Oscar Wilde was far from averse to food. Before his imprisonment, there were cruel remarks about his ballooning bulk and, following his release, friends maintained two years of prison diet had the effect of improving his looks. Unfortunately, food makes little or no appearance in his writing. One exception is the cucumber sandwiches that make an appearance at the start of The Importance of Being Earnest. Spotting that his friend Algernon Moncrieff has laid on cucumber sandwiches for afternoon tea, Jack Worthing inquires, ‘Why such reckless extravagance in one so young? Who is coming to tea?’
Later, Algernon complains to his servant Lane that the cucumber sandwiches have vanished. There follows the best-known cucumber-based exchange in English literature.
Lane. [Gravely.] There were no cucumbers in the market this morning, sir. I went down twice.
Algernon. No cucumbers!
Lane. No, sir. Not even for ready money.
Algernon. That will do, Lane, thank you.
For another food-based mot from Oscar, we have to wait for his late exile in Paris. Though prison extinguished his genius for comic drama, his wit remained as sharp as ever. Ruminating on his humble breakfast in the Hotel d’Alsace, where the kindly proprietor allowed him extended credit, Oscar produced an unexpected simile in praise of the humble boiled egg.
‘An egg is always an adventure,’ he declared; ‘it may be different… there are a few things – like the Nocturnes of Chopin – which can repeat themselves without repetition.’
Oscar was right at that. Let’s get cracking.