“Every saint has a past. Every sinner has a future”

Saw the words on the arms of somebody behind the counter at a fast food restaurant. Had to look more closely to see the words. Only saw one arm: “Every sinner has a future”. She showed me both arms, and repeated the words. She might have been eighteen. Asked her what motivated her to get the tattoos. “Life, I guess”, was the response.

Permanently inked sentiment, from eighteen or so, onwards. Found that it is not an uncommon tattooed sentiment.

Didn’t know where the words came from. Turns out they are from Oscar Wilde, as spoken by Lord Illingworth, in Act 3 of A Woman of No Importance. Haven’t read it; comes from an Oscar Wilde quotation site, containing many. The full quote, which implies more fixed direction, past and future:

The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.

In the play, Lord Illingworth discovers that Gerald, the young man he employs as his secretary, is in fact his illegitimate son. Wilde wrote frequently about the hypocrisy of the upper classes at the time. A larger extract from the scene:

LADY HUNSTANTON. Ah! that is always a nice distraction, in it not? Now, what are you talking about, Lord Illingworth? Do tell us.

LORD ILLINGWORTH. I was on the point of explaining to Gerald that the world has always laughed at its own tragedies, that being the only way in which it has been able to bear them. And that, consequently, whatever the world has treated seriously belongs to the comedy side of things.

LADY HUNSTANTON. Now I am quite out of my depth. I usually am when Lord Illingworth says anything. And the Humane Society is most careless. They never rescue me. I am left to sink. I have a dim idea, dear Lord Illingworth, that you are always on the side of the sinners, and I know I always try to be on the side of the saints, but that is as far as I get. And after all, it may be merely the fancy of a drowning person.

LORD ILLINGWORTH. The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.

LADY HUNSTANTON. Ah! that quite does for me. I haven’t a word to say. You and I, dear Mrs. Arbuthnot, are behind the age. We can’t follow Lord Illingworth. Too much care was taken with our education, I am afraid. To have been well brought up is a great drawback nowadays. It shuts one out from so much.

MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I should be sorry to follow Lord Illingworth in any of his opinions.

LADY HUNSTANTON. You are quite right, dear.

More to think about. More, and less, than saints and sinners.

About brucelarochelle

This entry was posted in Ottawa Reflections, Tattoos, Theatre. Bookmark the permalink.

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