Oscar Wilde

The Battle for Oscar Wilde’s Legacy

oscar-bosie

Thank you to Jacke Wilson for having me on the wonderful History of Literature Podcast.  Really an excellent interview and great to speak to someone so knowledgeable about literature. You can stream or download the interview, and I hope you will! Here is the description:

In Episode 87, we looked at the trials of Oscar Wilde and how they led to his eventual imprisonment and tragically early death. This episode picks up where that one left off, as the incarcerated Wilde writes a manuscript, De Profundis, that eventually leads to a bitter feud between two of his former friends and lovers. Laura Lee, author of Oscar’s Ghost: The Battle for Oscar Wilde’s Legacy, joins Jacke to discuss De Profundis, the battle between Lord Alfred Douglas and Wilde’s literary executor Robert Ross, and how Wilde’s legacy grew out of a web of blackmail, revenge, jealousy, resentment, and high courtroom drama.

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Humiliation: Contemplating Kevin Spacey and Oscar Wilde

“I want to acknowledge the not-infrequent willingness of a viewer, a neighbor, a master, a lover, a friend, a host, a commentator, to treat someone else as garbage. The willingness to desubjectify the other person. And the willingness, as if in a nightmare, to lock the door of civilization against this outcast, and to hear the ruined beast cry in the cold.”

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From time to time I like to wander through the library and pick up random books that catch my eye. On my last walk, a couple of weeks ago, I checked out Wayne Koestenbaum’s “Humiliation.”

It is a small book, and odd. It reads to me like culled diary entries on a particular subject– more the notes for a book than the book itself. I think Danielle Stevens got it right in Hyperallergic when she wrote “Koestenbaum occupies a space between blatant exhibitionism and self-criticism.”

The book is made up of short numbered observations about humiliation.

When I read it, it brought to mind Oscar Wilde, and in fact Wilde is mentioned at one point in the book. In response to a thought numbered 14 I wrote “Does humiliation represent the core of the fascination with Wilde? Humiliation is the violent stripping away of pride. Part of the success of De Profundis is that, fearing humiliation, we’re drawn to the view of one whose humiliation is complete. We imagine you must come out the other side changed. We all have moments of crisis, perhaps less dramatic, when our identities seem to be wrenched from us.”

This is Koestenbaum’s thought number 14:

When I see a public figure humiliated, I feel empathy. I imagine: that martyr could be me. Even if the public figure did something wrong, I empathize. Even if Michael Jackson slept with children. Even if Roman Polanski raped a thirteen-year-old. When I see the famous figure brought to trial, even if only trial-by-media, especially if the crime is sexual, I’m seized by horror and fascination, by pity, by terror: here again, as if at the Acropolis or the Roman Colosseum, I see the dramatic onset of a familiar scene, an unveiling, a goring, a staining, a stripping away of privilege.

Something happened between the time I first recorded my thoughts on this little book, and when I went back to it. The passage stopped being about Wilde and became about Kevin Spacey. (Koestenbaum, we can assume, is feeling empathy for him today.)

Spacey is an actor I’ve always admired, although he is not a special favorite of mine. I became aware of allegations of misconduct against him by seeing my Twitter feed fill with posts blasting his apology for allegedly making a sexual overture to a 14-year-old boy 30 years ago.  Spacey confuses the real issue– that the boy was 14 and he was 26– with the non-issue (to most people in our age anyway) that he is attracted to his own sex. I have a theory that perhaps Spacey has worried for a long time that the public would discover the fact that he was gay, and that he’d rehearsed in his mind what he would say when he was eventually outed. When that moment came he failed to take the nuances of the moment into account in his statement. That, or it could just be cynical deflection, as pretty much everyone views it. I’m assuming you’ve heard the story by now. If not Inc had a good article on what was wrong with the apology.  What was wrong with the underlying behavior, if true, needs no explanation. Type “Kevin Spacey” into your favorite search engine (it’s DuckDuckGo right?) and you will be brought quickly up to speed if you’ve somehow missed it.

