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.