A Trial Concerning Reputation

I really enjoyed reading Kaufman’s Gross Indecency. The author’s decision to create his trial narrative using excerpts from various historical accounts was a little jarring at first, but, once I read further into the play, I found this structural decision to be quite inventive and stimulating. On a plot level, I found Wilde’s involvement in the Douglas family drama to be quite tragic as, in many ways, Wilde seemed to be caught in the crossfire of a father-son feud. Obviously, his sexuality was also on trial, but I would argue that this whole problematic event was more focused on a father’s hatred towards his son because of concerns about his own reputation. As George Bernard Shaw noted, Queensberry’s “real objective was to ruin his son and to finally break the heart of his ex-wife” (23). The play mentions the extreme level of toxicity and ill-will that was harbored on both sides of the Queensberry family divorce, and, as the concept of divorce was much more scandalous in the Victorian Age, I could see how Queensberry might have been ashamed of this initial affront to his own personal reputation. Once rumors of his son’s homosexual activity gained traction, I can also see how Queensberry might have been concerned that his reputation would be further tarnished. Furthermore, I think that Queensberry was less enraged about his son’s acts than he was about being associated with someone with a well-known nonheteronormative lifestyle. This idea may relate to Queensberry’s decision to initially accuse Wilde of “posing sodomite” rather than of sodomy itself (26). In Queensberry’s own words, Wilde “looks [like he is having a homosexual relationship] …and poses as it, which is just as bad” as actually being gay in the first place (21). Here, the verbs “look” and “pose” connote a sense of visibility, which could suggest that Queensberry is ashamed that the public may suspect that his son is nonheteronormative. If Wilde and Bosie were more secretive about their romance, the public would be less aware of this relationship, and Queensberry’s reputation may not be criticized as much. Additionally, if Bosie’s father really cared about the flawed more code of the age and wanted to “save his son” like he claimed, I feel like he would have used a much more diplomatic and pleading tone in his letters in order to try to return his prodigal son home (22). Instead, Queensberry is very combative and violent in his letters – repeatedly threatening to “shoot [Wilde and Bosie] on sight” (18 & 20) while also desiring to “thrash” his own son (19 & 20). This tonal consideration adds further evidence to the idea that Queensberry is really primarily concerned with his own reputation because he seems to be actively trying to widen the rift between him and his son through threats, which would also help to further separate him from Bosie and Wilde in the public’s perception (makes it clear that he does not condone their relationship).  

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