THIS MAN WILDE
Christine wrote this short play (75 minutes) to commemorate the trials and incarceration of Oscar Fingal O'Flaherty Wills Wilde in 1895. She also played Lord Alfred Douglas and Basil Hallward.
It assembled scenes of historical events, extracts from Wilde's works and those of other writers and contemporary reportage.
Perhaps the most unusual feature of the production was the casting of women in male parts. Oscar, Lord Alfred Douglas (aka Bosie), the Marquess of Queensbury (Bosie's father), the trial judge and prosecuting counsel.
THIS MAN WILDE was first performed at the Studio Theatre, South Hill Park in Bracknell on 7 July 1995 and again the following evening, selling out both nights. The audience included members of the Oscar Wilde Society.
Background image by Hilary Harrison
All content Copyright (C) 1997 The Arcus Theatre Company
More about THIS MAN WILDE
Sources Oscariana Oscar Wilde, His Career, and His Fall
Oscar Wilde links
Wilde - the film starring Stephen Fry as Oscar
He was an unfinished sketch of a great man,
and showed great courage and manhood amid the collapse of his fortunes."
W.B. Yeats, 1904.
"Each man kills the thing he loves." Oscar Wilde.
"When you are not on your pedestal you are not interesting. The next time you are ill I will go away at once." Lord Alfred Douglas, 1894.
"A patriot put in prison for loving his country loves his country, and a poet in prison for loving boys loves boys." Oscar Wilde, 1898.
"An unspeakable of the Oscar Wilde sort" E.M. Forster, Maurice, 1912
"I am the love that dare not speak its name." LAD in Two Loves
"Wow! what a fabulous camp queen! we would say if he came into the room today." Alan Sinfield, 1994.
"As regards America, I think it would be better now to publish without my name. I see it is my name that terrifies." Oscar Wilde, 1898.
"There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are either well written or badly written. That is all." Oscar Wilde.
"The truth is rarely pure, and never simple." Oscar Wilde, 1895 (Importance)
"All these years my great incentive has been to wipe that stain away; to retrieve, if may be, by some action of mine, a name no longer honoured in the land. The more I thought of this, the more convinced I became that, first and foremost, I must be a man. There was to here was to be no cry of decadent artist, of effeminate aesthete, of weak-kneed degenerate. This has been my purpose for sixteen years. It is my purpose still. I ask nothing better than to end in honourable battle for my King and country." Cyril Holland,1914, killed in action in 1915.
"Since those days, the mental malady that caused Wilde's ruin has been more closely studied by pathologists, all of by pathologists, all of whom agree that two years' hard labour was a heavy price to pay for an inherited tendency'" Hesketh Pearson, 1974
"And so a most miserable case is ended. Lord Queensberry is triumphant, and Mr Oscar Wilde is 'damned and done for.' The best thing for everybody now is to forget all about Oscar Wilde, his perpetual posings, his aesthetical teachings and his theatrical productions. Let him go into silence, and be heard no more." The Echo, 1895.
"On the loom of sorrow, and by the white hands of pain, has this my robe been woven." Oscar Wilde, The House of Pomegranates.
"Gay gentleman 22. Personable, intelligent. Seeks benevolent and conservative successful professional gentleman 45-57 for romance. Looks unimportant." Guardian lonely hearts column, 1995.
"Wilde could plead Not Guilty with perfect sincerity and indeed could not honestly put in any other plea. Guilty or Not Guilty is a question not of fact but of morals: the prisoner who pleads Not Guilty is not alleging that he did this or did not do that: he is affirming that what he did does not involve any guilt on his part." G.B.Shaw, 1925
"...if he believes, as Wilde certainly did, that homosexuality is not a crime, he is perfectly entitled to say he is not guilty of it." LAD,1940.
"There is not a man or woman in the English-speaking world possessed of the treasure of a wholesome mind who is not under a deep debt of gratitude to the Marquess of Queensbury for destroying the High Priest of the Decadents. The obscene impostor, whose prominence has been a social outrage ever since he transferred from Trinity Dublin to Oxford his vices, his follies, and his vanities, has been exposed, and that thoroughly at last." The National Observer, 6th April 1895.
"He is compelled to pick a certain quantity of oakum per day, is not allowed to converse with any one, and with the exception of an hour's exercise is kept in solitary confinement in his cell." The Morning, 6th June 1895.
|"Oh who is that
young sinner with the handcuffs on his wrists?
