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literature

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Wilde, Oscar (1854-1900)  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  

The most moving aspect of De Profundis is Wilde's graphic account of the mental and physical pain he has undergone in prison. Deserted by Douglas, humiliated by a vengeful public, branded and cast out from society, he describes his life as a veritable "Symphony of Sorrow."

But the supreme theme of the work is the meaningfulness of suffering. Wilde declares that suffering "is really a revelation. One discerns things that one never discerned before." He concludes that "to have become a deeper man is the privilege of those who have suffered."

Sponsor Message.

It is this deeper man who triumphs in De Profundis. As a result of seeing the world differently, he is able to accept himself and his plight without bitterness. He emerges as a kind of Harlequin Christ-figure, a martyred clown who enjoys the last laugh. He exercises his imagination to translate his martyrdom into a triumph analogous to the Christian comedy implicit in Good Friday and the Resurrection.

The new self that triumphs at the end of De Profundis revels defiantly in his exclusion from society, his marginality as homosexual pariah. Thus, Wilde rejects the artificial society that has condemned him and looks to nature for comfort and consolation:

Society, as we have constituted it, will have no place for me, has none to offer; but Nature, whose sweet rains fall on unjust and just alike, will have clefts in the rocks where I may hide and secret valleys in whose silence I may weep undisturbed. She will hang the night with stars so that I may walk abroad in the darkness without stumbling, and send the wind over my footprints so that none may track me to my hurt: she will cleanse me in great waters, and with bitter herbs make me whole.

This passage, with its defiant assertion of Wilde's status as a child of nature, its criticism of a shallow society, its yearning for an Arcadian retreat, its faint but deliberate echoes of Ecclesiastes, and its self-dramatization that approaches parody, is at once slyly comic and deeply moving, expressing in little the complex comic tone of the whole, where tragedy and comedy not only coexist but deepen each other.

Conclusion

It may be true, as W. H. Auden observed, that the Wilde scandal had a disastrous effect on the arts "because it allowed the philistine man to identify himself with the decent man," but it is also true, as John Cowper Powys remarked, that Wilde consequently became "a sort of rallying cry to all those writers and artists who suffer, in one degree or other, from the persecution of the mob."

For homosexuals, he became a martyr figure, a haunting symbol of gay vulnerability and gay resistance. Responsible more than anyone else for forming the popular stereotype of the homosexual as a dandiacal wit who flaunts middle-class mores, he is also most responsible for exemplifying the political realities of gay oppression.

He is a symbolic figure not only because his imprisonment is the political reality that all subsequent considerations of homosexuality must confront, but also because his defiance and his painfully earned self-realization are important lessons in the struggle for gay liberation.

Claude J. Summers

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literature >> Bentley, Eric

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literature >> Douglas, Alfred Bruce

Lord Alfred Douglas is remembered today for his tumultuous association with Oscar Wilde and as a minor poet.

social sciences >> Ficino, Marsilio

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Best known for his genius in art and architecture, Michelangelo was also an accomplished author of homoerotic poetry.

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The frequently outrageous cultural commentary and caustic criticism of Camille Paglia have made her both famous and controversial.

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The aesthetic of the important and influential Victorian critic Walter Pater reflected a homosexual sensibility.

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Among Greek writers on homosexual themes, Plato is preeminent not only as a major philosopher but also as the greatest master of Greek prose.

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The achievement of Alberto Santos-Dumont, the Brazilian dandy who is regarded by many as the father of modern aviation, may have been minimized in some circles because he was likely homosexual.

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As one of the key figures that western civilization has used to define itself, William Shakespeare stands in a complicated, fiercely contested relationship to homosexuality.

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    Bibliography
   

Auden, W. H. "An Improbable Life." Forewords and Afterwords. Edward Mendelson, ed. New York: Random House, 1973. 302-324.

Cohen, Ed. Talk on the Wilde Side: Toward a Genealogy of Discourse on Male Sexualities. New York: Routledge, 1993.

_____. "Writing Gone Wilde: Homoerotic Desire in the Closet of Representation." PMLA 102 (1987): 801-813.

Cohen, Philip K. The Moral Vision of Oscar Wilde. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1978.

Cohen, William A. "Willie and Wilde: Reading The Portrait of Mr. W.H." South Atlantic Quarterly 88 (1989): 219-245.

Ellmann, Richard. Oscar Wilde. New York: Viking, 1987.

_____, ed. Oscar Wilde: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1969.

Foldy, Michael S. The Trials of Oscar Wilde: Deviance, Morality, and Late-Victorian Society. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997.

Gagnier, Reginia. Idylls of the Marketplace: Oscar Wilde and the Victorian Public. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1986.

Hyde, H. Montgomery. Oscar Wilde. London: Eyre Methuen, 1975.

Nassaar, Christopher S. Into the Demon Universe: A Literary Exploration of Oscar Wilde. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974.

Nunokawa, Jeff. Oscar Wilde. New York: Chelsea House, 1995.

Oates, Joyce Carol. "The Picture of Dorian Gray: Wilde's Parable of the Fall." Critical Inquiry 7 (1980): 419-428.

Powys, John Cowper. "Wilde as a Symbolic Figure." Oscar Wilde: The Critical Heritage. Karl Beckson, ed. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970. 357.

Shewan, Rodney. Oscar Wilde: Art and Egotism. London: Macmillan, 1977.

Sinfield, Alan. The Wilde Century: Effeminacy, Oscar Wilde, and the Queer Movement. London: Cassell, 1994.

Summers, Claude J. Gay Fictions: Wilde to Stonewall. New York: Continuum, 1990.

Woodcock, George. The Paradox of Oscar Wilde. New York: Macmillan, 1950.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Summers, Claude J.  
    Entry Title: Wilde, Oscar  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated October 23, 2012  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/wilde_o.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  
 

 

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