I have had a hard time getting this story out of my head, and I could not figure out why. I think it is because of the uncomfortable resonances with Oscar Wilde’s downfall. If you look at Spacey’s own Twitter feed as of this writing, there is something haunting about it. The stream is full of happy moments, successes, celebrations and plans for all sorts of upcoming projects. It ends with his statement about the allegations against him.  Then there is no more. Knowing that after this statement House of Cards was canceled, Spacey’s Emmy was revoked, his acting master class was canceled, it reads like the end of a life and a tumble into the void. As Matthew Arnold wrote:

Wandering between two worlds, one dead,
The other powerless to be born,
With nowhere yet to rest my head,
Like these, on earth I wait forlorn.

The cancellations remind me of how performances of Wilde’s plays were dropped, his name taken off of programs. In one case an artist even offered to paint Wilde out of a painting in a gallery, such was the desire to erase the memory him.

What makes these echoes particularly uncomfortable is that an honest observer has to admit that the there is some overlap in the accusations against them. Oscar Wilde was not advocating “gay liberation.” He was an advocate of Urianian culture, which held as an ideal the sexual mentorship of teenage boys by older men. The famous “Love that Dares Not Speak Its Name” speech that was a high point in the movie Wilde (and which got applause at his first criminal trial in real life) spoke about the beautiful love of “an older for a younger man.”

In Oscar’s Ghost I wrote, “To a Uranian poet, a perfect muse was a teenager maybe fourteen or sixteen years old. The boys were to some extent viewed as objects of longing because they were unobtainable, but it is clear that these ideals shaped the fantasies and views of the men who wrote raptures about their beauty…There is evidence that Bosie (Lord Alfred Douglas), Robbie (Ross) and Oscar all had sexual encounters with teenagers. (As, no doubt, did Reggie Turner if his nickname “the boy snatcher of Clements Inn” is anything to go by.)”

Lord Alfred Douglas, in his middle years, came to believe that he had been primed at school and finally seduced by Wilde into a dangerous culture. He blamed his education as much as Wilde, but he came to see “the cult of Wilde” as particularly dangerous for advocating this culture. He came to view it as his mission to warn the world against its dangers and to protect other young men from being seduced into it. At the time his nemesis, Robert Ross, was still an advocate of Greek sexual mentorship. Both he and his good friend Christopher Millard were romantically involved with young men they had met when they were still teens. Millard had once lost a teaching position apparently for something involving a student. Douglas wrote a book that was never published called The Wilde Myth in which he made his case against “the cult.”

The book concludes “The Wilde myth has devastated my life from every point of view. It devastated my life when I was a victim to its illusions, and it has devastated my life ever since I escaped from those illusions.”

Imagine him sitting down on Oprah’s couch and telling that story. The audience would be sympathetic, right? They might even chalk up his personality issues and bad behavior to trauma from the abuse. Is that the right way to look at the situation?

I don’t think so. You can’t judge historical figures by modern cultural standards and simply interview a historical figure on Oprah’s couch.  They have to be understood in their own context.  Here is how I explained the context in Oscar’s Ghost:

There was, of course, no age of consent for sex between males– it was strictly illegal. To get an idea of what age the larger society deemed a consenting adult we can look to the same law that had only recently criminalized ‘gross indecency between male persons.’ It also raised the age of consent for girls from 12 to 16. (In France the age of consent was still 13.)

Frank Harris, the American journalist and a good friend of Wilde’s, objected to the new law. He felt that it was ridiculous because it outlawed sexual activities with a girl under the age of 13 “even with her own consent” and girls under sixteen even if they “tempted.”…

During Wilde’s criminal trials, even though most of his partners were in their teens, their ages were never much of an issue for the court. It was only their gender and social class that provoked outrage. A medical professional who examined Wilde in prison wrote in his report that the prisoner “practised the most disgusting and odious of criminal offences with others of his own sex and that too not with one or two individuals of a better station in life, but apparently with the most casual acquaintances of comparatively low social position.”

