The Trials of Oscar Wilde


Seminar Paper, 2008
11 Pages, Grade: 2,0

Excerpt

Inhaltsverzeichnis

1. Introduction

2. Preceding events

3. The Trials
3.1 The First Trial, April 3 – 5, 1895
3.2 The Second Trial, April 26 – May 1, 1895
3.3 The Third Trial, May 20 – May 25, 1895

4. Conclusion

Bibliography

1. Introduction

In spring 1895, the three trials of Oscar Wilde took place at the Central Criminal Court, the so-called "Old Bailey"[1]. In the last two of them Wilde was accused of indecency with other males and the last trial ended with a sentence to two years of prison with hard labour for Wilde. The trials and the following imprisonment had a devastating effect on his personal and professional future life. In this paper I want to provide a brief outline of the events.

2. Preceding events

Oscar Wilde had met Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas, the son of the Marquess of Queensberry, in 1891 and had established a close and intimate friendship with him.[2] "[…] Queensberry, primed by gossip from fellow clubmen, was horrified. […] and very soon began writing savage letters."[3] to his son and threatened him with "stop[ping] all money supplies"[4] unless he would cease to see Oscar Wilde. Bosie and his father were, to put it mildly, not on good terms anyway, so Bosie did not react according to his father's demands and reproaches. The arguments, letters and threats continued for several months until the whole matter culminated in a public scandal.

On February 18, 1894, four days after the premiere of The Importance of Being Earnest, Lord Queensberry "[…] left his personal card at Wilde's club with the charge that Wilde was 'posing as Somdomite' (misspelling the offensive word)."[5] When Wilde was handed the card nearly a fortnight later he immediately wrote to a friend: "I don't see anything now but a criminal prosecution. My whole life seems ruined by this man."[6] This card was the initial cause of the three trials which should determine Oscar Wilde's future life.

At this time, Wilde was at the peak of his success as a playwright – even the Prince of Wales had attended the premiere of An Ideal Husband in January of the same year.[7] However, he aroused much controversy in public as well as in the press due to his outward appearance, his literary work and his doubtful life style as a Dandy.

3. The Trials

3.1 The First Trial, April 3 – 5, 1895

"It cannot be sufficiently emphasized that Wilde might never have been tried at all if he had not provoked the prosecution of himself by prosecuting Queensberry for libel."[8] However, as Wilde was not willing to accept the insult of being called "posing as sodomite", he took legal actions against Queensberry. As a consequence, Queensberry was arrested on March 2, charged for libel and later released on bail.[9] At the same time, Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred were spending some days of vacation in Monte Carlo before the trial began on April 3. Wilde must have been convinced of his success in the trial, as "[…] his conduct in the initial stages of the case supports this."[10]

Marquess Queensberry pleaded not guilty claiming that he "[had] published [the card] for the public benefit".[11] Wilde was taken into cross-examination by Edward Carson, the lawyer of Queensberry and was asked about his relations with various young men, about the love letters he had written to Bosie and about his literary work, especially with regard to the book The picture of Dorian Gray. Oscar Wilde denied to have had any 'indecent' relations with the young men mentioned and he depicted the love letters as "[…] a prose poem, [which] will shortly be published in sonnet form in a delightful magazine […]"[12]. Regarding his literary work, he insisted that art and ethics, morality in this case, should not be mingled together.[13] With his smart answers and his quick wit he had the public, who was allowed to attend the trial, on his side. Nevertheless, on the second day of the trial circumstances deteriorated for Wilde, since Carson "[…] announced that he would be calling as witnesses all of the young men cited in the plea of justification."[14]

Therefore and because of additional evidences, Wilde's lawyer advised him to withdraw from the case. Oscar Wilde followed this advice on the next day. Another reason for the withdrawal was also that Wilde did not want Lord Alfred to be called in the witness box.[15] Consequently, Marquess Queensberry was found not guilty and his lawyers "[…] handed a copy of the witnesses' statements […]"[16] to the Director of Public Prosecutions. This meant imminent danger for Oscar Wilde, as he was the accused now with charges of indecency. Friends told him to leave the country but he refused to do so and shortly afterwards Scotland Yard arrested him and put him into prison the same day.[17]

[...]


[1] Cf. Karl Beckson, The Oscar Wilde encyclopedia (New York: AMS Press, 1998), p. 380.

[2] Cf. Rupert Croft-Cooke, The Unrecorded Life of Oscar Wilde (London/NewYork: W H Allen, 1972), pp. 122 – 139.

[3] Rupert Croft-Cooke, The Unrecorded Life of Oscar Wilde, pp. 165 – 166.

[4] Rupert Croft-Cooke, The Unrecorded Life of Oscar Wilde, p. 166.

[5] Karl Beckson, The Oscar Wilde encyclopedia, p. 380.

[6] H. Montgomery Hyde, Oscar Wilde (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1975), p. 197.

[7] Cf. Rupert Croft-Cooke, The Unrecorded Life of Oscar Wilde, p. 180

[8] Rupert Croft-Cooke, The Unrecorded Life of Oscar Wilde, p. 199.

[9] Cf. Rupert Croft-Cooke, The Unrecorded Life of Oscar Wilde, p. 198.

[10] Rupert Croft-Cooke, The Unrecorded Life of Oscar Wilde, p. 200.

[11] Karl Beckson, The Oscar Wilde encyclopedia, p. 381.

[12] H. Montgomery Hyde, ed. The Trials of Oscar Wilde (London: William Hodge Ltd., 1960), p. 117.

[13] Cf. H. Montgomery Hyde, ed. The Trials of Oscar Wilde, p. 124f.

[14] Karl Beckson, The Oscar Wilde encyclopedia, p. 381.

[15] Cf. Karl Beckson, The Oscar Wilde encyclopedia, p. 382.

[16] Karl Beckson, The Oscar Wilde encyclopedia, p. 382.

[17] Cf. Karl Beckson, The Oscar Wilde encyclopedia, p. 382.

Excerpt out of 11 pages

Details

Title
The Trials of Oscar Wilde
College
University of Paderborn  (Anglistik/Amerikanistik)
Course
Late Victorian Novels
Grade
2,0
Author
Year
2008
Pages
11
Catalog Number
V154831
ISBN (eBook)
9783640675500
ISBN (Book)
9783640675289
File size
504 KB
Language
English
Tags
Trials, Oscar, Wilde
Quote paper
Birgit Wilpers (Author), 2008, The Trials of Oscar Wilde, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/154831

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