It is time to whisper the truth that dare not speak its name. In short, it’s time to face the real facts about Oscar Wilde and his real views on homosexuality…
It was with a queer sense of déjà vu that I heard the news that a “temple” in homage to Oscar Wilde has been opened in a Methodist church in New York City “to celebrate the Irish legend … who was imprisoned and shamed for his sexuality.” This was, after all, only the latest of many efforts to canonize Wilde as a homosexual icon and as a martyr to (homo)sexual liberation. It was the latest but will doubtless not be the last.
This newest shrine to St. Oscar the Sinner is described as a “ritualistic space” that will be available to rent for “weddings”, poetry readings, and for a planned discussion on queer theology (whatever that might be). The temple’s curator, Alison Gingeras, suggested, no doubt jokingly, that a séance should be conducted at the shrine on November thirtieth to honor Wilde’s death day.
Apart from boasting a delightfully and grotesquely apt Dickensian surname, Ms. Gingeras is no stranger to sensationalist stunts. An exhibition she curated last year at the Frieze Art Fair in London, charmingly titled “Sex Work: Feminist Art and Radical Politics”, was criticized for being a thinly-veiled attempt to “exhibit erotic art” under the pretense of politics and was described by one review as little more than “the dilution of feminist rhetoric for commercial ends.” The unimpressed critic continued: “What is Gingeras’s goal, with her exhibition title equating these artists to sex workers, beyond mere sensationalism? With the smell of stale champagne and cologne wafting through the galleries, it’s extremely hard to digest this deluge of genitalia as anything more than a fetishistic amuse-bouche for the crowds.” These are damning words indeed, suggestive of the curator’s role as being synonymous with that of the prostitute or the pimp, or the brothel owner. All of which brings us back to the spirit of the shrine to St. Oscar the Martyr. It will, for instance, come as no surprise that all proceeds from the “Oscar Wilde Temple” will go to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center across the street from the church.
The irony is that this latest pathetic and pathological effort to erect a homosexist myth around the controversial figure of Oscar Wilde is based upon a misunderstanding about Wilde himself, and indeed, and to get to the point without mincing words, is erected on an outright lie.
If we take the trouble to unmask the myths surrounding Wilde, we discover a man who was never comfortable with the homosexual lifestyle and a man who described his homosexual predilections as a “pathology.” Indeed, and to court real controversy by using the sexually “correct” language of our deplorable times, Wilde should be considered a “homophobe” and not a “gay” icon. This being so, it’s time that we liberated ourselves from outmoded forms of repressed truthfulness. It is time to whisper the truth that dare not speak its name. In short, it’s time to face the real facts about Oscar Wilde and his real views on homosexuality.
On July 2, 1896, Wilde confessed remorse for the “terrible offences” he’d committed, declaring that they were “forms of sexual madness.” He had been suffering from “the most horrible form of erotomania”, he explained, citing the latest research in pathological science to justify his claim. His sickness had left him “the helpless prey of the most revolting passions”, causing him to neglect and betray his wife and children. He lamented the “monstrous sexual perversion” and the “sexual monomania of a terrible character” to which he had succumbed. “In what a mire of madness I walked!”
In November 1897, Wilde told a French journalist that his downfall was not merely due to pathology but to sin. “It is the sin of pride which has always destroyed men”, he explained, stating that his own pride had left him “sprawling in the mire.” Wilde’s words echoed those of his mentor, J. K. Huysmans, whose Decadent novels had been such an influence on Wilde’s own work, especially on his novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. “After having dragged the sickness of my soul around all the clinics of the intellect,” Huysmans had written, “I ended up, with God’s grace, going to the only hospital where they put you to bed and really look after you – the Church.”
In August 1900, Wilde confessed to the Paris correspondent of the Daily Chronicle his own Catholic sympathies, which had stretched back to his time as an undergraduate at Trinity College, Dublin. “Much of my moral obliquity is due to the fact that my father would not allow me to become a Catholic,” he confided to the journalist. “The artistic side of the Church would have cured my degeneracies. I intend to be received before long.” In the event, Wilde would be received into the Church on his death bed in November 1900, his reception being the consummation of a lifelong love affair with the Catholic Church. He had been an unfaithful lover, to be sure, but the Church is always overjoyed to receive into her arms those prodigal sons who recoil in horror from their lives of pride and decadence.
As for the so-called temple to Oscar Wilde in New York City, it only exists because of the perpetuation of a lie. As soon as the truth is allowed to come out of the closet, this temple to a false idol will come tumbling down.
Joseph Pearce is the author of The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde (Ignatius Press).
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Editor’s Note: The featured image is a photograph of Oscar Wilde, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.