(TW: Pedophilia mention)
This week we enter the long awaited analysis of Oscar Wilde, playwright, poet, novelist, and all around brilliant bisexual. He was a well-known author when he was alive and thrived in the artistic society of his time. He is remembered for his incredibly influential work even now. Many of his works are still taught in school though they are often edited in an attempt to minimize the heavy queer themes(among such themes being the green carnation which is theorized to symbolize a queer character). He is a well known and well liked historical figure even in the heterosexual community, but let’s look at what the heterosexual community did to him while he was still alive.
Oscar Wilde was a very popular man for the majority of his life, he had a number of famous works. Some of the most famous among them being the play The Importance of being Earnest, and the novel Picture of Dorian Grey. He was a large figure in the aestheticism movement which had a philosophy of “art for art’s sake”, and enjoying things for the beauty of them, not believing that art had to have a deeper meaning to be considered good. And Wilde embraced this philosophy in his entire life. His style was extravagant and his home was much too luxurious for his budget, but with his wife’s wealth and the money from his writing they managed. Another aspect of his love for doing things for the pleasure of them instead of the meaning behind them was seen in his tendency of saying things because they sounded clever and not because they were true. Which led to an extensive list of incredible quotes, but also led to problems in more official matters, such as the trials he was subjected to later in life.
The trials we are referring to are going to be the focus of our article this week, and it all started with Oscar Wilde’s relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas. And the conflict was found in the father of Lord Alfred Douglas, Eighth Marquess of Queensberry, who found out about the relationship. He began a campaign against Wilde, showing up at his house to berate him, going to the opening of The Importance of being Earnest to harass Wilde. Though he was stopped quickly in that instance he did not stop entirely. He even went to the lengths of threatening the people who ran the places the couple frequented with beatings if they did not turn the two men away.
In the end it was the man giving a note to a porter at Wilde’s hotel with accusations about Wilde’s sexual relationship that broke the camel's back. Wilde was the one to initiate the first trial, charging Queensberry with criminal libel, and for a while the trial went well for Wilde. There was no question that Queensberry had done what Wilde had claimed but the point of contention was whether the claims Queensberry had made about Wilde were true, because if they were it wasn’t libel. So the first trial was to prove whether Oscar Wilde had ever participated in same sex relationships as Queensberry had accused him of.
And in the beginning the trial had tilted in Wilde’s favour, his wit and the competence of his lawyer winning over most of the courtroom. His romantic letters to Lord Alfred Douglas were dismissed as just being flowery and full of romance because Wilde was a poet, and that is how poets talk apparently. It looked like Wilde was winning. But the trump card was pulled out by an old colleague of Oscar Wilde with a grudge, a turning point in the case that had the source in Oscar Wilde’s fondness for pretty things. It seemed that Wilde had often given beautiful and expensive gifts to men who were in a lower class than himself, which the defense used to suggest that Oscar Wilde had using these gifts as payment to have sex with the men.
After that moment the trial was a clear loss, the witty comments that he began the case with began to only dig his hole deeper, and as Queensberry was let off as innocent Wilde was proven guilty. The only way the charge of criminal libel wouldn’t have stuck was if they could prove what Queensberry had been saying about Wilde was true and they did. And at the time of all of this sexual acts between men was still illegal in England and though Wilde’s friends encouraged him to run away to France the man went to his second trial, where he was the defendant.
In this trial his eloquent tongue was a help in contrast to the harsh hinderance it had been in the last trial. While proof was laid before the court of Wilde’s same sex relationships Wilde was able to talk his way out of a conviction. The most rousing moment being in reference to a quoted portion of one of Lord Alfred Douglas’ poems to him “Love that dare not speak its name” and Wilde explained the sentence for the court.
"The love that dare not speak its name" in this century is such a great affection of an elder for a younger man as there was between David and Jonathan, such as Plato made the very basis of his philosophy, and such as you find in the sonnets of Michelangelo and Shakespeare. It is that deep spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect. It dictates and pervades great works of art, like those of Shakespeare and Michelangelo, and those two letters of mine, such as they are. It is in this century misunderstood, so much misunderstood that it may be described as "the love that dare not speak its name," and on that account of it I am placed where I am now. It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing unnatural about it. It is intellectual, and it repeatedly exists between an older and a younger man, when the older man has intellect, and the younger man has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him. That it should be so, the world does not understand. The world mocks at it, and sometimes puts one in the pillory for it”
And here I want to stop and clarify something. There was an age difference between Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas, but Douglas was not a boy. He was by no means underage, and their relationship was between two consenting adults. Unfortunately at that time there was an attitude that still exists now; that same sex relationships consist of an older people seducing and corrupting youth. And it is more than likely that much of this attitude was internalized in Wilde and many other people; so that they believed the age difference was a part of what same sex relationships consisted of. And many queer scholars and authors praised that connection, but there is a difference between same sex relationships and pedophilia.
