I wonder if you could talk a little bit about your life as a gay man.
It’s been a somewhat checkered career as a gay man. I was never totally successful. I think it started in high school, when in grade ten or eleven I developed a fascination with Oscar Wilde. Some of my friends shared this fascination so we used to dress like Oscar Wilde and memorize his aphorisms and construct conversations in the lunchroom, as if we were Oscar Wilde and his friends.
—Anne Carson, the Art of Poetry No. 88, 2004
I also had an early fascination with Oscar Wilde, though mine hasn’t, to my knowledge, led to an exciting double life. In high school, as I read through Wilde’s plays and then some of his prose, I came to recognize a pattern: his characters were always flinging themselves onto sofas. That was the only word Wilde ever used for it, fling, and he used it inordinately, constantly; the more I looked for it the more it turned up. No one in Wilde’s domain, it seemed, could get any thinking or moping done without first flinging oneself onto the nearest possible surface—cushioned, ideally, but not necessarily—and lighting a cigarette or bursting into tears. Over and over again, his lords and ladies had no recourse but to fling. They never pitched, cast, heaved, hurled, or tossed.
I didn’t object to this, as melodramatic as it was. In fact part of me aspired to such melodrama: I imagined that in adult life I would be confronted with one impasse after another for which the only cathartic response would be to fling myself onto a couch, weeping, smoking, or both. I was looking forward to it—if anything, I disappoint myself today with how rarely I’m compelled to do flinging of any kind. Little did I know that, as a teenager surging with hormones, I was at peak flinging age, with my best flinging days right there for the taking.
To this day, though, I associate the verb with Wilde; he left his mark on it, or it left its mark on him. Since today’s his birthday, I found his collected works online and made sure I hadn’t been deluding myself. Lo and behold, an amateurish concordance confirms that fling is everywhere. Herewith, then: your comprehensive guide to flinging in Wilde. Consult it in moments of emotional strife, perhaps just before or after your own bouts of flinging, and know that you are not alone.
From Lady Windermere’s Fan (stage directions):
LADY WINDERMERE throws off her cloak and flings it on the sofa.
From An Ideal Husband (stage directions):
Then she flings herself down beside a sofa and buries her face.
From A Woman of No Importance (stage directions):
Gets up and flings himself sobbing on a sofa.
Enter Hester in terror, and rushes over to Gerald and flings herself in his arms.
From De Profundis:
It was a blow so appalling that I did not know what to do, so I flung myself on my knees, and bowed my head, and wept, and said, “The body of a child is as the body of the Lord: I am not worthy of either.”
From The Canterville Ghost:
Just, however, as he reached the top of the great oak staircase, a door was flung open, two little white-robed figures appeared, and a large pillow whizzed past his head!
Once in the privacy of his own apartment, he flung himself down on a small pallet-bed, and hid his face under the clothes.
Wishing to make an effective entrance, he flung it wide open, when a heavy jug of water fell right down on him, wetting him to the skin, and just missing his left shoulder by a couple of inches.
From The Happy Prince and Other Tales:
And he flung himself down on the grass, and buried his face in his hands, and wept.
The little boy stretched out his two arms and flung them round the Giant’s neck, and kissed him.
From Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime and Other Tales:
After breakfast, he flung himself down on a divan, and lit a cigarette.
Even when Sybil flung herself weeping into his arms, he did not falter.
He flung the capsule into the fire, and sank on the sofa with a cry of despair.
When he got upstairs, he flung himself on a sofa, and his eyes filled with tears.
In a moment he had seized Mr. Podgers by the legs, and flung him into the Thames.
From A House of Pomegranates:
The lad—for he was only a lad, being but sixteen years of age—was not sorry at their departure, and had flung himself back with a deep sigh of relief on the soft cushions of his embroidered couch, lying there, wild-eyed and open-mouthed, like a brown woodland Faun, or some young animal of the forest newly snared by the hunters.
Then at another signal they all flung themselves again to the ground and lay there quite still, the dull strumming of the zithers being the only sound that broke the silence.
The Lizards also took an immense fancy to him, and when he grew tired of running about and flung himself down on the grass to rest, they played and romped all over him, and tried to amuse him in the best way they could.
The people flung themselves on the ground and hid their faces, but I would not do so.
And the young Fisherman gave him thanks, and kissed the ring that was on his hand, and flung himself down on the carpets of dyed goat’s-hair.
Weeping as one smitten with pain he flung himself down beside it, and he kissed the cold red of the mouth, and toyed with the wet amber of the hair. He flung himself down beside it on the sand, weeping as one trembling with joy, and in his brown arms he held it to his breast.
And he flung himself down on the grass and wept.
And finally, from The Picture of Dorian Gray, the flinging mother lode:
The hot tears welled into his eyes; he tore his hand away and, flinging himself on the divan, he buried his face in the cushions, as though he was praying.
“What is it all about?” cried Dorian in his petulant way, flinging himself down on the sofa.
He felt ready to leap upon him and fling him to the ground if he dared to lift the gorgeous hanging that concealed the secret of his life.
The trees seemed to sweep past him in spectral procession, and wild shadows to fling themselves across his path.
Then he loathed his own beauty, and flinging the mirror on the floor, crushed it into silver splinters beneath his heel.
As the door closed behind them, the painter flung himself down on a sofa, and a look of pain came into his face.
Then he lit a cigarette and flung himself down on the sofa
Sybil rushed to her, flung her arms round her neck, and kissed her.
Yet, when her arms were flung round his neck, and her fingers strayed through his hair, he softened and kissed her with real affection.
Then she flung herself on her knees and kissed my hands.
He flung himself down on the sofa and turned away his face.
She flung herself at his feet and lay there like a trampled flower.
Then he rose from the table, lit a cigarette, and flung himself down on a luxuriously cushioned couch that stood facing the screen.
A look of pain came across him, and he flung the rich pall over the picture.
He frowned, and tearing the paper in two, went across the room and flung the pieces away.
He went towards the little, pearl-coloured octagonal stand that had always looked to him like the work of some strange Egyptian bees that wrought in silver, and taking up the volume, flung himself into an arm-chair and began to turn over the leaves.
A sea-monster had been enamoured of the pearl that the diver brought to King Perozes, and had slain the thief, and mourned for seven moons over its loss. When the Huns lured the king into the great pit, he flung it away…
“You won’t? Then I must do it myself,” said the young man, and he tore the curtain from its rod and flung it on the ground.
Then he flung himself into the rickety chair that was standing by the table and buried his face in his hands.
Then, stooping down and taking up the gold-and-purple hanging, he flung it right over the picture.
And Lord Henry flung himself down on the divan and opened his cigarette-case.
Lord Henry flung himself into a large wicker arm-chair and watched him.
With a stifled sob the lad leaped from the couch, and, rushing over to Hallward, tore the knife out of his hand, and flung it to the end of the studio.