And what has he been after that they stand and shake their fists?
And wherefore is he wearing such a conscience-stricken air?
Oh they're taking him to prison for the colour of his hair.
'Tis a shame to human nature such a head of hair as his;
In the good old time 'twas hanging for the colour that it is;
Though hanging isn't bad enough and flaying would be fair
For the nameless and abominable colour of his hair.
Oh a deal of pains he's taken and a pretty price he's paid
To hide his poll or dye it of a mentionable shade;
But they've pulled the beggar's hat off for the world to see and stare,
And they're haling him to prison for the colour of his hair.
Now 'tis oakum for his fingers and the treadmill for his feet
And the quarry-gang on Portland in the cold and in the heat,
And between his spells of labour in the time he has to spare
He can curse the God that made him for the colour of his hair."
A.E. Housman, 1895.
"The man has now suffered the penalties
of his career, and may well be allowed to pass from that platform of publicity
which he loved into that limbo of disrepute and oblivion which is his due. The
grave of contemptuous oblivion may rest on his foolish ostentation, his empty
paradoxes, his incurable vanity." The Daily Telegraph, 1895.
"The plain truth is that if I had been the Archangel Gabriel I could not possibly have acted better towards him than I did. I gave everything and received nothing except abuse from his soi-disant friends. " LAD 1940.
It was like feasting with panthers. The danger was half the excitement. Oscar Wilde, De Profundis.
"The supreme vice is shallowness." Oscar Wilde, De Profundis.
"Blindly I staggered as an ox into the shambles." Oscar Wilde, De Profundis.
"What simple unintellectual people loved about Oscar was that he could make them laugh. Even the wretched young men who gave evidence against him. Far more than cigarette cases and meals at Kettner's. He made the dullest of them gay and amusing. He brought out oddity and humour in them which they never knew they possessed." LAD.
"Behind the brilliance of his talk, behind and infinitely more charming than his poses, in those days before his bitter ruin came upon him, was an extraordinarily amiable and sunny spirit which wished well to every one,and the sense of that gave him a charm that many of those who distrusted him or found him sinister were unable long to resist." (E.F. Benson)
|THE DEAD POET
I dreamed of him last night, I saw his face
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The one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties.
One should always be a little improbable.
Wickedness is a myth invented by good people to account for the curious attractiveness of others.
To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.
There is something tragic about the enormous number of young men there are in England at the present moment who start life with perfect profiles, and end by adopting some useful profession.
One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art.
Those whom the gods love grow young.
The only way to atone for being occasionally a little over-dressed is by being always absolutely over-educated.
Friendship is far more tragic than love. It lasts longer.
The supreme vice is shallowness. (De Profundis)
From The Ballad of Reading Gaol.
From Two Loves by Lord Alfred Douglas.
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Oscar Wilde, His Career, and His Fall
Oscar was an outsider several times over. He was an Irishman in England, he was gay, and he was too clever for his own good. He challenged the rigid codes of English society, and that society destroyed him. But this is not just the story of one man and his downfall. It is also the story of a doomed love affair, and of the many lives which were ruined by a complex series of events.
The other characters in Oscar's story are:
Lord Alfred Douglas, known as Bosie to his family and friends, Oscar Wilde's lover, and the man held by many people responsible for Oscar's downfall. When they first met, Bosie was 22 and Oscar was 38. Bosie had been blessed with great personal attractions, but he had had a dreadful upbringing, thanks to his father, the Marquess of Queensberry, one of the other leading characters in the drama.
Queensberry was mentally unstable. Verbally and physically abusive to his children, he humiliated his wife by quite openly carrying on with mistresses. He was a committed atheist, and a sportsman, the author of the rules of boxing - the Queensberry rules - which are still in use today. He was a larger than life person, sadly not an engaging eccentric, but a very dangerous man.
The other main character is Oscar's wife Constance, whose maiden name was Lloyd. They married in 1884. Before they were married, and in the early part of their marriage, they were besotted with each other. They had two children, Cyril and Vyvyan, almost immediately. No one could have guessed at this time that Oscar would be unfaithful in such a spectacular and public way. Constance's is a very sad story.
Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin in 1854 to a father who was a famous eye and ear surgeon with a habit of molesting female patients, and a mother who was a writer and Irish nationalist. He was the younger of two brothers. Oscar was a remarkably bright boy with a gift for classical languages. He went to Trinity College, Dublin, and from there to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he got a first in Greats - Latin and Greek.
