In De Profundis, one of the moments that struck me the most is when Wilde described how Bosie told him that “when you are not on your pedestal you are not interesting” (994). Not only is this a really cruel thing to say to someone, let alone someone you are in a deep personal relationship with, but it also reminded me of a line spoken by Robert Chiltern in An Ideal Husband:
Why can’t you women love us, faults and all? Why do you place us on monstrous pedestals? We have all feet of clay, women as well as men; but when we men love women, we love them knowing their weaknesses, their follies, their imperfections, love them all the more, it may be, for that reason. It is not the perfect, but the imperfect, who have need of love. (552).
I remembered this line because it struck me as ironic in the modern world, where it is more common for women to be placed on pedestals and given unreasonable expectations (purity culture, diet culture, division of labor, etc.). But what strikes me now is the repetition of the image of the pedestal, and how much it seems to reveal about Wilde, especially because An Ideal Husband was written before the date Wilde gives for his fight with Bosie.
I see so much of Wilde in this selection of the text. There is justification for his relationship with Bosie, his feelings about his estrangement from his wife later in life, his Catholic sympathies, and his deep insecurities about his place in the world. And what makes it all the more tragic is that for the most part, it is Wilde himself that puts Wilde on a pedestal. He created a persona for himself, spending hours privately studying and perfecting his appearance. And once he did, he received the fame an notoriety he desired, but cursed himself to always be stuck on the pedestal.
2 thoughts on “Pedestals and Celebrity”
This is a really interesting point about Wilde being cursed to exist on a “monstrous pedestal.” The idea of the perfectly crafted public life, especially created in contrast to a darker, hidden life, appears in much of Wilde’s other work besides An Ideal Husband (most obviously The Picture of Dorian Gray), and it seems like this creation of the pedestal must necessarily be a failure because of the inner conflicts it creates within oneself. I find myself in a predicament trying to decipher whether individuals are responsible for putting themselves on pedestals and forcing themselves into situations of living double lives, or whether the opinions others form about us build a pedestal that we are afraid to diverge from, and as a result we do everything in our power to build up that perfect perception. In the example of Robert Chiltern, I think we can see that both influences play a role. Robert was responsible for crafting his public persona and hiding his scandalous secret, and he introduced himself to Lady Chiltern in this way, so that all she knew was the perfect husband. But Lady Chiltern was also responsible for not giving her husband space to step down from the pedestal into a position of honesty with her or with himself. Wilde definitely put himself on a pedestal, as you argue, but I think we also need to consider the external influences that made him feel like that was the only identity he could portray, and how in the present day, we tend to only look at Wilde as the man on the pedestal without considering the full picture of a life that was full of ups and downs.
The line “when you are not on your pedestal you are not interesting” also really stood out to me, especially given that Bosie wrote such a thing to Wilde because he was annoyed by his sickly state. I think it’s interesting that you use the word “cursed” to describe Wilde’s status on a pedastal. Wilde wanted his art to be viewed for its own sake as a beautiful object. However, since Wilde put himself on a pedastal and became such an icon, we now view analyze all his art by discussing how much of himself he put into his art. Would we have an entire class devoted to Wilde if he didn’t craft such an iconic persona for himself? I don’t know. Additionally, we now view Wilde as a sort of gay martyr, but would we do that if he didn’t put himself on a pedastal? I also don’t know. What I do know is that we now view Wilde as a type more than as a person, and that may be because of the pedastal Wilde put himself on.