European Diary

Playing With Beauty

If I seem to have become obsessed with the isomorphism of love and gambling, it is because, like an unexpected number in roulette on a particularly hazardous night, the subject just keeps coming up.  Wherever I look, whether to a work of imaginative literature or to a story from real life, at once I note the love interest; and no sooner do I see it than I interpret it in gaming terms, finding in its outline the same mysterious shapes that have brought generations of serious men to ruin at Monte Carlo, Deauville, or Bad Homburg.  Hence these interminable lucubrations.

The unabridged text of the infamous letter of nearly a novel’s length written by Oscar Wilde to Lord Alfred Douglas from prison at Reading, excerpts from which I read in my youth in Russia as De Profundis, has been printed in a facsimile edition by the British Library and can be found in The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde.  The book contains photographs.  The one remarkable aspect of the Douglas affair that these images illustrate is the indisputable physical beauty of Wilde’s lover and nemesis.  I cannot tell whether my saying so will render that judgment more objective, but the young man’s face seems to have been made up of fleeting likenesses to the leading actress of the day, the diva Lillie Langtry.

This is important because, obviously, in order to follow the mesmeric twists and turns of a love...

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