After coming down form Oxford, he began to write poems and short stories, and to publicise himself by walking around London in velvet knee-breeches and alarming hats. As he was very tall and large, he was a noticeable figure, and he became famous for being himself rather than for anything he had written at this point. He was a personality.
The writer Richard le Gallienne describes Oscar's appearance at this time:
"He was dressed in a sort of Georgian costume, with tight pantaloon trousers and a huge stock. His amber-coloured hair, naturally straight, was not very long, and was unashamedly curled and massively modelled to his head, somewhat suggesting a wig."
Oscar was caricatured in Patience, the G.& S. opera as Reginald Bunthorne, walking down Piccadilly with a poppy or a lily in his mediaeval hand. It was at this time that he made his lecture tour of America; Rupert D.C. paid him to go ahead of the production lecturing so that the audience would know what was being satirised. He made the famous remark: "I have nothing to declare except my genius," when he landed in America on this occasion. He was also satirised in Robert Hichen's book The Green Carnation, as the absurd aesthete Esme Amarinth. The carnation artificially coloured green was the buttonhole worn by gay men in France, and Oscar also took to wearing one. It was not, by the way, the kind of carnation with which we are familiar today, but one with floppier leaves, a variety which people are starting to grow again.
He was a remarkable conversationalist, but many people who knew him have said that he was also a good listener, and extremely kind and pleasant. The writer E. F. Benson says:
"Behind the brilliance of his talk, behind and infinitely more charming than his poses, in those days before his bitter ruin came upon him, was an extraordinarily amiable and sunny spirit which wished well to every one, and the sense of that gave him a charm that many of those who distrusted him or found him sinister, were unable long to resist."
Although Oscar was publicly heterosexual, his homosexual leanings were coming out in his writings, most obviously in The Picture of Dorian Gray, which he had written in 1890. This novel has a coded homoerotic content - in other words, there are queer going-on underneath what appears to be happening. The plot concerns an artist, Basil Hallward, who is obsessed by a beautiful innocent young man, Dorian, whose portrait he has painted. Basil's feelings can be read as homosexual, although he himself cannot acknowledge this, and his emotions are presented in terms of those of an artist towards his muse. He describes his first meeting with Dorian like this:
"When our eyes met, I felt that I was growing pale. A curious sensation of terror came over me. I knew that I had come face to face with some one whose mere personality was so fascinating that, if I allowed it to do so, it would absorb my whole nature, my whole soul, my very art itself."
Basil's friend Lord Henry Wootton corrupts Dorian by giving him a French novel to read, and putting all sorts of unspecified immoral thoughts into his head. Dorian then plunges into a life of nameless but horrible vice. He spends many years ruining his acquaintance - again, in ways which are never described; the implication is that Dorian's life is literally unspeakable.
"He had mad hungers that grew more ravenous as he fed them."
We never actually find out what Dorian's sins are, but each reader can fill in the gap in his or her own mind. As Oscar Wilde remarked, each man sees his own sins in Dorian Gray.
The remarkable thing about Dorian is that he never ages. His secret is the portrait in his attic, painted by Basil, which bears all the signs of his corrupt life, while Dorian remains in appearance the boy he was at the beginning of the story. At the end of the book, he stabs the picture, thus, of course, killing himself.
The subtext of Dorian Gray (the hero's Greek name is another give-away) was used to discredit Oscar during the trials. He was asked whether Basil's feelings are "natural" and "proper," and whether he himself had ever had any such feelings towards a young man. Understandably, but perhaps not quite truthfully, he replied no. He insisted that Basil's feelings are not unusual and quite platonic.
Knowing what we now know about Oscar, it is hard not to see hidden homosexuality elsewhere in his work, and his greatest play, The Importance of Being Ernest, can be read as having a gay subtext. Its hero leads a double life - he is Ernest in the town and Jack in the country - and this deception reflects the lives of any number of respectably married men who had secret affairs with other men. The analogy doesn't carry straight through, however, as both Algernon and Jack do seem genuinely to want to marry Cecily and Gwendolen; but then again, perhaps they are both bisexual.
