My Frustration with Wilde

The more I read of Gross Indecency, the more progressively annoyed I got with Oscar as the play went on, for a number of reasons. For one, his wit, which is delightful in small doses, grew rather tiresome as the play wore on, and I started to understand somewhat why Wilde was someone who was both widely admired, and rather despised by the people of his time. I understand that this play is an artistic rendition of real events, but from what I understand it is a rather accurate one, specifically in regards to how Wilde acted in the courtroom.

The play paints Wilde as someone who is steadfastly determined to be a martyr, despite the harm that may befall those close to him. After all, Douglas was essentially forced to flee to Paris, and his wife and kids had to change their last names because of the verdict. Before being fully aware of the events, I thought of Wilde as a victim of an unfair justice system that punished him for his sexuality, and while that certainly is a side of the story, I find it hard not to perceive Wilde as the engineer of his own destruction. There were just so many ways for him to avoid imprisonment, from not suing the Marquess in the first place to fleeing to France on any number of occasions, at some point, him going to prison becomes somewhat of a conscious decision on his part. While I do very much feel for Wilde, it seems overwhelmingly selfish on his part to choose depriving his children of a father, and the love of his life of a lover, all to make a point about art that, at least in my opinion, is not all that clear. It seems to me that Wilde believed he was forced into choosing either to defend his art, or give in to those who opposed it, but I honestly question if that was ever the case, and I seriously question whether him going to prison accomplished whatever it is Oscar wanted to accomplish. 

2 thoughts on “My Frustration with Wilde”

  1. I understand your frustration with Wilde at his seeming determination to become a martyr and his attitude towards the trial in general. But I also thinks it makes a lot of sense within the context of his life. As Professor Kinyon has said, he faced a lot of societal pressure, being told all his life by society that the things he did and believed were wrong, some of which were actually wrong (sex with minors) and some of which were not (being queer). It would be hard for anyone to live under the crushing weight of that pressure. We have also speculated about the potential abusive or manipulative behavior within Wilde and Bosie’s relationship, and that also could be having an affect on Wilde. One of the things that happens when you are abused is that you begin to assume that some amount of suffering is necessary for love and happiness. Though this perspective is speculative, it does help explain how the concept of martyrdom might not have seen as radical to Wilde as it does to us.

  2. I completely understand the frustration with Wilde. I didn’t quite understand why he was so insistent on defending his art when there was so much more at stake. In particular, as you pointed out, Wilde was a father. No matter how great of an artist he was, I believe that once a person decides to have a child, their child must become their top priority.
    That being said, I do think that–at least as it’s displayed in the play–Wilde didn’t leave England at the end due to a certain level of shock. It could be because Kaufman relied on words that people involved actually said. I assumed while reading that Wilde never made clear why he didn’t leave England when given the opportunity or when so many people in his life insisted that he do so. We hear from many characters as to what they think about the trial, but, when the play is at its most tense, we don’t hear from Wilde. All he says is that he’ll accept whatever sentence he is given, then Harris says he “lapsed into inaction” (70). In an odd way, the scene in which Wilde is first imprisoned is the least emotional in the play because he doesn’t really do anything. He just accepts what is done to him, without his characteristic wit. The moment in which Wilde decides not to flee is so unlike the rest of his dialogue that it felt like there was something holding Wilde back.
    We cannot know for sure why Wilde chose to stay in England when given the opportunity to leave, but I think that the play constructs a narrative in which Wilde is so thrown off that leaving doesn’t actually feel like a viable option because it requires too much action.

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