Pedophilia can not be classified as a queer relationship, because it is not a relationship as there is no way for a child to give consent. And just because many authors embraced the age difference did not mean that they were attracted to children, though they were attracted to people younger than them, that is not the same thing.
When Douglas and Wilde met Douglas was twenty four which makes him an adult, and their age difference was sixteen years, so despite having a large age gap it was clearly a consensual relationship on both ends. It is important to make that distinction as not to allow people to try and pretend pedophilia and queer relationships are the same thing. They are not. And Oscar Wilde was not a pedophile and in this quote we don’t believe he was condoning pedophilia, we believe he was referencing to the only queer relationships he was exposed to. But despite the way we analyze the speech now - the speech was well received at that time, or at least as well as a speech praising queer relationships could be in 1895.
The speech had earned Wilde a hung jury, so he had a reprieve, and again his friends encouraged him to leave and again he refused saying he: "did not want to be called a coward or a deserter."
And this could have been conviction on his stance or pride, but either way it proved to be for the worst. In this, the third trial about Oscar Wilde’s sexuality, a verdict was decided and Wilde was sent to prison for two years of hard labour.
And from what we know about Wilde we know that he was not a man meant for hard labour. And in prison they took everything from him, his access to the art he adored, books to read, or any way of writing himself, and he was forced to work in harsh conditions that his body was not used to. He ended up collapsing from illness and malnutrition hitting his head and rupturing his right eardrum and he was forced to spend two months in the infirmary.
He was eventually released from prison in 1897 and quickly fell into poverty, though he was grateful for being out of prison it was clear his quality of life never returned to it once was. He was no longer able to support his lavish tastes as his wife who he relied on financially sent three pounds a week, and his writing no longer brought in enough money to live on. His writing which had been his one true love before the imprisonment had become a chore, he said:
"I can write, but have lost the joy of writing"
He died only three years after his release from prison, his death partially caused by his earlier head injury.
Society had stripped everything Oscar Wilde loved from him, a man who was known to be vibrant, flamboyant, and witty throughout most of his life had everything taken from him. Because people could not stand the fact he was attracted to men, they even took his name off of the playbill for The Importance of being Earnest as his trials went along. And if the treatment of the man was not cruel enough during his life society continued after his death.
It was apparently not enough that the prison sentence he endured for his relationship effectively killed him, it was important to also strip his work of its identity. Still today there are works of Oscar Wilde’s that are edited to remove any parts that may suggest queer characters or relationships, and there is nothing more offensive than that. They killed him and then they stole his art. And any edited version of Oscar Wilde’s work is the purest form of disrespect for the artist himself, and yet the people who teach them claim to admire the man. And when someone says they admire Oscar Wilde yet knowingly choose and edited version of what he wrote, they are lying, they like parts of him. The parts that don’t challenge them, the parts that they can use to pretend that every single author and literary character was also heterosexual so they can continue living in a delusion. And one thing we are absolutely certain of is that Oscar Wilde would have hated it.
He would have hated every single person who knowingly contributed to queer erasure of his works while saying that they loved they way he wrote. The censorship of Oscar Wilde’s work is nothing less than desecration, and the fact that censored copies of Picture of Dorian Grey are more common than the original shows we have not come as far as we often pretend we have.
Though it is not the queer community's responsibility to fix what the heterosexual community has done, it usually ends up that we are forced to do so often regardless. And in this case there is something we can do. The uncensored version of Picture of Dorian Grey exists, and it is time that the censored version doesn’t anymore. So it is our suggestion that you throw out the censored version and buy the uncensored. If you don’t own the hetero-edited version of the book all the better. The true work of Oscar Wilde is the one that should be taught in schools, the one that should be read, and the one that should be commonplace. And to honour Oscar Wilde’s memory in the best way possible we suggest buying the real version here
And if you do not have the money to do that right now, or already have it the best thing you can do is spread the information. It is unfortunate but when the censored version is taught and read it is rare that the people reading it even know the history of the book and the author. So teach them. Tell them the history, or if you aren’t as comfortable with giving long history rants as the author is, send them the link to this article. If you are an ally reading this- this is your job, if you are an ally this is what you are here for. And if you are queer please make sure you are in a safe environment first but we encourage you to share this information if you are able. If there is any way to pay respect to this amazing man it would be to restore his work to its former(and very queer) glory.