In 1886, two years after his marriage, Oscar met a young gay man called Robert Ross, a Canadian living in London with his mother. It is generally thought to be Ross who introduced Oscar to homosexuality, and indeed Ross said that he himself was the first boy Oscar had an affair with. Ross remained a lifelong friend, and was Oscar's literary executor.
The next fateful event in the drama was the meeting between Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred in 1891. It was the poet Lionel Johnson who introduced them. Johnson always felt responsible to some extent for what happened, and wrote a poem, I Hate You With a Necessary Hate, in which he accused Oscar of corrupting Bosie. This, however, was far from being the case.
Bosie was good-looking and charming. Oscar was extremely intelligent, charismatic and famous. It was flattering for Bosie to become a close friend of such a famous man, and Oscar enjoyed being the intimate of a young aristocrat. Oscar's feelings about Bosie started to resemble those of Basil Hallward's towards Dorian. He wrote to a friend: "He lies on the sofa like a hyacinth, and I worship him."
The two men began an obsessive relationship. Lord Alfred had already begun a career of liaisons with boys of a lower social class - servants, grooms, waiters and so on - and Oscar soon joined him. It was quite normal for there to be this difference in rank in gay relationships at this time, and for some time afterwards: both J.R. Ackerley and E.M. Forster used to have as their lovers men from a lower social class. (Think of Forster's novel Maurice). Oscar and Bosie used to go cruising together, and although the two of them had a physical relationship, this was never terribly important. Bosie preferred younger men, and it was the emotional side of their friendship which was more significant to both of them. It is possible that to Lord Alfred Oscar was some kind of father-figure. It was a complex relationship; with Bosie's upbringing it could hardly have been anything else, and writing about it later Oscar gives the impression that both of them were trapped within it.
Oscar later described his relations with these boys as "feasting with panthers." The danger, he said, was half the excitement. He got to know most of them through a young man from a good family with a private income called Alfred Taylor, who ran what was more or less a male brothel from his rooms in Little College Street. These rooms were exotically furnished with the curtains always closed, and Taylor used to burn scent. It was the opposite of Victorian respectability. Later, Taylor was arrested and tried along with Oscar Wilde.
Oscar was by this time hugely successful as a playwright and a well-known figure in society, but the mad Marquess was waiting in the wings. Queensberry had become aware of Bosie's conspicuous friendship with Oscar, and decided that he would play the concerned parent for the first time in his life. He told Bosie that he must give up the friendship, which Bosie refused to do. Q. visited Oscar at home in the company of a prize-fighter, and ordered him to stop seeing Bosie. Oscar asked Q. if he seriously suspected his son and himself of improper conduct. Q. replied: "I don't say you are it, but you look it, and you pose it, which is just as bad." Eventually Oscar turned him out of the house.
Q.'s maddest gesture was to turn up at the first night of The Importance of Being Ernest with a bouquet of vegetables to present to Oscar. Fortunately, Oscar had learned of his plan, and had called in the police to surround the theatre, so this rather curious event never took place.
Here is part of one of Q.'s letters to Bosie:
"Your intimacy with this man Wilde must either cease, or I will disown you and stop all money supplies. With my own eyes I saw you in the most loathsome and disgusting relationship, as expressed by your manner and expression. Never in my experience have I seen such a sight as that in your horrible features. No wonder people are talking as they are. If I thought the actual thing was true, and it became public property, I should be quite justified in shooting him at sight. These Christian English cowards and men, as they call themselves, want waking up.
Your disgusted so-called father,
Bosie replied to this with a telegram which said merely:
"What a funny little man you are."
Q. responded with a threat to make a public scandal if the friendship continued. Bosie ignored the threat, and Q. went ahead.
On the 28th February 1895 he left a card at the club of which he and Oscar were both members. On the card he had written:
"To Oscar Wilde, posing as a somdomite."
He meant, of course, "sodomite," but was presumably so enraged that his powers of spelling deserted him.
The rational thing for Oscar to have done at this point would have been to destroy the card, invite Queensbury out for a drink, and use his considerable charm to convince him that he and Bosie were just good friends. He could easily have done that. But, and no one quite knows why, this is not what happened. Instead, he decided that he must sue Queensberry for libel. It has been said that Oscar was influenced by Bosie in this decision, that Bosie wanted to see his father in the dock, and preferably in prison. It may be true that Bosie was out for revenge, but he can hardly be blamed for the unwise decision of a man sixteen years older than himself.
