OSCAR WILDE (1854 - 1900)

by Claude J. Summers

from The Gay & Lesbian Literary Heritage, ed. Claude J. Summers (New York: Henry Holt, 1995), which is the best references work on GLBT Literature. CAPITALIZED NAMES refer to related articles in the book. Definitive biography: Oscar Wilde by Richard Ellmann (1988)

WildeThe importance of Oscar Wilde resides both in his art and in his personality. He is one of the most accomplished writers of his generation, but quite apart from his actual literary achievement, he is significant as a symbolic figure who exemplified a way of being homosexual at a pivotal moment in the emergence of gay consciousness, the crucial final decade of the nineteenth century. Actually, however, Wilde's literary significance is inseparable from his function as a symbolic figure. Although he frequently asserted the impersonality of art, his own art is irreparably bound to his personality. In fact, his greatest artistic creation is the complex and contradictory persona reflected in his work and in his life. Ultimately, that persona became transfigured from a witty aesthete into a figure as poignant as it was unpredictable, Saint Oscar, the homosexual martyr.

Born to accomplished but eccentric parents in Ireland in 1854, Wilde was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and Magdalen College, Oxford, where he was almost equally influenced by the practically incompatible artistic doctrines of the moralistic John Ruskin and the epicurean WALTER PATER. Leaving Oxford in 1878, he declared prophetically, "Somehow or other I'll be famous, and if not famous, I'll be notorious." A master of drawing attention to himself, he quickly became known as the high priest of AESTHETICISM, the intimate of artists, and the companion of actresses. A superb conversationalist and a flamboyant dandy, he became a celebrity by virtue of his outrageousness as much as through his actual accomplishments.

Wilde's penchant for self-advertisement and for audacious posing ought not to obscure the seriousness behind his apparent flippancy, however. The apostle of aestheticism and decadence, the dandy addicted to gold-tipped cigarettes and exquisite objets d’arts, the social butterfly who cultivated the lords and ladies of the aristocracy, and the witty epigrammatist who delighted in deflating Victorian pomposity while celebrating the trivial at the expense of the earnest was also a penetrating social critic who defended individualism and pluralism and attacked economic and social exploitation and injustice. In The Soul of Man Under Socialism (1891), for example, he enunciated a doctrine of libertarian socialism quite at variance with his mask of frivolity. For all its utopian idealism and arch wit, the pamphlet acutely dissects the harmful effects of private property on rich and poor alike. It is also filled with subtle insights into the nature of oppression, as when it redefines selfishness in terms of authoritarian morality: "Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live. And unselfishness is letting other people's lives alone, not interfering with them." Wilde's antiauthoritarianism and his scorn for the philistinism of his late Victorian age are particularly important aspects of his persona and of his emergence as a symbolic figure, even as they are qualified by his almost equally strong need for social acceptance.

Wilde's need for social acceptance may have been a factor in his 1884 marriage to a young, somewhat conventional and naive socialite, Constance Lloyd, a union that quickly produced two sons. Although he had flirted with homosexuality for many years and had aroused the suspicions and gossip of many (and later came to regard himself as having always been homosexual), he seems to have begun the sustained practice of homosexuality in 1886, when he met a young Canadian, Robbie Ross, who was to be his lifelong and faithful friend and eventually his literary executor. In 1891, Wilde met LORD ALFRED DOUGLAS, the twenty-one-year-old son of the ninth Marquess of Queensberry, who was to hound Wilde to his spectacular fall. Douglas apparently introduced Wilde to the Victorian homosexual underground of male brothels and procurers and prostitutes who were to figure prominently in the sensational trials of 1895. Although Douglas appears to have been a thoroughly undisciplined young man, utterly unworthy of Wilde's devotion, the writer became so infatuated as to lose all sense of proportion and finally to embark on the course of action that was to culminate in his sentence to two years' penal servitude at hard labor. In hindsight, Wilde's association with Douglas seems a disaster. At the same time, however, the tumultuous affair may have inspired Wilde to some of his best work. Unquestionably, the discovery of his homosexuality liberated his art and marks a major breakthrough in his artistic maturity.

