Wilde Wilding in His First Trial

Throughout this semester, we’ve discussed how Oscar Wilde attempted to live as art through the way he presented himself, from the way he dressed to the way he spoke. Wilde’s modus operandi of living as art is extremely apparent through the way he behaved during his first trial in Gross Indecency. Throughout the first trial, Oscar Wilde behaves in his typical Oscar Wilde fashion: as the most intelligent and witty person in the room. It’s almost as if Wilde believed that just based on the virtue of being clever he could get out of any trouble. 

Wilde living as art and entertainment is most plainly exhibited when he is examined by Edward Carson. Carson brings up excerpts of Wilde’s letters and works to prove that Wilde has had relations with men, making Queensberry’s claim fact as opposed to libel. However, for every excerpt that Carson brings up, Wilde only has a witticism to say in response. When Carson reads out Wilde’s romantic letter to Bosie, Wilde responds that the letter is art and is therefore meant to include beautiful phrases. Only an artist such as Wilde could have written that letter. Carson replies, “‘Your slim gilt soul walks between passion and poetry.’ Is that a beautiful phrase?” (35). Wilde only responds with, “Not as you read it, Mr. Carson. You read it very badly” (35). Wilde has enough confidence in this trial to directly insult the lawyer examining him. It’s as if he believes this trial is just another stage to entertain his audience and that he won’t face consequences as long as he’s entertaining.

Wilde getting questioned about his work is where he triumphs in this trial. Here, he proclaims that no art is moral or immoral, it is only well or poorly written. He also claims, “I rarely think that anything I write is true” (39). He reiterates the ideas we have read in other works of his, and through this, he makes a convincing case that nothing he has written can really be used against him. This part of the trial reminded me a lot of “The Decay of Lying” where Wilde makes a case that lying is essential to being entertaining. That’s what this part of the trial is: a string of entertaining lies. 

However, where Wilde falters is when the questioning moves away from his works and towards his relationships with young men. He can’t make up pretty lies when the evidence is staring him in the face. He’s forced to give up this libel suit when the young men that Wilde has had relations with are threatened to be brought in. Being art wasn’t enough to save Wilde in the end.

American Stereotypes

What struck me the most about Wilde’s “The Canterville Ghost” was how aggressively American the United States Minister’s family was. One of the funniest bits in the story in my opinion was the childrens’ names, with the eldest named Washington, the daughter named Virginia, and the nameless twins called the Stars and Stripes. Wilde brought up American stereotypes in this story that I didn’t even know existed, such as when the family discussed the importance of the city of Boston and how they thought that the New York accent was much more pleasant than the London drawl.

When I first read the story, I thought the family being American was just a way for Wilde to make some jabs at Americans and comment on how their disposition is so different from British people’s. However, after reading “The Decay of Lying,” I think there are more layers to Wilde deciding to make this family American.

In “The Decay of Lying,” Wilde comments on, “The crude commercialism of America, its materialising spirit, its indifference to the poetical side of things, and its lack of imagination and of high unattainable ideals” (1081).

All these traits that Wilde mentions in “The Decay of Lying” are present in the Otis family, including the “crude commercialism,” which comes up when the minister name drops name-brand stain remover and lubricant. This leads me to believe that instead of being a family that exhibits some American stereotypes, the Otis family is a stand-in for all of America.

Believing in ghosts and hauntings requires a bit of imagination and fancy, but since the Otis family is American and is indifferent to poetics and has no imagination, they initially don’t believe a ghost is haunting Canterville. Even when the ghost is proven to be real, they are almost indifferent to the ghost’s attempts to scare them, except for when Washington and the twins torment the ghosts. The ghost and the family are in an odd sort of limbo with the ghost unable to leave and the family not being affected by the ghost. It is only when Virginia listens to the ghost that the situation is resolved. She is able to sympathize with him, listen to the prophecy, and walk with him to the Garden of Death. She isn’t indifferent to poetics and imagination which is why she is able to lead him out.

The Ameican family is able to survive because of their Americanness, unlike the British inhabitants before them. However, it’s Virginia’s combination of American ideals and being open to imagination that fixes things.