There were three trials. At the beginning of the first one, Oscar, convinced that he would win, gave a witty performance, frequently causing laughter in the courtroom. Q.'s counsel, Sir Edward Carson, questioned him very closely about what he described as the "perverted" novel, Dorian Gray, and also about two letters written in extravagant language to Alfred Douglas, which suggested that they were more than friends. Oscar had already been blackmailed about these letters by a man called Wood, who had found them in the pocket of a suit given to him by Douglas.
What Oscar did not know, however, was that Q. had been grubbing around finding out about his activities with young men. As the trial went on, it became obvious that the situation was more complex than at first it had appeared, and that Oscar had been doing a great deal more than "posing" as a sodomite. One of his associates from his own social class was a man called Maurice Schwabe, who was the nephew of the wife of Sir Frank Lockwood, the Solicitor-General. Like Oscar, Schwabe was also fond of boys, but when his name was mentioned in evidence, it was not spoken, but had to be written down. Schwabe was protected by his position on society as Oscar was not, and this is one of the many injustices in what happened.
The trial transcripts still exist; they are published by Penguin, and they make fascinating reading.
The first trial ended with the M. Of Q. found not guilty, and Oscar in a lot of trouble. He had the time and opportunity to leave for the continent, and this is what all his friends advised him to do. (Homosexuality was not a crime abroad). Q. wrote to Oscar:
"If the country allows you to leave, all the better for the country! But if you take my son with you, I shall follow you wherever you go and shoot you!"
Bafflingly, however, Oscar was determined to stay. It was almost as though he was compelled to be a martyr. Later he wrote to Bosie:
"I did not want to be called a coward or a deserter. A false name, a disguise, a hunted life, all that is not for me, to whom you have been revealed on that high hill where beautiful things are transfigured."
It is as though he is trying to make something beautiful and noble out of the terrible situation he was in, but also it seems fairly obvious that he didn't have the faintest idea of the reality of what could happen to him.
Oscar was arrested on the 5th April at the Cadogan Hotel. He was taken to Scotland Yard and charged with acts of gross indecency. The law which he had broken was section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885, which made illegal acts of indecency between male persons in public or in private. Bosie tried hard to find people to put up bail for Oscar, but he was unsuccessful, and Oscar was remanded in Holloway prison.
The newspaper The National Observer published a leader attacking Oscar in a style which foams at the mouth with self-righteous indignation:
"There is not a man or woman in the English-speaking world possessed of the treasure of a wholesome mind who is not under a deep debt of gratitude to the M. Of Q. for destroying the High Priest of the Decadents. The obscene impostor has been exposed, and that thoroughly."
This extract is typical of the tone which the newspapers took. It is an interesting fact that in the newspaper reports of the trial, some of the words used were thought to be so disgusting that they could not be printed. Also that the subject was something which a man would not mention before his grown-up son, never mind his wife or daughter, presumably for fear of contamination. However, there were ballads sold in the street so at least some people had a good idea of what was going on.
Q. received many messages of congratulation. One of them, simple and elegant, read:
"Every man in the city is with you. Kill the bugger!"
In the second trial, in which the prosecuting counsel was Charles Gill, Oscar's boys were called as witnesses. They stated that Oscar had given them money and gifts, and had taken them to dine at the Savoy Hotel and other places, often in private rooms. Staff from the Savoy Hotel also testified that they had seen Oscar with various boys in bedrooms. The prosecuting counsel questioned Oscar about some of Bosie's poems, including Two Loves. It contains the now famous phrase, "the love that dare not speak its name." The prosecution asked Oscar, "What is 'the love that dare not speak its name?'" and Oscar gave the reply that it was a pure and noble affection between an older and a younger man such as had existed between David and Jonathan, and had been felt by Plato, Michaelangelo and Shakespeare. He ended:
"That it should be so, the world does not understand. The world mocks it and sometimes puts one in the pillory for it."
At the end of his long speech, there was a spontaneous burst of applause from the gallery.
The jury was unable to agree at the end of this trial, and so was discharged. Oscar was released on bail, but was in a very difficult position now, because every one knew everything about his private life. He was turned out of the Midland Hotel at St. Pancras, and was hunted from hotel to hotel by a gang of bruisers hired by Q. He finally shook them off and found refuge with his elder brother and their mother in Chelsea. Naturally he was in a terrible state by this time. Again his friends tried to persuade him to go abroad, though it would have meant jumping bail, but again he refused. For the remainder of the time between the trials, he stayed with his friends Ada and Ernest Leverson. Ada Leverson, who was a novelist, and one of the few people who supported Oscar in his difficulties.
