to scoff haughtily before canceling your subscription to Literary Adventure Quarterly. But let me remind you, it wasn’t too long ago that I exposed an equally shocking revelation which was eventually proven true: the fact that the Martin Lawrence film Black Knight was merely a thinly veneered rehash of Mark Twain’s novel a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.
We all know the history books are packed with lies. Only suckers think Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin without any help from the Atlantians. And if the South really lost the Civil War, then how did they end up with all the cool shit? Barbecue, NASCAR, sun tea, John Denver, and Emmett Otter’s Jug Band?
I had to dig deeper than the Encyclopedia Britannica to uncover the real story of the last few days of Oscar Wilde’s life. My search took me to Paris, London, Naxos, Tibet, and Sbarro, where I got some breadsticks (good brain food). Unfortunately no single source held the complete story.
In the catacombs beneath St. Mark’s cathedral I found Oscar Wilde’s final journal, only to discover that several crucial pages had been torn out. I caught a glimpse of a black cloaked figure running away, but after a brief cane sword fight, I lost him in the labyrinthine tunnels. Nevertheless there was useful information left in the journal. Using it along with other sources including interviews, newspaper articles, government documents, and tea leaf readings, I’ve compiled what is to date the most complete (true) picture of the final days of Oscar Wilde ever published.
The following are relevant excerpts, edited and organized to describe events in chronological order. Our story begins with an excerpt from the journal of Giuseppe Fillages, a French wallpaper designer of great renown who had a wallpaper shop in Boulogne Billancourt, a suburb of Paris.
June 6, 1896.
Abaddon spoke to me again last night in a dream. His visits become more frequent. In the dream he told me to awake. I did, and beheld in the air over my bed a burning pattern, burning in the air before my eyes. I closed my eyes in horror, but the pattern was already seared into my mind. The flames glowed green, a hideous green like oozing pus, and as the diseased flames sputtered and dropped on my bed, they burnt holes like acid. I’m ashamed to say I threw up.
Beelzebub has shown me what I must create to help Him cross over. I have seen the pattern. I do not know if I have the strength to create something so hideous, but I will try. I know of only one way to create that awful shade of green, but I don’t know if my soul (what is left) can stand it.
– – –
Footnote: Abaddon is a name for the Devil, used in the book of Revelation. It’s literal translation is “destroying angel.” Beelzebub is another name for the Devil, and also the title of a Dead Milkmen album. It’s unclear which usage Giuseppe is applying here.
We pick the thread up next with a newspaper article from Boulogne Billancourt.
August 25, 1896
A fire broke out in the Fillages wallpaper shop last night, burning the entire factory to the ground. The fire started sometime after midnight, and only the owner, Giuseppe Fillages, was inside. He was killed in the fire. The fire started quickly and was raging out of control before the fire department was notified. The entire factory burnt to the ground. The large vats of highly flammable dye inside probably contributed to the speed and ferocity with which the fire burnt, and also the strange color of the fire. The green flames were visible as far away as Paris.
The cause of the fire is unknown, and foul play has not been ruled out.
Amazingly, amongst the ashes, one thing survived the flames untouched—a single spool of wallpaper. It has been sold by the family to pay for the debts they have incurred due to their loss.
– – –
The wallpaper which miraculously survived the flames was sold to the Hotel d’Alsace in Paris, which used it to paper the room Oscar ended up moving into on his release from Reading Prison.
A few months later, as the ashes of the Fillages wallpaper shop were sifted through, large piles of bones which could have come from animals OR human babies were found inside the wallpaper dye vats. My bet is baby bones, because that’s how Satan worshippers roll.
Oscar Wilde’s journal chronicles his arrival in Paris, and his initial impression of the Hotel d’Alscace.
August 25, 1897
The Parisian air is thick with foul odors. Yet it is imbued with an energy, a creative crackle. Robert has helped me find lodgings at the Hotel d’Alscace, a towering monument on the Rue Des Beaux that rivals the Palace of Minos in the unapologetic gaudiness of it’s adornments.