Just as we can’t judge Wilde and his friends by modern standards, we can’t judge Spacey by the views of the past. Just in case there was any doubt, I’m taking a bold stand here and stating for the record that I am anti-child molestation.

I think it does give pause, though, when you realize that there is an actual Wilde shrine in New York as Kevin Spacey heads off for the obligatory “treatment” as a necessary first step to try to shed his new-found pariah status and gain re-entry into society.

For those of us who admire Oscar Wilde, a case like Kevin Spacey’s is an uncomfortable reminder of an aspect of his story that we don’t much like to think about. As he is increasingly beatified as the first gay martyr it’s important to remember that he was not a “gay man” in the modern sense. There are some important differences and some very deep shades of grey. If we fail to be honest about that we risk making the the same mistake that Kevin Spacey’s apology did– conflating modern gay culture with (Uranian) pedophila. (Technically speaking, I think the correct term would be hebephilia or ephebophila, an erotic attraction to adolescents rather than prepubescents.)

It is possible, however, to keep both of these ideas in your head: That Oscar Wilde was punished for something we no longer view as a crime– loving males– and this is a tragedy and bothers us as an injustice. But there are other aspects of his life that we would find troubling if they happened today. Then again, if he lived today, it is impossible to know if those aspects would have existed for he would have been socialized differently–part of our culture, not his.

One of my favorite passages from De Profundis, the work that set me off on this whole Wilde journey, was this:

Of course there are many things of which I was convicted that I had not done, but then there are many things of which I was convicted that I had done, and a still greater number of things in my life for which I was never indicted at all. And as the gods are strange, and punish us for what is good and humane in us as much as for what is evil and perverse, I must accept the fact that one is punished for the good as well as for the evil that one does. I have no doubt that it is quite right one should be. It helps one, or should help one, to realise both, and not to be too conceited about either. And if I then am not ashamed of my punishment, as I hope not to be, I shall be able to think, and walk, and live with freedom.

Adventures in Exile

DNkRI9iXUAAbku2La Cause Litteraire today (via its Twitter feed) made me aware that November 1 is the anniversary of the death of Alfred Jarry (pictured right).

This gives me an excuse to share one more of my Oscar’s Ghost outtakes. This passage describes what happened when Oscar was finally granted bail before his second criminal trial:

 

Robert Sherard had rushed to Wilde’s side and was buzzing around, proud to be able to do “menial work for my friend.” This consisted mostly of fetching him glasses of claret. Oscar was deeply depressed and asked Sherard, “Oh, why have you brought me no poison from Paris?” Sherard immediately went to his club library and looked up the effects of various kinds of poison. He told Wilde that he should not consider prussic acid because death only came after forty minute of “indescribable agony.” Wilde decided not to poison himself after all.

Sherard had joined the chorus of people urging him to flee. He was willing “to take the whole care and responsibility of the evasion on my shoulders…” and he took up “counter-police manoeuvers” to see if they were being watched. His emotions were in such a state that Alphonse Daudet, who came to visit him from Paris, was afraid he was losing his mind. Sherard’s dramatizing was exhausting everyone and (Oscar’s brother) Willie Wilde offered to do whatever it took, including to sell his library, to raise the money to send Sherard back to Pairs. Daudet came to the rescue, distracting Sherard by suggesting that they write a book together. The book became Daudet’s My First Voyage: My First Lie, published in 1901.

Sherard would one day write that Wilde’s arrest had ruined his career. After the “crushing blow” he found it difficult to write and his income plummeted. (Writers are always looking for something on which to blame their writer’s blocks and difficulty making a living. Sherard had actually been suffering from financial problems for some time.)