The third trial, in which the prosecution was conducted by Sir Frank Lockwood, the Solicitor-General, reiterated much of the evidence of the previous two. There was really no hope, and at the end of the trial, Oscar Wilde and Alfred Taylor were found guilty of acts of gross indecency. The judge said that it was the worst case he had ever tried - obviously he had never sat on any murder cases -and that Oscar Wilde had been the centre of extensive corruption of the most hideous kind among young men. It is worth noting, however, that Oscar hadn't corrupted any one, since all the boys with whom he associated were already selling themselves. The judge went on to sentence Oscar Wilde and Alfred Taylor to two years' imprisonment with hard labour, which was the most severe sentence he could pass.
Oscar was obviously staggered by the harshness of the sentence. There were a few cries of "Shame!" from the gallery, but outside the courtroom prostitutes danced on the pavement. They seemed to have some obscure idea that the activities of Oscar and those like him were bad for their trade.
He was taken first of all to Pentonville Prison, then transferred to Wandsworth, but he served most of his sentence at Reading Gaol. He describes how, when he was transferred to Reading, he had to stand on Clapham Junction for half an hour, handcuffed and in his convict's dress, looking, as he says, "grotesque." An incident occurred which demonstrated how much tolerance Oscar could expect on his release from prison. A man who had been staring at him for some time suddenly exclaimed: "My God, that's Oscar Wilde!" He then went up to Oscar and spat in his face.
Conditions in prisons at that time were indescribably horrible. The cells were tiny and spartan, and the bed was literally a plank. The regime was extremely harsh, a kind of living death. The men had to "work" at picking oakum or on the treadmill, repetitive and degrading tasks. There was no contact between prisoners except during exercise periods when many of them broke the rules by speaking without moving their lips, a skill which they had to learn, and which was a punishable offence.
A prisoner was allowed to write only four letters a year, and anything considered unsuitable - for instance, complaints about the prison - could be cut out with scissors by the warders. When it came to visiting, four 20-minute visits a year were all that were allowed; and these in far from ideal conditions. The prisoner and his visitor were separated by three or four feet, each in a separate cage-like object. Two warders would stand between them; obviously they could listen to the conversation, and stop it if they wished. Oscar wrote:
"One of the tragedies of prison life is that it turns a man's heart to stone."
The regime was designed to break the men's spirits, but some of the prisoners were children, and were subjected to exactly the same inhuman treatment. After Oscar's release, he wrote two letters to a newspaper, which were published, describing in eloquent terms conditions in prisons at the time, and suggesting improvements, such as access to more and better books, more visiting, and permission to write more frequent letters. He also suggested very strongly that the physical needs of prisoners should be met more humanely. The Prison Act of August 1898 actually introduced some of these improvements as law.
He also wrote, while actually in prison, the poem The Ballad of Reading Goal. This was published after his release under the name (or number ) of C.C.3, which was his number in prison. Such was the horror attached to his name after the trials that no one would have bought a book with the name Oscar Wilde on the cover. The poem tells the story of a soldier who is hanged for murdering a woman, but it also gives a graphic picture of the physical and mental suffering of prisoners and of the inhumanity of those in charge.
A.E. Housman wrote a poem in 1895 which makes an oblique reference to the Oscar Wilde case. It wasn't published until after Housman's death, in case people should guess that he too was gay. The poem is about prejudice.
Some people think that those with Oscar Wilde's sexual preferences are a threat to so-called family values. But what was done to him was a crime against the family. His life, and those of others close to him, were ruined. His health and his reputation were destroyed and he was declared bankrupt. Worst of all for him, his children were legally removed from his care. He wrote:
"That is and always will remain to me a source of infinite distress, of infinite pain, of grief without end or limit. That the law should decide and take upon itself to decide that I am one unfit to be with my own children is quite horrible to me."
It is worth remarking that if Oscar Wilde had gone around seducing girls and women and fathering illegitimate children, that would have been perfectly acceptable in the circles in which he moved, and that kind of thing goes on being acceptable today, because somehow it is seen as "normal."
