Class differences have been a recurring theme in Wilde’s work. For example, in The Importance of Being Earnest, Lady Bracknell advises Jack to acquire some relations. Despite Jack’s wealth and ease in conforming to high-class society, he cannot change his nature without obtaining the proper lineage. This idea of class predestination, so to speak, appears again in De Profundis. Wilde paints class as something inherent in determining one’s character, sensibilities, and abilities.
I first noticed this when Wilde spoke of the men who testified against him, who belonged to the lower class. He states: “People thought it dreadful of me to have entertained at dinner the evil things of life, and to have found pleasure in their company. But they, from the point of view through which I, as an artist in life, approached them, were delightfully suggestive and stimulating.” Wilde uses a patronizing tone for these lower-class men, objectifying his dinner guests as merely artistic stimulation. He does not even recognize their humanity, likening them to panthers or cobras while setting himself apart from them as an “artist.” It is not for particular acts that Wilde dehumanizes them- Wilde, after all, welcomed them to dine with him and engaged in homosexual acts himself. In terms of unlawful acts, Wilde is no better off than them. Wilde draws this distinction because they are lower class. He characterizes them as dangerous and rough, as if this is inherent to their class. Wilde additionally asserts that “fishermen, shepherds, ploughboys, and peasants” know nothing of Art. He seems to claim art for the upper class in addition to humanity.
Wilde also makes a class distinction when describing his fellow inmates, mentioning that he is “not one of them.” Even in prison, where Wilde is subjected to the same treatment as his peers, Wilde sets himself apart from the lower classes. There are no advantages to being high class, yet Wilde asserts his class anyway. Again, this goes to show that Wilde does not think of class as something resulting from what you do, but rather who you are, and this distinction is critical in determining what you are worth.