Gross Indecency vs. Murder

One instance of intrigue in Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde is how judges and prosecution alike equate the crime “gross indecency” to be worse than murder. It reminded me about our conversation last Wednesday in class when we talked about how Wilde might have “created” the death ending for queer people in media with The Picture of Dorian Gray. But then we also emphasized how this narrative may have manifested because there is no other outcome for queer people but death when they end their bloodline and go against society’s heteronormative model. Placing the act of “gross indecency” above murder interested me based on our conversation.

            Narrator 4 says: “I would rather try the most shocking murder case that has ever fallen to my lot to try than be engaged in a case of this description” (125). The judge also directs to Wilde: “…the crime of which you have been convicted is so bad that one has to put a firm restraint upon oneself to prevent oneself from describing, in terms I would rather not use, the sentiments which must rise to the breast of every man of honor who has heard the details of these three terrible trials… People who can do these things are dead to all sense of shame, and one cannot hope to produce any effect upon them” (126). In this closing statement by Justice Wills, who delivered Wilde’s sentencing, I found more said in the transcript through the link https://www.famous-trials.com/wilde/335-statement, which further aides the argument that gross indecency is elevated as a crime, viewed as worse than murder. So why exactly is “gross indecency” worse than murder? Wilde’s “influence” and “corruption” have to be a significant component of this view. Gross indecency entails a sexual deviation towards something more focused on pleasure and sensuality. Justice Wills states that Wilde “has been the center of a circle of extensive corruption of the most hideous kind among young men,” placing Wilde in the occupation of ringleader who yields all the influence. To deviate from the sexual norm towards something which does not have a reproductive purpose and is seen solely as an activity of pleasure is equivalent to murder: the murder of duty, of normative sexuality, of reproduction, of sex’s purpose. It is a bad thing that Wilde has submitted to pleasure, according to the trial, even when pleasure elicits happiness. The trial believes that Wilde has committed several acts of murder based on the several men he has committed gross indecency with.

One thought on “Gross Indecency vs. Murder”

  1. I was also thinking about this idea when I was looking back at Lord Arthur Savile’s crime. Lord Arthur Savile actually commits murder, as well as attempts to murder several more of his family members, and gets away with it. On top of this, the play is comical. His need murder is just something of a task on a to-do list, or a part of his duty needed to marry Sybil. Lord Arthur gets his happy ending in the end. Wilde, on the other hand, is treated like a criminal for his sexuality, and judged extremely harshly by the court and the broader Victorian society. In their eyes, and even verbalized as you point out in this case, murder is worse than queerness.

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