Table of Contents
2. The Victorian Age
1. General Information
2. Sexualitiy in the Victorian Age
3. The Gay Wilde
1. Oscar Wildes Life
2. Oscar Wilde´s Sexuality and Love Life
3. The Trails
4. The Picture of Dorian Grey and the Homosexuality of Oscar Wilde
1. Overwiew: The Picture of Dorian Grey
2. Homosexuality in the Picture of Dorian Grey
“We tend to see him as a proto-modern figure who was unlucky enough to have been born in the nineteenth century, forgetting that the freedoms he enjoyed were not available to [post-] Victorian men.” (Sweet 193) This Quote is a great characterization of Oscar Wilde, especially his life in the Victorian Century. Oscar Wilde lived an exaggerated lifestyle, with which he also broke lots of taboos. One of the broken, not even taboo, even law was the fact that he had homosexual relationships with younger men. Before those relations he was married and had two children. His exaggerated and varied lifestyle, the Victorian Age and their values are marking the staring points of this paper; I will give a short overview in the following lines. Just as interesting and chequered as his life were his works. He did not write only one genre; he wrote prose, letters and lots of others. But in this paper I will have a look at his only novel: The Picture of Dorian Grey. Especially his variety within his works, the way of writing and his yeasty life contribute to the legend of Oscar Wilde. His life leads to three major points within this paper.
First, the historical time he was born and lived in: The Victorian Age. I will have a look at the Victorian Age in general and the Victorian values regarding to sexuality and homosexuality to provide the social and historical background of Oscar Wilde’s life. Secondly, his life will be presented; I will provide a short biography, after that his love life will be dealt with. And lastly the consequences, which came with his love live, especially because of the relations with young men. And as a last, how Oscar Wilde expressed his homosexuality in “The Picture of Dorian Grey”. First there will be an overview of “The Picture of Dorian Grey”. In this overview the plot and the main characters taking place in his work will be presented. And finally it will be looked at, how Oscar Wilde expressed his homosexuality in this novel. After that there will be a conclusion adding up all the important details.
All these aspects together are leading to the main research question: How was the attitude towards Wild’s Homosexuality in the Victorian Age and how did this homosexuality influence his writing in the Picture of Dorian Grey?
2. The Victorian Age
2.1. General Information
The Reign of Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901 is called the Victorian Age. During that period the people living in England found themselves at the end of the Industrial Revolution that brought wealth to the middle class. “By the nineteenth century it was clear that the feudal and agrarian order of the past had been replaced by a democratic and industrial society.”(Houghton 4). The Industrial Revolution brought the steam engine and several steam-powered machines and huge factories. These factories were built in the main cities, this lead to a growth of the cities. Furthermore the healthcare was improved and the life expectancy increased. As a result the Industrial Revolution was the reason for a huge growth of the population in this time, from 1837 to 1901 the population almost doubled. This led to a lack of jobs for the qualified and mainly unqualified workers, those who had a job lived under bad conditions with minimal wages. To nourish the family even the children had to work in factories. Despite of this surrounding the people still hat high moral and social values that will be looked at now. “ They [The Victorians] lived in a period of much higher standards of conduct – to high for human nature. As men were required to support Christianity by church attendance and active charity, and to accept the moral ideals of earnestness, enthusiasm and sexual purity, the gap between profession and practice, or between profession and the genuine character, widened to an unusual extent.” (Houghton 404f.) These high moral values had the aim to oppress the human nature and turn the human into a pure and innocent being. But the main problem is that even those high morals couldn’t oppress the human nature, as a consequence prostitution and pornography was common during that time. As a conclusion, the Victorian Age was dominated by new built infrastructure, hard labour, child labour, factories and bad living conditions on the one hand side, and high moral values, oppressing the nature of mankind, on the other hand.
2.2. Sexuality In The Victorian Age
During the Victorian Age sexuality was an absolute taboo that only existed behind closed doors. “It was the skeleton in the parental camber. No one mentioned it.” (Houghton 353) Sexuality was seen by women as a duty to reproduce and to fulfil the marital obligation towards their husband. As a result there such a thing like sexual education did not exist. All the knowledge about sex was gained in school, but not in class, in communication with other male pupils, whereas women never got such knowledge until the marriage night. “When he [the boy] reached puberty, the elders finally spoke, vaguely but pointedly, about “uncleanness” of body and mind” (Houghton 353f.) All those things contributed to the imagination of the children that sexuality is a bad and wrong behaviour. Hence the sex drive of humans was seen as an animalistic urge that has to be blacked out. As a complete opposite of this suppressed sexuality, pornography and prostitution was very common during that time. This fact shows that people can not suppress sexuality, even when this sexuality is against the law, like homosexuality. The Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 strictly prohibited homosexuality, because it was seen as wrong, disgusting and nonhuman behaviour. For not obeying the law, men had to deal with the consequences, not just the trail and the prison, even more being pictured as a disgusting criminal. In addition a man who is found guilty being a homosexual has to deal with the pressure of the law and state, but also with the pressure of the population, even more than other criminals. After being accused as a homosexual you are guided through the streets full of people, swearing at you full of disgust. This is the part where Oscar Wilde comes into play, accused for having sexual relations with other, mainly younger, men or boys he was sent to prison after three trails. In a period of time, where sexuality was a taboo, one of the greatest writers of that time was sent to prison because of his individual personality and sexuality.
3. The Gay Wilde
3.1. Oscar Wilde´s Life
Oscar Wilde was born on 16th of October 1854 in Dublin. His parents were Dublin intellectuals. His younger sister died at the age of three years, which shocked Wilde for his entire live. His father has been a well known doctor, and his mother a journalist and a poet, through both of them young Oscar Wild got early in contact with literature and the middle class. Throughout this contact he developed his critical view, which is portrayed in his works, especially in The Picture of Dorian Grey, about the middle class of that time. After his childhood Wilde went to College first the Trinity College in Dublin from 1871 until 1874, where he has been an outstanding student, as a result he won a scholarship for the Oxford College, where he was a well known for his involvement into the philosophy of aestheticism and decadence. He graduated in 1878 with a double degree in Classical Moderations and Greats. In addition to his genius, he also was an impressive appearance with his height and his unique style. After College he moved back to Dublin, where he wrote several essays. With the money he got for selling his parental home, he moved to London, where he attended several soirees. In 1881 and 1883 he travelled through the United States, where he lectured in different colleges. After his return in 1883 he married Constance Lloyd, a wealthy Englishwoman. Wilde had two sons Cyril and Vyvyan. But after a while the partnership with Constance was not exciting nor intellectual enough for Oscar Wilde, this lead to a double life of Wilde, he searched for relief, by having relationships with young men. In 1890 he had a secret homosexual relationship with his friend and editor Robert Baldwin Ross. Only one year later in 1891 Wilde met Lord Alfred Douglas, they had a almost four year lasting relation ship, but Alfred´s father found out about this relationship and accused Oscar Wilde for being a homosexual. This led to three trails and an imprisonment for Oscar Wilde. During the imprisonment from 1895- 1897 his physical condition decreased significantly and he suffered from insomnia and diarrhoea. Due to this fact he was released from hard labour and received books and writing material, during this time he wrote the letter de Profundis. After the imprisonment Wilde lived in Switzerland, Italy and France, his only notable work during that time was “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” from 1898. Wilde died on the 30th of November 1900 in Paris aged 46 years.