Margaret Barr’s “Strange Children” [ballet], 1955
photographer unknownDrama, glamor and elegance converge in these amazing archival images of ballet dancers from the early 20th century.
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(via The Writer’s Almanac)
On this day in 1895, Oscar Wilde was arrested in room 118 of the Cadogan Hotel in London. He was arrested for “gross indecency” for sodomy.
The day before he had lost a libel case he’d brought against his lover’s father, John Sholto Douglas, the 9th Marquess of Queensberry. The Marquess had called Wilde a sodomite, and Wilde wanted to humiliate him and show off his own wit by taking him to court. Wilde was the one who famously said, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”
The whole thing backfired. Wilde lost the libel case, and Douglas gathered enough evidence to have him arrested. Still, it took two trials to convict Wilde, though it helped that the prosecution paid Wilde’s former lovers to testify.
He was sentenced to two years of hard labor. He walked six hours a day in 29-minute increments, with five minute breaks, until he’d covered a distance equal to a 6,000-foot incline. He slept on a wooden plank, and for the first several months he was not allowed books, writing utensils, or paper.
When he finally got them, he wrote the poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol, an allegory of his downfall. It was published anonymously until its seventh printing, when Wilde finally told his publisher it was OK to add his name to it.
Because my mother was on a date
with a man in the band, and my father,
thinking she was alone, asked her to dance.
And because, years earlier, my father
dug a foxhole but his buddy
sick with the flu, asked him for it, so he dug
another for himself. In the night
the first hole was shelled.
I’m here because my mother was twenty-seven
and in the ’50s that was old to still be single.
And because my father wouldn’t work on weapons,
though he was an atomic engineer.
My mother, having gone to Berkeley, liked that.
My father liked that she didn’t eat like a bird
when he took her to the best restaurant in L.A.
The rest of the reasons are long gone.
One decides to get dressed, go out, though she’d rather
stay home, but no, melancholy must be battled through,
so the skirt, the cinched belt, the shoes, and a life is changed.
I’m here because Jews were hated
so my grandparents left their villages,
came to America, married one who could cook,
one whose brother had a business,
married longing and disappointment
and secured in this way the future.
It’s good to treasure the gift, but good
to see that it wasn’t really meant for you.
The feeling that it couldn’t have been otherwise
is just a feeling. My family
around the patio table in July.
I’ve taken over the barbequing
that used to be my father’s job, ask him
how many coals, though I know how many.
We’ve been gathering here for years,
so I believe we will go on forever.
It’s right to praise the random,
the tiny god of probability that brought us here,
to praise not meaning, but feeling, the still-warm
sky at dusk, the light that lingers and the night
that when it comes is gentle.
I really love that line, “The feeling that it couldn’t have been otherwise/ is just a feeling.”
Wallace seemed always to be trying to erase the distance between himself and others in order to understand them better, and trying visibly to make himself understood—always asking questions, demanding to know more details. He owned his own weaknesses willingly and in the gentlest, most inclusive manner. Also he talked a lot about the role of good fiction, which, he opined more than once, is about making us feel less alone. He offered a lot of himself to his readers, in all his writing; this generosity seemed like his whole project, in a way. This was the outward, public Wallace.
But those who followed his career at all closely always knew that there was another, darker part to his nature. A secret part. Wallace was fairly well known to have been very ill, to have been hospitalized more than once for depression, to have attempted suicide, and to have been in recovery for addiction to alcohol and drugs. The paradox of Wallace’s humor and good-natured candor, the qualities so many of his readers enjoyed most, set against the many secrets there have always been around his private life, is laid bare in the Ransom Center documents…