Indeed, Wilde's brief period of serious achievement, which began in 1888 with the publication of his collection of fairy tales, The Happy Prince, coincides with his period of homosexual activity. Over the next seven years, he was to produce important prose works such as The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890, 1891), The Soul of Man Under Socialism, Intentions (1891), Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories (1891), and House of Pomegranates (1891), as well as the five successful plays: Salome (1893), Lady Windermere's Fan (1892), A Woman of No lmportance (1893), An Ideal Husband (1895), and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). This brief period of genuine accomplishment ended abruptly on February 18, 1895, only four days after the triumphant opening of The Importance of Being Earnest, when the Marquess of Queensberry left a card for Wilde at his club: "To Oscar Wilde, posing somdomite [sic]." Encouraged by Douglas, who loathed his father, Wilde sued Queensberry for criminal libel: a suit that was won by the bitter and unstable Marquess and that was to culminate in Wilde's own prosecutions for "gross indecency between males."

The severity of Wilde's sentence—which contributed to his premature death in exile in Paris in 1900—and the extremity of his suffering rendered him a martyr in the struggle for homosexual emancipation. Yet Wilde is, it must be acknowledged, an unlikely martyr and an ambiguous one. His martyrdom, after all, resulted as much from his own folly as from the viciousness of his persecutors, who were not eager to prosecute him or other homosexuals of high social standing or artistic prominence. Indeed, his trials and conviction may fairly be blamed on his (and Alfred Douglas's) willed stupidity and penchant for self-dramatization, and perhaps as well on his unconscious need for exposure and punishment. The theme of martyrdom runs through much of his work, early and late, and probably reflects the strong masochistic element in his personality, even as it also mirrors his sense of alienation. Moreover, his disastrous decision to prosecute Queensberry for alleging that he posed as a sodomite was itself reactionary rather than defiant.

Even after the debacle of his libel suit against Queensberry, Wilde could have escaped his own prosecution by fleeing to the Continent, a solution tacitly suggested by the magistrate, who apparently delayed issuing the warrant for his arrest in order to permit him to go abroad. That he did not go into exile, as so many prominent Victorian homosexuals had done when faced with the prospect of scandal and prison, is a measure less of his rebelliousness than of his felt need to maintain his position in society. Even the eloquent defense in his second trial of "the Love that dare not speak its name"—"a great affection of an elder for a younger man as there was between David and Jonathan, such as PLATO made the very basis of his philosophy, and such as you will find in the sonnets of Michael Angelo and Shakespeare. . . . that deep, spiritual affection which is as pure as it is perfect"—is sharply undercut by the fact that the speech, largely untrue and certainly misleading, was designed to deny the physical expression of his homosexuality rather than to defend it. The only hero of the Wilde trials was the procurer Alfred Taylor, who loyally refused to testify against his client and consequently shared his harsh punishment.

Wilde's own folly and masochism may have brought him into the prisoner's dock at Old Bailey, but once there he was victimized by the bigotry and hypocrisy of a society that he had ridiculed and exposed and yet could never completely reject. He became the scapegoat for his society's sexual and moral insecurities. Not surprisingly, however, those insecurities were also Wilde's own, as indicated by the reticence and coyness of his depictions of homosexuality in texts such as "The Portrait of Mr. W.H." and The Picture of Dorian Gray. Although Wilde deserves enormous credit for bravery in even broaching gay themes at a time when it was dangerous to do so, his gay texts before his fall tend to be divided against themselves. Heir to a homosexual aesthetic tradition that stretches from WINCKELMANN to Pater and the center in England of fin de siecle dandyism and DECADENCE, Wilde still remains surprisingly moralistic in these works.

