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Friday, 1 December, 2000, 00:54 GMT
Fans mark Wilde centenary
Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde died penniless aged 46
The life of Oscar Wilde was celebrated on Thursday at a service to mark the 100th anniversary of his death.

Admirers and descendants of the flamboyant Irish writer and wit, who died penniless in a hotel in Paris aged 46, gathered at Westminster Abbey.

Actor Simon Callow read from De Profundis, the letter Wilde wrote from prison to his young lover Lord Alfred Douglas, better known as Bosie.

Wilde's affair with him landed the writer a two-year hard labour sentence in 1895 after he was found guilty of seven counts of gross indecency.

The people who sat at your table felt that somehow in your presence they were more entertaining and more interesting

Sir John Mortimer
The sentence, handed down weeks after his most famous work, The Importance of Being Earnest, made its London stage debut, left Wilde a broken man. Upon his release he fled to France, where he lived until his death.

After reading the letter, Callow dashed from the Abbey to perform in The Mystery of Charles Dickens at the Albery Theatre in London's West End.

Three singers from the Royal and Guildhall Schools of Music performed two songs from the Gilbert and Sullivan opera Patience, which is closely associated with Wilde.

Sir John Mortimer, who created Rumpole of The Bailey, paid a personal tribute in which he talked about Wilde as a man as well as an artist.

"You said that art is the one method you can reach perfection and you certainly reached perfection in art," he said.

He was neither in nor out and looking both ways at once

Wilde's grandson Merlin Holland

"There was another side of your nature which hasn't really been touched on.

"That side of your nature was a very loveable, very adorable and very decent human being.

"The people who sat at your table felt that somehow in your presence they were more entertaining and more interesting."

Before placing a wreath beneath a window dedicated to Wilde in the abbey's Poets' Corner, his grandson Merlin Holland recalled his remarks when the memorial was installed nine years ago.

"I said it was very appropriate as he was neither in nor out and looking both ways at once," he said.

Wilde revival

After the event, which was organised by the Oscar Wilde Literary Trust, guests joined Irish President Mary McAleese at a reception in the British Library.

The centenary of Wilde's death has sparked a revival of interest in the writer, whose works include An Ideal Husband and Lady Windermere's Fan.

The British Library is staging an exhibition, while Merlin Holland recently published a collection of his letters.

It had been believed that Wilde died of syphilis, but recent research claimed his life had been ended by a rare ear infection.

See also:

01 Dec 00 | Entertainment
The wit of Wilde
30 Nov 00 | Entertainment
Wilde at heart
07 Nov 00 | Entertainment
Wilde letter goes on show
29 Nov 00 | Entertainment
Wilde recording 'a fake'
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