Bosie was no longer encouraging Oscar to stay and fight. He was begging him to come join him on the continent. (Bosie’s brother) Percy Douglas even promised that if he did he would personally reimburse Rev Headlam (who had contributed half of the bail) for his portion of the bail. Sherard, recalled some of the letters that Bosie sent him (which Willie had seen and kept teasing his brother about) “…a curious medley of attractions was set out. There was moonlight on the orange-groves and there were other inducements which need not be particularised.”

Perhaps we can help Sherard on that score. When Douglas arrived in Paris he found a community of artists, sympathetic to Oscar Wilde, who welcomed him into the heart of French Bohemia. The circle revolved around the editors of the Mercure de France, Alfred Vallette and his wife the cross-dressing Rachilde who described herself as a “man of letters” on her calling cards. One of the only women in the circle, she was also the most famous writer of them all.

The Mercure was then based in two second-floor rooms in the three-room home of its editors. It was located on the rue de’l’Ėchaudé off the boulevard Saint-Germain, a dark avenue best known for its many houses of ill repute. The first two rooms were a small reception room, and an office-library. The third was the couple’s bedroom.

There, in a dark red, smoke-filled room, on any given Tuesday could be found an invited assemblage the leading lights the French artistic avant-garde. Paul Valéry referred to them as “a fermenting mix of striking personalities.” They gathered to discuss religion, aesthetics, philosophy, politics and art. There were no formalities, and no servants. Vallette, who hated pretension, opened his own door to his guests himself often dressed in a short jacket paired with his house slippers. Léon-Paul Fargue described the scene, “Almost instantly the little salon was thick with tobacco smoke. The air could be sliced like a loaf, one could barely see anything. All these famous persons seemed as if painted on a canvas of fog…” Wilde had been a habitue of Rachilde’s salon. He once asked if the “enigmatic creature in the black woolen dress” could really be the author of Monsieur Venus.

chat_noir_poster_steinlein-During Wilde’s trials and in the first part of his incarceration Douglas was frequently seen in the famous cabaret the Chat Noir of Rodolphe Salis in the company of the symbolist writer Alfred Jarry, the writer and caricaturist Ernest LaJeunesse and his protoge, the angelic-looking decadent artist Léonard Sarluis. Of Sarluis it was said “La Jeunesse was his mentor and Oscar Wilde was his god.”

As we have seen, Douglas had a religious devotion to the philosophy he believed Oscar Wilde represented. The couple had never been sexually exclusive and so being loyal to the incarcerated Wilde, as Douglas understood it, was not maintaining a chaste celibacy until his return. Rather it was remaining devoted to both Wilde and “the cause.” Being loyal to the cause meant partaking in the sacrament of sex. The extent to which he did so, however, is an open question.

Alfred Jarry’s autobiographical novel Days and Nights disguised the names of the real people who were its characters. The journalist Edouard Julia decoded the names of the characters in penciled notes in his copy, identifying “Bondroit” as Lord Alfred Douglas. The nature of the novel makes it difficult to know exactly how historical these coded adventures were. Sengle, the hero of Days and Nights makes no distinction between day and night– waking consciousness and dreaming. It is all a continuum. Therefore the scene including Douglas could be a faithful memory, an embellished memory or pure fantasy.

The novel describes a group sex scene at Sarluis’s studio, which included Douglas, Sarluis, Henri Albert, Ernest La Jeunesse and one woman, the actress Fanny Zaessinger. The novel dates this as happening before Jarry’s military service in November 1894, but Alastair Brotchie, author of a biography of Jarry, believes it must have happened (assuming it did) around this time.

Bosie wrote from the Hotel des Deux Mondes in Paris on 15 May, “My own darling Oscar, Have just arrived here. They are very nice here and I can stay as long as I like without paying my bill, which is a good thing as I am quite penniless. The proprietor is very nice and most sympathetic; he asked after you once and expressed his regret and indignation at the treatment you had received… Do keep up your spirits, my dearest darling. I continue to think of you day and night, and send you all my love. I am always your own loving and devoted boy Bosie.”