Wilde's homosexuality leaves its mark on most of his canon, usually expressed indirectly in the form of a recurrent interest in scandalous secrets, mysterious pasts, and divided lives, though he may have contributed to the explicitly homosexual erotic novel Teleny, or The Reverse of the Medal (1893), which was apparently written by several members of his circle. In a play like The lmportance of Being Earnest, Wilde"translates the ambivalence he felt toward his homosexuality epitomized by the very notion of "Bunburying," the need to lead a double life—into a complex parody of both himself and his society and thereby creates a masterpiece, perhaps the greatest comedy in the language. Without ever mentioning homosexuality, Wilde in Importance creates the quintessentially gay play. He turns Victorian values on their heads and discovers in the comedy of CAMP a means of covertly attacking his society's prejudices and discreetly defending his own nonconformity. The farce brilliantly depicts the liminal position that Wilde occupied in relation to his homophobic society, in it, yet not of it. Perhaps the most poignant aspect of Importance is the fact that its comedy is fueled by Wilde's desperate desire to be accepted by the very society he lampoons. In his earlier works that approach the homosexual theme more directly, however, the author's ambivalence fails to achieve resolution, and the result is a kind of imaginative paralysis: a rueful suspension between idealism and realism in "The Portrait of Mr. W.H." and a melodramatic moralism in The Picture of Dorian Gray. Only after his dizzying fall, in the painful but sly De Profundis does Wilde achieve a vision at once unified and capacious enough to contain his contradictoriness.

"The Portrait of Mr. W.H." is a work on which Wilde expended great time and effort, and it is one of the most revealing of his stories. The original version was published as an article of 12,000 words in 1889, but Wilde became more and more obsessed with the subject of SHAKESPEARE's Sonnets, and during the next four years, he revised and augmented the story, in the process more than doubling its length. The manuscript of the revised story, actually a novelette, was thought to have been lost in the chaos that accompanied the sale of Wilde's property after his arrest; many years later, it was discovered in the offices of Wilde's publisher, John Lane, and the revised version finally achieved print in 1921. On one level, the story is merely a pleasant speculation on the identity of the young man of Shakespeare's Sonnets, whom Wilde identifies as a boy actor named Willie Hughes, and a detailed interpretation of the sequence and its relationship to Shakespeare's plays. But on another level, the work is also a meditation on homosexuality and a foiled coming out story, Nabokovian in its complexity and irony.

"The Portrait of Mr. W.H." is divided into five sections, the middle three of which are devoted almost entirely to analyses of Shakespeare's poems and his relationship with the young man of the Sonnets, whereas the first and final sections are devoted to the contemporary frame story. Significantly, both the middle and the framing sections are self consciously homosexual in tone. Whereas the Shakespeare material deals specifically with the poet's attachment to a young man, Willie Hughes, who becomes the symbol of an idealized homosexuality, the framing sections are concerned with characters who are sketched in terms of an easily recognizable homosexual style-one that Wilde more than anyone else helped establish in the popular imagination. Cyril Graham, Erskine, and the unnamed narrator are effete connoisseurs who interpret high culture to the middle classes. Central to both sections is the association of homosexual Eros and creativity and the motif of an older man inspired by the beauty of a younger one.

"The Portrait of Mr. W.H." can be read as a cautious defense of homosexuality in terms very similar to the defense that Wilde would later offer for "the Love that dare not speak its name." Associating Willie Hughes with Gaveston in MARLOWE's Edward II and linking the love of the Sonnets with the neoplatonism of Ficino and MlCHELANGELO and the Hellenism of Winckelmann, the story presents homosexual passion as transcending but not denying the physical. At the same time, however, the narrator frankly acknowledges that the idealistic sixteenth-century philosophy that explains Shakespeare's attachment to Willie Hughes would be denounced as immoral and criminal in his own age. In answer to critics who see in the Sonnets "something dangerous, something unlawful even," he defiantly asserts the superiority of the soul's affections to man-made law. Most tellingly, he recognizes both peril and potential in the kind of love that Shakespeare felt for Willie Hughes: "It is no doubt true that to be filled with an absorbing passion is to surrender the security of one's lower life, and yet in such surrender there may be gain." This notion that there may be gain in embracing a higher truth than the security of everyday reality reverberates throughout the story, finally mocking the narrator himself when he rejects his own soul's truth, his homosexuality.

