Oscar Wilde (full name Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, 1854-1900) was a celebrated Victorian era Irish author, playwright, and poet. Born in Dublin, Ireland (then under British rule), he is known for his novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray” (1890-1891), the play “The Importance of Being Earnest” (1895), and the posthumously published letter “De Profundis”.Wilde was known in fashionable London ...
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his flamboyance. In early 1895 the Marquis of Queensberry, John Douglas, visited Albemarle Club in London, of which Wilde was a member. The Marquis was denied entry to the club, but he left behind his calling card, with a handwritten note on it saying “For Oscar Wilde posing Somdomite [sic] [sodomite]”.The Marquis was apparently angry over a homosexual relationship between his son, Lord Alfred, and Wilde. Alfred was in his mid-20s at the time, while Wilde was in his early 40s. Although Wilde was married to a woman with two sons, he carried on sexual relationships with a number of young men and adolescent males. Among Wilde’s homosexual lovers were the Marquis of Queensberry’s son Lord Alfred, and the British-Canadian journalist Robert Baldwin “Robbie” Ross.In the 1890s male homosexuality was illegal in Great Britain. It had been criminalized under the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885, a package of laws pushed for by social purity activists. Besides outlawing male homosexuality, the 1885 Amendment also raised the age of consent and strengthened anti-prostitution laws.Although Wilde’s illegal homosexual behavior may have been well known in certain social circles, he did not publicly acknowledge it. So when the Marquis of Queensberry left the card calling his a ‘posing sodomite’, Wilde sued the Marquis for libel.The libel trial against the Marquis attracted lots of press attention at the time. Wilde’s action against the Marquis quickly backfired, however. The Marquis was able to produce evidence that his allegations against Wilde were factual, and that Wilde had engaged in homosexual activities were young men or adolescents on a number of occasions.As a result of this evidence, Wilde’s libel case against the Marquis was thrown out. Criminal charges were brought against Wilde for indecent acts under the 1885 law. Wilde was arrested, convicted, and imprisoned. He was sentenced to 2 years hard labor, and was sent to Pentonville and Wandsworth Prison.The harsh prison labor regime were difficult for Wilde, who was accustomed to luxury. His health declined, and he died in 1900, 3 years after his release in 1897.This newspaper article on the Wilde case appeared in 1895, and it describes the Marquis’ acquittal on libel charges, and Wilde’s subsequent arrest for indecency.Some of the press at the time celebrated Wilde’s downfall, saying that his arrest meant the “death blow” for “pestiferous poseer decadence” and had cleared the way “for increased wholesomeness in life”.