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Additional resources for The Faiths of Oscar Wilde: Catholicism, Folklore and Ireland
Chesterton, an English writer who converted to Catholicism in 1922, tried to explain the attraction of the Church to non-Catholics. He claimed that, when constantly present, the Church begins to take on the tragic and menacing grandeur of a great love affair. 56 This kind of obsession helps to explain Murchison’s behaviour after Lady Alroy’s death: he ‘shut [him]self up and saw no one. I had loved her so much, I had loved her so madly’ (130).
Disclosure is not part of the plan, merely a piling up of suggestiveness. This subversive silence explains the fascination with secrecy which pervades Wilde’s life from his second baptism to his incarnation as ‘Sebastian Melmoth’ after prison, a name which combined both Wilde’s ultra-Protestant past (Melmoth being the anti-hero of his great-uncle Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer) and his Catholic future. St Sebastian was not only the subject of homo-erotic worship, owing to the traditional artistic depiction of his death as a moment when the male nude reached ecstatic perfection, but also a great figure of conversion, having spent his years in prison converting his fellow prisoners and the prison guards to Christianity.
De Vere’s theology of suffering included the justification for Ireland’s colonial position on the grounds that it would bring a cathartic distress that would perfect Ireland. Wilde’s instinct was always to attempt to reverse the colonisation process, and, as the Sphinx, Ireland engages in a vast cultural colonisation, acting as a cultural nexus, a seductive and absorbing cultural synthesis, which has travelled from the Nile, through the Charon, right up the Liffey, absorbing and transforming every culture it encountered.