Paulines host ‘Unmasking Oscar Wilde’ June 7-9

CHARLESTON—Irish author and playwright Oscar Wilde is famous for works such as “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” and “The Importance of Being Earnest,” and infamous for a life of decadence and scandal.

Joseph Pearce, however,  wants people to know about Wilde’s lifelong struggles with guilt, sin and faith that finally led to his deathbed conversion. The author and teacher will describe Wilde’s many facets in “Unmasking Oscar Wilde,” a three-part series June 7-9 sponsored by Pauline Books and Media Center.

Pearce brings an unusual perspective to the topic because he was involved in the skinhead movement in England as a youth. He experienced a conversion of faith after reading about the lives of authors who were also famous converts, including G.K. Chesterton and J.R.R. Tolkien.

Pearce moved to the U.S. in 2001 to work at Florida’s Ave Maria University, and is the author of several books, including “The Quest for Shakespeare,” “Tolkien: Man and Myth” and “The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde.” He is the writer-in-residence and an associate professor of literature at Ave Maria.

Wilde’s writings endure today not only because of his skill, but because many of them show a profound Christian morality largely ignored by many literary critics over the years who instead focused on Wilde’s decadent side, Pearce said.

He said Wilde was interested in Catholicism throughout his life. Some disputed this conversion but several competent witnesses, including the priest who gave him the sacraments, verified it.

“The conversion also wasn’t a surprise because Wilde also was on the verge of converting several times during his life,” Pearce said.

He believes the author’s life and works offer a lesson about the price of sin and the struggle for redemption.

“He teaches us in his life, and in works such as ‘Dorian Gray,’ that the sinner will never find contentment or satisfaction in his sinful life, but that true peace and satisfaction comes in repentance and in an acceptance of suffering epitomized by Christ on the cross,” Pearce said.

“Wilde is a Mary Magdalene figure, a sinner who found his ultimate satisfaction in the consummation of his lifelong love affair with the Catholic Church,” he said.

The lecture series includes “What’s so Wild About Oscar?” June 7 at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, 120 Broad St.; “Oscar Wilde and the Decadent Path to Christ,” June 8 at Pauline Books and Media Center, 243 King St.; and “Unmasking Oscar Wilde: Finding the Real Wilde in his Works,” June 9 at Church of the Holy Communion, 218 Ashley Ave. The talks begin at 7 p.m. and are free. Call (843) 830-2748.