Viewing Oscar Through a Triangular Lens

The protracted feud between Lord Alfred Douglas and Robert Ross in the years following Wilde’s death created its own mythology. When two people who had both been the lovers of the same man engage in a bitter fight, the natural assumption is that it is the result of a love triangle. Lord Alfred Douglas sometimes put jealousy forward as an explanation for their feud, but not as often as you might think. Douglas’s early biographer Montgomery Hyde believed it, and framed his story that way. The idea captured the imagination, and it stuck. In fact, both Ross and Douglas–Douglas especially– tended to clash with friends, and they were perfectly capable of a bitter falling out without a love triangle.

Today I read two reviews, one of Matthew Sturgis’s biography of Oscar Wilde and one of Rupert Everett’s film The Happy Prince, and both talked about Bosie being put aside as Wilde’s great love and Robert Ross emerging as Wilde’s “real love.” The problem that I find with this is not that Ross was not a hero of the story, and not that Ross and Wilde did not love one another. The problem is that it sets up the same false choice between Ross and Douglas. Douglas and Ross died a long time ago, we no longer have to be soldiers in their war. We no longer need to take sides. Wilde had close relationships with both of these men, and they served different roles in his life.

You’re certainly free to believe that Wilde would have been better off had he chosen to put Ross in the role that he gave to Douglas, but that is a different question. This is assuming even that Ross really wanted to play that role. I’m not sure this is the case. They had a sexual relationship early on, but Ross was soon off pursuing his own interests. Robbie and Bosie were good friends at this time.

When Ross admired someone’s art he became a devoted promoter of the work, and supporter of the artist, as witnessed by his relationship with Aubrey Beardsley and many others. That Ross was the friend and protector of Oscar the artist, while someone else was his lover, was not necessarily only Oscar’s choice.

I have already elaborated on this, so if you’d like a long form version of this argument go to your library and pick up a copy of “Oscar’s Ghost.”






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