Oscar’s Ghost Book Signing at the Oscar Wilde Bar in New York City

Oscar Wilde NYC
I am thrilled to be able to announce that I will be doing a book signing at the Oscar Wilde bar in New York City. The Oscar Wilde is elegant enough for Oscar, a place where “extravagance is always in season.” I’ve already spent way too much time gazing at the decor through its 360 view.  I can’t imagine a better combination of setting and theme and I’m honored that I will be the first author to do a book singing there!

So I hope you will stop by on November 4 from 2-4 PM and say hello, maybe buy a book and have it signed or just have a chat about Oscar Wilde and the battle between Robert Ross and Lord Alfred Douglas after his death. While you’re there enjoy a “50 Shades of Dorian Gray” or “Happy Prince” cocktail. Or if you wish to be more historically Oscar, you can order his drink of choice: whiskey and soda. I’m told the Oscar Wilde’s Whiskey Bar has some of the best varieties in the entire city.  Snap a picture with the Oscar Wilde statue.  I know I will!

I’m really looking forward to it and I hope I will see you there.

 

Treppenwitz

The clever rejoinder that comes too late…

Thank you to the Ann Arbor District Library for inviting me to come and speak this evening– my first speaking engagement on Oscar’s Ghost. I was pleased that there were a number of questions about the book, and inevitably, I spent most of my ride home thinking of better answers to them.

That’s what blogs are for.

The first question was whether Oscar Wilde lived in a circle of artists where homosexuality was not a problem and whether or not Victorian and Edwardian homosexuals used the laws against same sex love as a club against one another.

I replied that Oscar Wilde did inhabit a particular Bohemian subculture– much of it of his making, as he had disciples who imitated him–where being a man who loved men was not a problem. In the wider culture, it was also true that there was something of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. There was an understanding of a lot of the vices that went on behind closed doors, but the rule was that it was better not to know about it, and as long as everyone kept quiet and did not make a scandal no one would make an issue of it. In that situation, it was not uncommon for gay men who had bitter disputes to use this vulnerability against each other.

And that is where I left things, but that is not really a full answer. England of the late 19th and early 20th century was not a monolith. No culture is. So while it is fair to say that there were elements of society that embraced alternative sexualities, and there were elements that tolerated them as long as they were kept under wraps, there were also elements that were disgusted and appalled by the very notion.  One of the big problems for a homoerotically inclined individual was that he didn’t know with certainty, in any given situation, whether his “eccentricity” (this is what Robbie Ross’s family called it) would be accepted, tolerated, shunned, mocked or punished.

Lord Alfred Douglas and Robert Ross used the courts a number of times to fight their battles. They faced a series of judges, some of whom were even handed and fair, others who were outraged by their sexuality. It was impossible to know in advance how fair or how prejudiced a judge or jury would be. It was always a gamble.

In our time the balance has shifted more towards acceptance, but the same situation remains. There are comfortable, welcoming parts of society; parts that are more concerned about their own lives– live and let live; and parts that are opposed–sometimes violently opposed–to same sex love. In Oscar’s time the percentages, not the actual categories differed and those who were opposed had the backing of the government.

Oscar Wilde sometimes inhabited a world of artists where he sexuality was not a problem. He sometimes inhabited a world where people who admired him as an artist gossiped and whispered behind his back, but looked the other way. And he sometimes wandered through a world where it was necessary to hide that part of his life or to face serious repercussions. Until he was exposed in court, he lived a double life.

My partial answer, I think, might have made it seem like being homosexual in Victorian England was less fraught than it really was. But it would not be fair to say either that the life of a gay man of that era was only fear, hiding and strife. To quote the Facebook relationship status: It’s complicated.

There was one other question that I re-answered on my ride home. I finished my lecture by noting that while no one won the battle between Ross and Douglas, Ross did a better job of shaping the narrative about Oscar Wilde.  In most cases his view of things won out. I was asked what Bosie’s view was. I mentioned a number of cases where Bosie’s version of event was less believed, but better documented.

