Throughout De Profundis, Wilde’s distinction between the Love within himself and the Hatred within Bosie showcases Wilde’s lack of self-awareness. He argues extensively about how hatred causes blindness but seems thoroughly unwilling to analyze how his love for Bosie might have blinded him as well. In class this past week, we talked about how Wilde can’t see past his own narcissism. He calls out Bosie thoroughly in De Profundis, but he doesn’t take the blame to the same extent. He analyzes the situation, but can’t see where he needs to change.
One of the most scathing call-outs in De Profundis is when Wilde tells Bosie, “In you, Hate was always stronger than Love” (999). Wilde acknowledges that Bosie loves him. He believes that Bosie doesn’t just love him for his fame and wealth; he thinks there’s something more to Bosie’s love for him. However, any sense of love that Bosie might have for Wilde is far outstripped by Bosie’s hate for his father. Therefore, Wilde becomes a pawn in Bosie’s plan to hurt his father. The plan to land Bosie’s father in jail was doomed from the start, but Bosie couldn’t see that. Wilde writes, “Love can read the writing on the remotest star, but Hate so blinded you that you could see no further than the narrow, walled-in, and already lust-withered garden of your common desires” (1000). Although I agree with Wilde that Hate does blind people, Wilde exhibits a lack of self-awareness of how Love blinded him as well. He claims that “Love can read the writing on the remotest star” and therefore he could see the flaws in Bosie’s plan from the beginning, and yet, he still went along with taking Bosie’s father to court. All of Wilde’s friends were against this idea, but he just goes along with Bosie’s advice instead. This behavior reminded me of the Love in a Dark Time reading. Since Wilde loved Bosie in a time when their love was forbidden, that made the love more intense. It made him blindly follow Bosie. However, Wilde doesn’t acknowledge his own faults in this situation.
Wilde villainizes Bosie and paints himself as a victim of Bosie’s hatred. Wilde writes, “The aim of Love is to love: no more, and no less. You were my enemy: such an enemy as no man ever had. I had given you my life, and to gratify the lowest and most contemptible of human passions, Hatred and Vanity and Greed, you had thrown it away” (1005). Although it is tragic that Wilde wasted his love and had his life ruined, if “Love can read the writing on the remotest star,” he should’ve seen this coming. Wilde doesn’t seem to realize that he was complicit in having his life ruined. Perhaps if he were more critical of his own choices, his life wouldn’t have been the tragedy that it was. Perhaps he wouldn’t have gotten back together with Bosie after he got out of prison. Perhaps he could’ve made changes in his life. However, Wilde let prison destroy him. He predestined himself for tragedy.
De Profundis is arguably Wilde’s most vulnerable piece of art. He writes from prison, his reputation eroded, and with a new outlook on life. It greatly differs from his other works, but in a sense it is still performative. I think Wilde partly uses De Profundis as a performance of his own truth, but a truth that does not fully consider his own actions and their consequences.
Wilde starts the piece with a pretty scathing denouncement of Bosie. His indiscretions about their relationship really illuminated how horrible Bosie treated Wilde, and it was a very vulnerable move on Wilde’s part. I think Bosie deserves to be called out for his actions, but Wilde fails to take into account his own choices in his involvement with Bosie. I think that this failure to address his own mistakes, and the fact that he went back to Bosie after getting out of jail makes me think about De Profundis being some ways in the context of a performative piece.
In class we discussed the question of if Wilde thought that others would be reading his letter. I think that he knew others would be reading it, and so in a way it was a method for Wilde to try and better his reputation. It is true that the mask is off and the jig is up, but by showing how bad Bosie was, maybe Wilde could have hoped to both work through his experience, and also to slightly clear his name. Wilde is shaping the narrative around their relationship, which is of course all he can do, but still there exists that intention alongside the vulnerability.
As much as it is frustrating to read that Wilde went back to Bosie even after everything that happened, I think about how complicated it was. I still think about how much of Wilde’s involvement with Bosie was feeling like he had no other choice. Like we read in “Love in a Dark Time,” when you are told that your love is gross and indecent, that must make you feel that you don’t deserve a healthy love. But then I also think about how neglected Wilde’s family was, and question Wilde’s thought-process there. I don’t know why Wilde went back to Bosie, if it was because he felt he had no choice, or just him not considering that he could and should live a life without him. But since he did go back, I do see a bit of performativity when I read De Profundis.
After I finished reading Salomé, I wondered why we read it at this point in the semester. While we are focusing on Wilde’s plays right now, on first glance, it is very different from An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest. For one, it is very light on the aphorisms, which I appreciated. More seriously though, the play explores the consequences of desire and the question of why there is evil in a world where there is a God. There are threads of Catholicism in many of Wilde’s works, but thus far, we have mainly seen Wilde using the more aesthetic elements of the religion and the ideas of mystery and predestination. In Salomé, Wilde’s characters discuss profound questions in theology. The instance that struck me the most was when the Jewish characters discuss who has seen God. A Third Jew says, “God is at no time hidden. He showeth Himself at all times and in everything. God is in what is evil, even as He is in what is good” (594). The other characters disagree with this, especially regarding God’s role in what is evil. In Wilde’s poems, An Ideal Husband, and even his “Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young,” he deconstructs moral binaries, describing wickedness as “a myth invented by good people to account for the curious attractiveness of others” (1244). However, in Salomé, Wilde calls attention to the wickedness of his characters and their evil deeds.
A case can be made for a queer reading of Salomé, especially building off our discussions in class this past week. We talked about the psychological and emotional consequences of constantly being told your desires and identity are immoral or “grossly indecent.” In Wilde’s case this is his relationships with men, specifically Bosie. However, Salomé and Herod experience this too. They are constantly told by Herodias and The Voice of Jokanaan that terrible things will happen to them, specifically that God will smite them, but they cannot stop themselves. This reminded me of how Wilde could not stop living his double life, even as he faced public scrutiny and was treated terribly by Bosie. We discussed in class how Wilde essentially prophesied his own death and destruction in his works, and this play is a prime example of that. The saddest part of reading Salomé from this perspective is that there is no resolution for Wilde. Parts of Wilde are in both Herod and Salomé, and as a result, Wilde accepts his own suffering and recognizes that much of it is self-inflicted.
In addition to the allusions to Wilde’s repressed homosexual desires in the dialogue of the play itself, the play was translated from French to English by Bosie. I am interested as to what other people make of this. Is the play addressing Bosie? Along these lines, this play is symbolic of how Wilde and Bosie’s secret lives and time abroad is mediated by Bosie to an English audience. Is it possible that Bosie’s translation changes the tone of Wilde’s original writing?