When I visited Paris in the late 1970s, I made a point of seeing the grave of Oscar Wilde in Père Lachaise. The huge stone monument by the then-young Lipschitz shows an Assyrian ‘angel’ on a base that simply says “Oscar Wilde.” At that time, the large genitals of the figure, so disquieting to the city fathers of the early 20th century, were still missing, hacked off by a vandal in the 1960s. I was happy to read in the newspapers recently that they have been restored, at the cost of nearly 50,000 euros – that’s a set of balls!
These days, the tomb is in the news because the authorities are going to erect a glass barrier around it to prevent pilgrims from planting big greasy kisses on it. Apparently, this became a popular custom in the 1980s, and the lower portions of the stone are covered with red lipstick marks. Some say it’s ugly, others claim it’s causing damage to the stone as well, and thus the protective sheath around the plot.
I find it hard to believe that lipstick could do much damage to the stone, other than discoloring it, and isn’t that the sort of thing that happens to monuments over time? St. Peter’s toe in the Vatican is almost worn away from the millions of kisses it gets. It’s not as though it’s a delicate and fragile work such as Michelangelo’s pieta…but Wilde’s grandson is for protecting it, so I cannot protest too much. The family wants to preserve the look of the original…
Still…from The Picture of Dorian Gray:
And now tell me,–reach me the matches, like a good boy: thanks,–tell me, what are your relations with Sibyl Vane?”
Dorian Gray leaped to his feet, with flushed cheeks and burning eyes. “Harry, Sibyl Vane is sacred!”
“It is only the sacred things that are worth touching, Dorian,” said Lord Henry, with a strange touch of pathos in his voice.