But a better answer may be this, if Bosie were to tell the story of Oscar Wilde’s life and he were able to speak freely about their relationship, I believe he would have said that it was a great tale of love overcoming all odds.

At least, that is what he would have said before he read the unedited De Profundis.

 

Oscar’s Mother

In honor of Oscar Wilde’s birthday, October 16, here is another outtake from Oscar’s Ghost. It seemed appropriate day to share a piece about Oscar’s mother. Before Oscar Wilde’s second criminal trial, he was released on bail, and many of his friends (including Lord Alfred Douglas) were urging him to flee the country. But his mother and brother urged him to stay and stand trial. They were optimistic about his chances in court. A section of Oscar’s Ghost that talked about Lady Wilde’s own experience with the courts did not make it into the final version, but here it is:

Oscar’s… mother Lady Jane Wilde…had made herself known with a bold act of defiance. In 1848, the editor of The Nation, Gavan Duffy was being tried for treason for printing a subversive article “Jacta Alea Est” (The Die is Cast) published under the pen name Speranza. When the attorney general read an excerpt of the article, Lady Wilde, who had been watching from the gallery, sprung to her feet and announced, “I am the criminal who, as the author of the article that has just been read, should be in the dock. Any blame in respect of it belongs to me.”

Like Bosie, Lady Wilde believed in Truth with a capital “T.” Her 1864 collection Poems, dedicated to her two sons, had as its theme “The Freedman is he whom the Truth makes free.” In the introduction she cited Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Oh! give me truths,

For I am weary of the surfaces,

And die of inanition.

She was no stranger to legal battles over the family’s reputation. Three decades before, Lady Wilde had, herself, been involved in a bitter and highly publicized libel case full of sexual intrigue. Oscar’s father, William Wilde, had earned himself a reputation as a womanizer and it was an open secret that he had fathered a number of illegitimate children. In the late 1850s, he formed an intimate friendship with a young patient named Mary Travers. The exact nature of that friendship was never proved, but it was undoubtedly more than professional, as Wilde sent the teenager letters “of an extraordinary character…a dangerous character to subsist between a girl of her age and attractions and a man, whether married or single…”

Initially, Mrs. Wilde had been friendly with the girl, even allowing Travers to take the boys out on outings. Eventually, however, things took a bad turn and Wilde tried to end the relationship. After that Travers embarked on a campaign of harrassment that made the Marquess of Queensberry look like a paragon of restraint. She would appear at the Wilde home and at Dr. Wilde’s office demanding money, a turn of events that may have let to the family decision to send the children from Dublin to Portora School as boarders.

Once she appeared in Wilde’s study holding a bottle of laudanum, a common Victorian medicine made up of alcohol and opium. She poured the full bottle into a wine glass and drank it. Wilde rushed her to the nearest apothecary’s for an antidote. He believed she was trying to make the world believe he had poisoned her. A few days later she wrote to him in the role of patient, seeking an appointment to examine a corn on her foot This unconventional request for a consultation ended with an ominous warning: “I will keep your nose to the grindstone while your wife is away, and when she returns I will see her.”

Wilde agreed to see her, and she would later claim that in the course of the visit he strangled and raped her. After that her behavior became even more bizarre. She had her own obituary printed up in the newspaper and sent a copy to Mrs. Wilde with a drawing of a coffin underneath it. Whatever result she had been hoping for with the stunt failed to materialize, and so she printed up a pamphlet featuring an anti-Wilde poem and hired five newsboys to sell them on the street. She also had them delivered to the Wilde’s home. There Jane Wilde had an altercation with the newsboy who had been sent to try to sell the pamphlet. She kept it without paying for it.

