De Profundis and Destiny

De Profundis is by far the most raw and emotional of Wilde’s works. The piece is unique in not only its emotional tone but the way Wilde discusses religion. In his scathing letter to Bosie, Wilde touches on many of the themes that occur in his poems and plays; he meditates on God, the meaning of art, the dangers of overindulgence, love, and most significantly, predestination. Out of all of these themes Wilde is the most consistent in his views of predestination. He criticizes Bosie for his abuse and the role he had in his financial ruin, but Wilde recognizes how his own flawed actions brought about his downfall. He says, “I must say to myself that neither you nor your father, multiplied a thousand times over, could possibly have ruined a man like me: that I ruined myself: and that nobody, great or small, can be ruined except by his own hand… Terrible as what you did to me was, what I did to myself was far more terrible still” (1017). Predestination is typically described in a religious context, as a sort of divine prophesy that all events are willed by God, but Wilde maintains the role one has in their own fate.

I found this to be especially interesting when considering the theme destiny and fortune telling in Lord Arthur Saville’s Crime and “The Harlot’s House.” When discussing these two pieces in class, we talked about how Wilde emphasizes the class differences at play in one’s destiny. Particularly in the case of Lord Arthur, Wilde presents a commentary on the boredom of the upper class. The chiropodist reads Lord Arthur’s palms and foretells his future as a murderer, but Arthur’s ridiculous actions that follow as he attempts to get the act over with serve as a commentary on how he has control of his fate all along. This contrasts with “The Harlot’s House” where the people inside move like “strange mechanical grotesques” and “wire-pulled automatons,” lacking any autonomy or control over their lives (867). In terms of his class status and his views on free will, Wilde falls somewhere between the Lord Arthur and the figures in the poem. He recognizes his level of culpability in his downfall: “Desire, at the end, was a malady, or a madness, or both. I grew careless of the lives of others… I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character, and that therefore what one has done in the secret chamber one has some day to cry aloud on the housetops” (1018). While Wilde condemns his former lifestyle of pleasure and decadence, he maintains many of his other life views and expands on his religious life. It’s fascinating reading perhaps his most revealing work and questioning if Wilde has really changed that much or if similar threads can be read in the rest of his works regarding religion and free will.

2 thoughts on “De Profundis and Destiny”

  1. It is interesting that Wilde acknowledges his own faults throughout De Profundis. Though this work is technically a letter to Bosie, much of the work felt more like a personal reflection. Wilde seemed to be working through his life and philosophies to determine how he had ended up where he was. The part where he ponders religion felt especially separate from Bosie’s actions. Though Bosie certainly had a part in Wilde’s ruin, which is why the letter was sent to him, the letter also seemed to function as a diary or personal statement for Wilde’s benefit.

  2. I had a lot of the same thoughts and feelings as you, when reading De Profundis. Wilde’s meditations on predestination are just so present in the piece. I didn’t think of the connection to “The Harlot’s House” however, but I really see the connection now — as you point out the language in the poem, of strings being pulled, and automatons without autonomy, depict a very particular view of fate, putting a rather dark spin on the idea of fate or destiny, as if we are controlled by it. It’s also, as you point out, a particularly classed definition of destiny, one that Wilde wouldn’t have necessarily been a part of. I wonder if Wilde felt his outsider status, both as Irish and queer, gave him insight into the same sort of lack of autonomy, even as he was of a higher class? Regardless, De Profundis is a deeply personal, self-searching piece, that touches on those darker aspects of life and fate.

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