He never saw his children again, and of course, he also lost his wife. The effect on her and on the children was appalling. The children were sent away when the scandal broke, and Constance went to live with them abroad. After being thrown out of a hotel in Switzerland because her name was Wilde, she changed it to Holland, a family name of hers, which it has remained. Constance died in 1898 after an operation on her spine.
The two boys reacted in different ways. Cyril wrote a letter to his brother in 1915 which plainly shows the terrible psychological effect on him of what happened to their father:
"All these years my great incentive has been to wipe that stain away; to retrieve, if may be, by some action of mine, a name no longer honoured in the land. The more I thought of this, the more convinced I became that, first and foremost, I must be a man. There was to be no cry of decadent artist, of effeminate aesthete, of week-kneed degenerate. This has been my purpose for 16 years. It is my purpose still. I ask nothing better than to end in honourable battle for my King and country."
Shortly after writing that letter, Cyril was killed in action.
Vyvyan published a book in the 1950s called Son of Oscar Wilde, which describes a happy childhood shattered by what happened to his father. The book deals with what it was like to grow up in the shadow of the terrible events, and of how as a consequence Vyvyan found making relationships extremely difficult because he felt that there was something wrong with him. However, he did marry and have a son.
Alfred Douglas had reluctantly left for the continent during the trials, although curiously there was never any question that he himself would be arrested, since there was no evidence that he had broken the law. He spent a lot of time writing to newspapers trying to change public opinion about the way Oscar Wilde had been treated. He also tried hard to communicate with Oscar, but by this time Oscar, perhaps understandably, had turned against him and wanted nothing more to do with him.
During his time in prison Oscar wrote an immensely long letter, later published under the title De Profundis, addressed to Bosie, in which he blames Bosie for everything. He paints a picture of their relationship in which Bosie appears as shallow, insensitive, grasping, a drain on Oscar's financial and emotional resources, immature and emotionally unbalanced. This is the Bosie who appears in the film. But bearing in mind Oscar's mental state when he was writing, it may be that this is an exaggerated version of what actually happened. Probably no one will ever know the exact truth.
Oscar was released from prison on 19th May, 1897. He crossed to France, where he spent the rest of his life as an exile. He had an uncomfortable time, very short of money, without a permanent home, and shunned by any English people who chanced to see him. Some of his friends from the old life, like Ada and Ernest Leverson, and Robert Ross, stuck by him; and there was an ecstatic reunion with Bosie, with whom he tried to live again. But it didn't work out, and they parted again. Oscar died in an hotel room in Paris on 30th November 1900, of cerebral meningitis. He was 46.
Bosie's later life was eventful. He married a woman, Olive Custance, who was also a poet, whom he met after she wrote him a fan letter. They had one son, Raymond, but their marriage was unsuccessful and they separated after nine years. Olive's father was very possessive about Raymond, whom he saw as the heir he himself had always wanted, and tried to obtain custody of him. On one occasion he even kidnapped the boy. Raymond suffered from schizophrenia, and spent most of his adult life in institutions. He died in the 1960s.
Bosie continued his career as a poet and also edited a couple of magazines, but there was another side to his character, and at one point he ran a racing stable. Unfortunately the court case, in which he never appeared, gave him a taste for litigation, and he spent a great deal of his later life suing various people. The manuscript of De Profundis was the subject of one of these court cases. He also inherited some of his father's mental instability, and as he grew older became very eccentric and difficult. In 1923 he served a six-month sentence in Wormwood Scrubs for libelling Winston Churchill. He died in 1945.
He wrote several autobiographies. At first, he maintained that nothing happened between himself and Oscar Wilde, but later he admitted that they had had a physical relationship, and he is startlingly frank about his youthful promiscuity, which he disarmingly describes as "paganism." Just after Oscar Wilde's death, Bosie wrote the poem The Dead Poet as a tribute to his friend.
Lady Alice Douglas, Bosie's great-great-niece, feels that she has to atone for what her family did to Oscar Wilde. To this end, she works for the prison service with groups of men who have been sentenced to life, so that she can understand what it is like to be in that situation. She is also ARCUS' patron.
Merlin Holland, Oscar's grandson, says that only recently has he been able to feel proud of his grandfather. Both families have remained quite seriously affected by the events of 1895.
Oscar Wilde, however, has ended triumphant. His plays are still regularly performed and studied, his stories and poems are read. He has also been the subject of many biographies and critical studies, and he has inspired many creative works.
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