Again in flashback, Sasha recalls giving English lessons to a Russian man. She does not quite agree with him on the subject of (Irish) Wilde, yet says, ‘But I do like him. I think he is very – sympathique.’ This underlines Rhys’s empathy for the persecuted (once describing herself as ‘a doormat in a world of boots’), a constant theme in the novel: Sasha variously cries out on behalf of the ageing woman, the forgotten man, the homosexual, the ethnic alien and the whore.
Wilde, the greatest writer, playwright, poet and personality of his time, had huge successes in the late Victorian period with his lone novel The Picture of Dorian Gray and plays such as The Importance of Being Earnest which remains fresh, contemporary and widely performed in the 21st century. His spectacular and tragic fall from grace at the hands of a barbarous society with the most genteel of veneers has secured his place in history as a martyr. He remains peerless.