Friday, May 27, 2011

Wilde Love

Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas (
Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas ("Bosie") in 1893 (William Andrews Clark Memorial Library) 

David Hare's The Judas Kiss provided much food for thought, and like the food Oscar Wilde eats in the British hotel room, it is a bit cold and fishy.  The acting at the Actor's Express last night was powerful and moving, yet it could not overcome the sense that the story isn't believable. Was Bosie a boring snob who used and abused his older friend? No doubt. Yet the story has to show us why or how Wilde came to love the man so much. After all, both Bosie and Wilde had sex with many beautiful boys. What was it about Bosie that seized Oscar's heart and held it? This play doesn't even give us a clue. I don't buy it.

The Judas Kiss turns the Love that dare not speak its name  into an unspeakable obsession. Not only does Bosie betray Wilde, so too does his first male lover, Robbie Ross, who is alternately jealous, guilty, and in cahoots with Oscar's wife Constance. Perhaps the play isn't homophobic, but despite its love of Oscar Wilde, himself, it portrays Oscar's affections as misguided and destructive. 

It  was not Bosie and not Robbie who caused Oscar Wilde's imprisonment and ruin. Wilde clearly loved both of these men. Neither relationship was the cause of his arrest or conviction. Bosie's homophobic father's insults, Wilde's suit, and Queensberry's counter charges brought the trial. Neil McKenna's 2005 biography, The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde, reveals all the interconnected political and social intrigue.  Still, few realize that were Oscar Wilde tried in Atlanta, Georgia today, he would be sentenced to far more years in prison. Having any kind of sex at all with boys under eighteen, as many who testified at his trial were, would lead to up to ten years in prison. Clearly, it was the testimony of these underage rent boys that, after two trials, produced the desired conviction.

What strikes me as oddest of all is that this predicament is not so different from what happens among the so-called straights. Men marry, their wives grow old, often uninterested in sex (at least with them) , and the men go out looking for much younger women. No doubt liberated women have a similar experience. On the purely physical level, the quest often descends into materialistic prostitution and/or dangerous liaisons. The road to sordid decadence is busy with drivers of all persuasions.

All of which brings me back to love. If Wilde was anything, he was wildly romantic. Ultimately, we shall never know why he loved Alfred Lord Douglas so passionately. Love is intimate and private. I dare say no two genuine relationships of love are the same. The very word, love, has become inadequate to describe the  passion existing between those who deeply care for one another. Our world's pressure to conform, to follow the accepted, deluded  path of monogamous marriage, children, work, and religion (or to pretend to do so) has become even more of a straightjacket than the Victorians wore. 

The existentialist Gabriel Marcel points out the vital difference between being and having. Do you want to have a partner or spouse, or to be a partner or spouse. Our passion for others should be about merging our being with theirs, not about possessing them and controlling them. Once again, Simone De Beauvoir wrote about  and exemplified  this passion. I think Oscar Wilde did as well.

Jack 5/26/11

Here is an excerpt from De Profundis, Wilde's letter to Bosie, written at the end of Wilde's prison term:

When first I was put into prison some people advised me to try and forget who I was. It was ruinous advice. It is only by realising what I am that I have found comfort of any kind. Now I am advised by others to try on my release to forget that I have ever been in a prison at all. I know that would be equally fatal. It would mean that I would always be haunted by an intolerable sense of disgrace, and that those things that are meant for me as much as for anybody else – the beauty of the sun and moon, the pageant of the seasons, the music of daybreak and the silence of great nights, the rain falling through the leaves, or the dew creeping over the grass and making it silver – would all be tainted for me, and lose their healing power, and their power of communicating joy. To regret one's own experiences is to arrest one's own development. To deny one's own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one's own life. It is no less than a denial of the soul.

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