Oscar Wilde and Eduard Vilde
Shop Street, Galway, Ireland
The two writers Oscar Wilde and Eduard Vilde were contemporaries. But they lived separate lives in separate countries. They never met. Despite this, here they are together in Galway. And they can be seen together in an identical statue in Tartu, Estonia, as well. Two W/Vildes together. Although the two men never met, both were prominent and respected of their time, as they are to this day. But just as Oscar and Eduard weaved their stories, novels and plays intricately, so does this statue of them. It tells a tale not only of two men, but of two countries.
THE REPUBLIC OF IRELAND AND THE REPUBLIC OF ESTONIA
The Soviet occupation of Estonia came to an end on 20 August 1991 and the small Baltic country declared itself a republic. Within a week, Ireland had officially recognized the Republic of Estonia. Ireland had, after all, endured many years of occupation itself. When the Irish president at the time, Mary McAleese, visited the new Republic two years later in 2001, the Estonian president greeted her with a speech praising the love of culture, dance and music enjoyed by the inhabitants of both nations. And Mary McAleese was presented with Ireland’s copy of this statue as a symbol of the two nations’ continued friendship. Galway was chosen as the statue’s home. Like Tartu, it is a city with an important university, but most importantly, both are cities of culture, dance and music.
Like Oscar Wilde, Eduard Vilde wrote poems, plays, stories and novels. He was outspoken, too, and for daring to speak out against Tsarist rule in Estonia in the 1890s he was exiled from his country for some years. But Eduard was a man who liked to do things in style. He wore the most stylish clothes, drank the most stylish coffees in the most stylish cafés and read his newspapers through the most stylish monocle. Like Oscar. His work had social conscience. He wrote about the things that mattered to people rich and poor, and he did so with psychological authenticity. Which really is very much like Oscar indeed.
Oscar Wilde’s own story is perhaps as well known as the stories he wrote. He was the Oxford-educated Classics scholar whose critique of the starchy society in which he lived was far ahead of his time. Eventually, that society led to his personal and financial ruin when he was imprisoned for ‘acts of gross indecency’ in 1895. Those acts of gross indecency were the love of another man. Prior to that, he’d been known and celebrated for his stylish dressed, his stylish demeanor and his stylish writing. But it’s his stylish wit he is most famous for today, and he regularly tops lists of fantasy dinner guests. ‘In matters of grave importance,’ he wrote in his play The Imporatnce of being Earnest, ‘style, not sincerity, is the vital thing.’