Nowhere is it more disgusting though than in my very own bedroom. The bed is large and fine, made of oak with a soaring canopy. All of the appointments are very tasteful, in the same rich oak with burgundy cushions. But the walls—the walls are grotesque. The paper on them could not be more hideous if Satan himself had been flayed and his skin pasted to the walls with the blood of children. It’s shade of green is so putrid and powerful that when I close my eyes at night the pattern hangs before my eyes a moment still.
My evenings are made much more pleasant by the warm company of a number of renters [slang for male prostitutes –ed.] whose acquaintance I have made already. My favorite is but a sliver of a lad, whose slim hipped white figure droops gracefully like the bell of a lily.
When he told me his name was Aiolos, I was delighted. “Are you Greek?” He nodded shyly. Imagine my good fortune, to travel all the way to Paris to find a new Adonis to play with!
– – –
Footnote: Oscar’s favorite male prostitute in London was a beautiful young Greek lad. When the boy moved away it’s said that Oscar wept copiously, and exclusively wore violet for several weeks.
The next entry is a letter from Robert Ross to friends in London. Ross was Oscar’s oldest friend and lover, and had weathered a torrid on again off again relationship with Oscar for years. He was one of the few friends who didn’t abandon Oscar after his release from prison, and followed Oscar to Paris.
February 2, 1899
Greetings from the City of Lights! How is dreary London? Oscar and I miss you terribly, although I can’t say we miss much else about the isles. The weather here is mild, and the people pleasantly open-minded. When I think of your sitting room on the Thames though, I admit a wistful tear wells in my eye.
[Next two paragraphs omitted by editor, because they are irrelevant. He talks about poetry for an ungodly length.]
Oscar is adjusting to his new surroundings with difficulty. He does not seem to understand that he is living in a hotel room, without the authority to change its appointments to his liking. He is obsessed with tearing down the wallpaper in his bedroom, which I agree is rather ugly.
He gave me quite a scare yesterday. When he didn’t meet me at Augusto’s for breakfast, I went up to his room and knocked. Nobody answered so I let myself in with the key. Immediately my nostrils were assaulted by a pungent odor. Pressing a kerchief to my nose, I rushed in and found him unconscious on the bedroom floor, his face white as marble. There was a tub of turpentine next to him, and fuming rags were scattered around. I could see that he had been using the solution to try to scrape off the wallpaper, which hung tattered in some spots. I threw open the windows and dragged him into the parlor, where I revived him with difficulty. He was incoherent at first, and babbled about some word that sounded like “abbadon.” His eyes were filled with terror, and he clutched at me for protection. A doctor inspected him later and said he was lucky not to have died.
The hotel was very upset and I only talked them into forgiving Oscar with great difficulty. Of course I had to pay for the repairs to the paper.
When I scolded Oscar later for the incident, he responded in a most uncharacteristic way. Terror again stole into his eyes, and he wouldn’t say a word. When I pressed him he finally apologized, and said it wouldn’t happen again.
– – –
An excerpt from Oscar Wilde’s journal:
February 10, 1899
Ron is a dear. How many times has he saved my life and soul? Yet I fear my soul is still in mortal danger. Perhaps it would have been better for me to die. I will not set another foot in that room alone. It wins. Let it be so. Let the evil within rot there.
– – –
September 10, 1900
I have tried everything. Yesterday I picked up some lovely blue fabric in the market, and hung it on the walls to cover that ghastly wallpaper. When I woke in the morning the fabric had fallen apart. It seemed to have aged a hundred years in one night, and lay in rotten shreds on the floor.
I swear I hear the walls breathing.
Have I described the pattern? I have not. I am not brave enough to stare at it for very long. It appears at first glance to be rose bush vines climbing an ornate trestle. But at night I swear the vines writhe like thorny tentacles. I must tell someone what I have seen. Robert would think I am mad, and perhaps I am. I can’t tell him. Who can I share my burden with? I must know if I am mad.
– – –
All the pages in Oscar’s journal past this date were torn from the book, and the trail turns cold. A few months later Oscar fell ill and died, supposedly from acute meningitis.
We know from Robert Ross’s letter and journals that Oscar never did tell him his fears about the possessed wallpaper. But Oscar’s journal expressed a strong desire to tell someone. Did he share his secret with anyone?
