Wilde and Christ

What surprised me most about reading De Profundis is how Wilde portrays himself as a Christ-like figure. Wilde suffered a great deal while in prison, and as we read in this letter to Bosie, he goes through a significant emotional and spiritual journey. Wilde draws a lot of parallels between himself and Christ, and this identification seems to be a way to give his suffering meaning. 

One parallel between Wilde and Christ was Wilde’s forgiveness of Bosie, even though Bosie may not have appreciated his forgiveness at the time. Although Wilde spends a majority of the letter disparaging Bosie’s actions, he feels like the only thing he can do is forgive Bosie. Although Wilde states that he’s forgiving Bosie for his own sake to unburden his soul, he also states, “I cannot allow you to go through life bearing in your heart the burden of having ruined a man like me…I must take the burden from you and put it on my own” (1017). The sentiment of taking Bosie’s burden for his own really stood out to me and brought to mind Christ taking on the burden of humanity’s sins. Even though humanity caused Jesus to suffer, He had to take on their sins to save them. He forgives them. In a similar way, Wilde takes on Bosie’s sins and suffers for them. Wilde identifying with Christ in this way may have given his suffering meaning while in prison. 

Another way Wilde identifies with Christ is by portraying Christ as a romantic artist. Wilde views Christ’s life as a romantic tragedy. Christ’s ideals were too radical for the rigid Philistines of the time, and He suffered because of that. Wilde states, “All great ideas are dangerous. That is what Christ’s creed admits of no doubt. That is the true creed I don’t doubt myself” (1037). Like Christ, Wilde’s ideas of Love and Beauty were too great to be accepted by the “British Philistines,” as Wilde so calls them. Wilde views Christ as having suffered for the ultimate ideal of Art. Since Wilde also feels as if he’s suffering due to ideas presented in his art, he could take comfort in Jesus doing the same. 

Wilde’s spiritual journey was one of the most interesting aspects of De Profundis, and it’s fascinating to see how faith played a part in getting him through his experiences in prison.

2 thoughts on “Wilde and Christ”

  1. The parallel Wilde seems to be drawing between himself and Christ were one of the most interesting and surprising pieces of De Profundis to me as well. Particularly Wilde’s view of Christ as having suffered for the ultimate ideal of Art is fascinating. Thinking of the aesthetics of Catholicism in particular, the ritualistic nature of suffering and sacrifice seems to have been a big influence on Wilde’s ideas. There is beauty in both the repetitive comfort and the performative spectacle of religious tradition, and I think both these aspects would have been intriguing to Wilde. Perhaps the former aspect more applicable to his time in prison where he was reflecting on his choices and his suffering, and the latter more applicable to his life before prison where he was constantly performing, treating his life as a work of art. I am interested in looking back at some of his other work that has religious themes and seeing how the concepts he explores in earlier work can be connected to his ideas in De Profundis, showing that this religious contemplation was forming earlier on in his life and informed by a multitude of experiences, or if his ideas of Christ as Artist and of finding meaning in suffering were a response to his experience in prison.

  2. Hi Christine! This is a great post. I found it interesting that we draw the comparison between Wilde and Christ. This semester we’ve been referring to Wilde’s trial and Wilde not leaving to avoid prosecution as a Christ-like act, similar to Jesus’s sacrificial crucifixion, which is intriguing because he truly embodies these characteristics in De Profundis rather than during the trial. Throughout De Profundis, I can almost hear Wilde howling, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” like in Matthew 27:46, as Wilde laments Bosie and how his implicit role in Wilde’s downfall. Is Bosie Wilde’s God in this case? Another interesting thing about your post is that you state how faith played a role in his prison experiences, but there is a part in De Profundis where Wilde states: “Religion does not help me. The faith that others give to what is unseen, I give to what one can touch, and look at” (page number). I don’t think I’d classify faith as helping him during prison; instead, it is spirituality. “Symbols” in the Bible “must be of [Wilde’s] own creating” (page number).

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