Paris is a treasure trove for lovers of literature. The City of Light has been home—permanent or temporary—to novelists, playwrights and poets for centuries, including some of the best-known scribes of all time: Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Balzac, Victor Hugo and many, many more.
And tourists can visit museums, homes, cafes and clubs linked with many of them.
But one particular writer has a particular draw for many visitors to Paris: Oscar Wilde. And while lovers of other authors can dine where their heroes once ate, drink at the bars they frequented and view the buildings the called home, Wilde fans are offered a particular City of Light treat: They can book a stay in the hotel room where Wilde spent his final two years and where he died in 1900.
Wilde is, of course, famous for his prose, plays, poems and essays: The Importance of Being Earnest and The Picture of Dorian Gray, two of his most famous works, are regularly taught in high school and college literature classes today more than a century after they were completed.But the tragic conclusion of Wilde’s life as a result of his homosexuality and his enormous ego overshadows even his classic works.
Wilde engaged openly in sexual relationships with many men, most notably a lengthy affair with Lord Alfred Douglas, the son of the Marquess of Queensberry. The Marquess was so offended by his son’s relationship with the playwright that he left a calling card for Wilde at a prominent social club that labeled him a “posing sodomite.”
Despite being warned against it, Wilde launched an ill-conceived libel case against the Marquess. Wilde’s ego was so great that he approached the lawsuit as something of a public comedy at which he could showcase his considerable wit.
That decision backfired horrifically.
As Wilde’s homosexuality came to light, he was charged with gross indecency and given a criminal trial, which he lost. (During the trial he coined the phrase “the love that dare not speak its name” in referring to same-sex relationships.) He was sentenced to two years of hard labor in a British prison. The day after his in 1897, Wilde, his spirit crushed, exiled himself to Paris.
Living in Room 16 at the Hotel d’Alsace (now known as L’Hotel) in Saint Germain des Pres, an impoverished Wilde began a three-year bender that helped hasten his death at age 46. On his deathbed, Wilde famously announced, “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One of us has got to go.” Unfortunately, on Nov. 30, 1900, the wallpaper won.
Today, a plaque above the door of L’Hotel identifies the location as the site of Wilde’s death, and many Wilde scholars and fans of his work visit both the hotel and the writer’s iconic grave in Paris’s Pere Lachaise cemetery. At the hotel, guests can tread in Wilde’s footsteps by enjoying cocktails in the hunting lodge-themed bar or dining in the guest house’s luxurious (and rather pricey) restaurant.
But perhaps the ultimate treat is to book a stay in the very room in which the playwright lived and died—and which remains mostly unchanged since Wilde’s passing in 1900. Yes, that frightful wallpaper is still challenging guests to a battle of wits!
You will need to make reservations many weeks—even months—in advance, as Wilde’s former residence is wildly popular with visitors to Paris. When contacting the hotel for reservations, request room 16 or just ask for the Oscar Wilde room.
And you might want to start saving up for your L’Hotel visit as soon as possible—you can spend $700 or more per night for this iconic hotel.
Still, for literati in general and for fans of the scribe specifically, a stay in the very room where Oscar Wilde lived and died would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
L’Hotel is located at 13 Rue des Beaux Arts (Metro: Saint-Germain-des-Pres).