He did. The young prostitute Aiolos.
The following is a transcript of an interrogation recorded by the Russian Secret Service in 1944. Aiolos Hortis had been drafted into the Italian infantry during World War II, subsequently transferred to a German Panzer division, and was captured by the red army during the siege of Leningrad. He was interrogated fiercely, even though he knew nothing. After 48 hours of brutal questioning and torture, he was delirious with pain. He confessed to everything he had ever done, including the following:
January 2, 1944
Interrogator: We know you know!
Aiolos: I don’t know anything!
Interrogator: We know!
Aiolos: What? What?
Interrogator: It’s all written down! Your friends have abandoned you! WE KNOW EVERYTHING! Just tell us!
Interrogator: We will cut your cock off!
(Screams, a scuffle, tape stops, then starts again.)
Aiolos: All right, all right. I was there. I saw it all. I don’t know how you know.
Interrogator: We know everything.
Aiolos: It was awful. (sobbing)
Oscar was always good to me. I think he really loved me. Doing that, it was just for money, to get by, but Oscar, he made me feel special. He was always calling me a Greek god, that was nice.
We spent a lot of time at his hotel, but eventually I noticed we wouldn’t go into the bedroom anymore. We would stay in the parlor, or sometimes sleep in the bathtub, which was uncomfortable. When I asked him why we didn’t use the bedroom anymore, he got very nervous. I could tell he was trying to decide whether or not to tell me something.
The he got up and said “alright, let’s go in the bedroom.” There was a padlock on the door. He took a key from a chain around his neck, and I could see there was also a cross on the chain, which I thought was odd. He opened the doors and we went in. We walked into the middle of the room, which seemed unnaturally dark, darker than the drawn curtains should have made it.
He asked me to look at the wallpaper, and tell him if I saw anything. I didn’t. It just looked liked ugly wallpaper to me. Then I looked closer, and the pattern took on depth. It became three dimensional. I stared in amazement. The pattern was a rose bush climbing a trestle, and as I looked at it the vines began to twist and turn. They grew. They writhed and reached out. A stupor descended over me and I realized with sudden horror that I couldn’t move. I was transfixed. My mind sunk in green, viscous water. The vines slithered toward me, and I couldn’t move away.
Interrogator: What the fuck are you talking about?
Aiolos: Oscar was behind me, and saw what was happening. He pushed me aside. “Vile pattern!” he yelled, “Haunt my room no more!” He pulled the cross out and I saw it was surrounded by blue flames too bright to stare at. He could barely hold it, and the licking flames that fell around its hilt singed his wrists. He couldn’t move any further, it was too much for him. The vines reached out. Oscar looked down at me. I don’t know what he saw, but it leant him strength. He thrust the cross into the wallpaper, which reared back and shrieked. Every curtain in the room tore in two, and bright sunlight poured in. A shockwave burst from the wall, and I was knocked unconscious.
When I woke up the first thing I saw was the wallpaper looming over me.
Interrogator: Where is the Enigma!? Tell me the code!
Aiolos: I scurried back in fear, but immediately I could see the wallpaper was different now. It had no more power. It was just ugly.
I found Oscar laying on the floor next to me, also unconscious, but in extreme pain. Blood trickled from his ears and nose, and he was moaning. I was unable to rouse him, so I ran for the doctor. I didn’t tell anybody what I really saw, because I didn’t think they would believe me.
(Smack, a scream)
– – –
By now, all of you should be nodding your heads in silent assent: “Yes Doogie, your case is airtight. I believe unequivocally that Oscar Wilde died from injuries sustained while battling ugly wallpaper. I’m sorry I scoffed at you. Enclosed find my check for $3,000, which should keep my Literary Adventure Quarterly subscription up to date for the next 100 years. P. S. Thank you.”
“My wallpaper and I are in a fight to the death. One of the two of us must go.”
–Oscar Wilde’s last words (no really, look it up)
Doogie Horner will be performing tonight at Die, Actor, Die at The Khyber (56 S. 2nd Street), 8PM, $5.