She had finally had enough and she fired off a letter to her tormentor’s father, Dr. Robert Travers:

Sir – You may not be aware of the disreputable conduct of your daughter at Bray, where she consorts with all the low newsboys in the place, employing them to disseminate offensive placards in which she makes it appear that she has had an intrigue with Sir William Wilde. If she chooses to disgrace herself that is not my affair; but as her object in insulting me is the hope of extorting money, for which she has several times applied to Sir William Wilde, with threats of more annoyance if not given, I think it right to inform you that no threat or additional insult shall ever extort money for her from our hands. The wages of disgrace she has so loosely treated for and demanded shall never be given her. Jane F. Wilde

Travers took exception to the letter, especially to the phrase “the wages of disgrace,” which implied his daughter was a prostitute. He filed a writ for libel seeking damages of £2,000. Lady Wilde entered a plea of justification. The trial was certain to be a sensation with Isaac Butt, the nationalist MP acting as Traverse’s counsel and Speranza herself speaking for the defense. It was certain to shine a spotlight on Wilde’s indiscrete letters, and Traverse’s claim that she had been seduced as a teenager and then raped. This was all potentially devastating to the family. If the public believed her, William Wilde would be personally and professionally destroyed. The matter could have been handled out of court, but, biographer Gerard Hanberry wrote, “Jane would not countenance such surrender.”

The courtroom was packed for the four days of the trial and William Wilde’s private letters were quoted in the newspapers, but Speranza made a much better impression on the stand than the anxious girl did. She refused to admit Traverse had been her husband’s lover, instead she made it appear that the entire affair had been the product of a frenzied imagination. On December 19, 1864 the jury found in Travers’ favor, but awarded her only a farthing in damages. Because she had won the case, the substantial court costs fell to the Wildes. This was hardly a stunning legal victory. It was, however, a moral victory. Public sympathy was clearly with William Wilde and his wife, almost all of the newspapers sided with them and their social calendar remained full. Early in the year, Lady Wilde wrote to a friend in Sweden:

It was very annoying, but of course no one believed her story. All Dublin has called on us to offer their sympathy, and all the medical Profession here and in London have sent letters expressing their entire disbelief of the (in fact) impossible charge. Sir Wm. will not be injured by it, and the best proof is that his professional hours never were so occupied as now.

The Jury Vote from Oscar Wilde’s First Criminal Trial

The original version of Oscar’s Ghost was 100,000 words longer than its final incarnation. To put that into perspective, that is about two De Profundises (De Profundi?) worth of material researched, written and left on the cutting room floor.

So this blog will have to serve as the literary version of the DVD extras. Tune in regularly for Oscar’s Ghost outtakes.

Today’s little nugget is the results of the voting of the jury in Wilde’s fist criminal trial.

After the case ended in a hung jury The Morning published what purported to be the actual results of their voting. This story was picked up by regional newspapers throughout Britain. According to The Morning the results were:

1. Did Wilde commit indecent acts with Shelley- 10 for, 2 against; with Wood– 8 for, 4 against; two persons at the Savoy– 10 for, 2 against; Charlie Parker – 10 for, 2 against.

2. Did Taylor procure, or attempt to procure, the commission of the acts, or any of them?– 10 for, 2 against.

3. Did Wilde or Taylor, or either of them, attempt to get Atkins to commit indecency with Wilde?–Agreed, not guilty.

4. Did Taylor commit indecent acts, first, with Charles Parker; secondly with W. Parker? 2 for, 10 against.

If a newspaper today were to print such results, showing that the majority of the jurors found Wilde guilty, it would be considered so prejudicial it would lead to a change of venue if not an abandonment of the case.

One newspaper more sympathetic to Wilde recoiled at the printing of the jury results while Wilde was still waiting to stand trial. “Anything more cruel, heartless, and reckless than the publications of these details we are happy to say is rare in the journalism of to-day.”

 

The source of these results is “The Wilde Case: Voting in the Jury Room.” Portsmouth Evening News, May 9, 1895. The critical response was quoted in Oscar Wilde Three Times Tried written by Christopher Millard under the pen name Stuart Mason.