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Sunday 26 March 2017

I'm not Wilde about changing my name, says Oscar grandson

Jason O'Brien

Jason O'Brien

THOSE who encourage Merlin Holland to reclaim his grandfather's famous surname don't have to live with it, he says pointedly.

Oscar Wilde's then wife, Constance, changed her surname to Holland following the writer's trial for gross indecency -- and subsequent imprisonment in 1895.

All these years later -- even allowing for the decriminalisation of homosexuality and even allowing for the esteem in which the Wilde name is now held -- Mr Holland is reticent.

"The trouble is when the press asks if I may take the name and I say it's possible, then that becomes 'probable' and that becomes 'likely' and then I'm asked when I'm going to do it and I have to deny it," he said yesterday.

"I don't think there's any point now in taking back the name. It would be too artificial, and the fact that I have to explain it to you is a permanent rebuke to the morality of the Victorians for putting him in prison just for being a homosexual.

"It's sad, it's a pity but the people who encourage me to do it don't have to live with it."

Same surname or not, Mr Holland (63) has had to live with the imposing shadow cast by his grandfather all his life.

Even in the 50s, when Mr Holland was growing up in England, Wilde was still notorious enough for parents to ensure that their children didn't get too close to him at school.

"The Irish follow very much the attitude of the Continental Europeans, which is that first and foremost Oscar is an artist, a writer," his grandson said.

Overshadowed

"Okay, he had his problems and got into trouble but that's overshadowed by his production of literature we're still reading and plays we're still seeing and poetry that we still enjoy.

"I fear that the English for many years after his death regarded him as still very much beyond the pale."

Wilde was jailed for two years of hard labour in 1895 after a trial at the Old Bailey in which his only novel was used in evidence by the prosecution.

His only grandson was in Dublin yesterday to launch 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' as this year's One City One Book choice. Mr Holland, who lives in France, himself initially turned his back on being a writer because he was worried about comparisons, but he has studied his grandfather's life for the last 30 years and has written several books about him.

"It's something I came to partly to redress a number of balances which had got very much out of kilter," he said.

"In spite of himself, he caused a lot of problems to a lot of people after his death -- not intentionally or wilfully -- but just arguments among friends and enemies squabbling over what he did or didn't do, and his reputation and so on.

"It's difficult to say where his reputation is now," he added. "I think it's still on the move, although not quite as much as it did in the 20s and 30s. If it becomes fixed it dies in the mind of the public.

Despite the critically-lauded plays and poetry, and the regularly-repeated witticisms, Wilde has failed to make the final shortlist of 'Ireland's Greatest' on RTE.

His grandson said he would not be disappointed.

"He would be lonely -- there are no other writers," he said.

Irish Independent

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