Perhaps even more important than its idealization and cautious defense of homosexuality is the novelette's emphasis on the continuity of homosexual feeling from the past to the present, even as that recognition culminates in an acknowledgment of the dangers of self-discovery and an awareness of gay oppression. This continuity, rather than the identity, of Mr. W.H., is the real secret of the Sonnets and the real connection between the frame-story and the critical sections. In "The Portrait of Mr. W.H.," to study the Sonnets is to recognize a personal affinity with the homoerotic passion of Shakespeare and Willie Hughes. As a result of his absorption with Shakespeare's poems, Cyril, Erskine, and the narrator each finds reflected in the Sonnets an image of his own homosexuality. More accurately, they project onto their reading of Shakespeare's sequence their own homosexual sensibilities, discovering in the text the mirror of their own desire. Thus, the search for the solution "to the greatest mystery of modern literature" finally reveals less about the Sonnets than about Cyril, Erskine, and especially the narrator.

The narrator's ultimate repudiation of the Willie Hughes hypothesis is usually regarded merely as a witty Wildean narrative twist, illustrating the paradox "that in convincing someone else of a belief you lose the belief yourself." But the narrator's repudiation is also a response to the dangers of self-discovery. More specifically, it symbolizes his sublimation of his homosexual nature, reflecting his awareness and fear of gay oppression. In "The Portrait of Mr. W.H.," Wilde enacts a parable about the difficulty of maintaining homosexual idealism in the late nineteenth century (particularly in contrast to the Renaissance, which is presented as a romantic, Hellenistic era), illustrating how the age was—in Cyril's words—"afraid to turn the key that unlocked the mystery of the poet's heart." Although implicated in Cyril's forgery and Erskine's fraud, this idealism nevertheless represents a higher truth than the security of the life of everyday consciousness. But the narrator, prizing safety above honesty, chooses to live in the mundane reality of a philistine world rather than accept his own deepest nature. Thus, "The Portrait of Mr. W.H." both defends homosexuality and regretfully—perhaps prophetically—rejects it.

"The Portrait of Mr. W.H." and Wilde's flawed yet haunting experiment in the gothic novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, share a number of similarities, including an ambivalence toward homosexuality. The similarities may be because Wilde probably revised the story at the same time as he revised the novel, which was originally published in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine in July 1890, then expanded and reissued as a book in 1891. In a real sense, however, The Picture of Dorian Gray is even more ambivalent about homosexuality than "The Portrait of Mr. W.H." Whereas the novelette depicts regretfully the failure to attempt a potentially liberating self-realization, the novel risks satirizing the very notion of self-realization by (perhaps unintentionally) equating it with mere dissipation and self-indulgence.

The novel's fascination resides in the discrepancy between its obvious moral and its contradictory tone. The moralism of the novel is apparent from its plot structure, which emphasizes the fall and punishment of a narcissistic young man who makes a Faustian bargain to preserve his youthful beauty. Wilde himself explained the story as a condemnation of excess. But such moralism is undercut by the fact that the good characters in the novel are weak and passive, whereas the corrupt ones are glamorous and strong. In addition, the ambiguous narrator makes the hedonistic doctrine enunciated by Sir Henry Wotton and embraced by Dorian Gray seductive indeed. Notwithstanding the retributive ending of the book, the Faustian dream of an escape from human limitations and moral strictures is rendered more appealingly than the superimposed morals condemning narcissism and excess. It is no wonder that in the popular imagination, the name Dorian Gray conjures not an image of evil but of supernaturally extended youth bought at the trivial price of a disfigured portrait.

Homosexuality is an important aspect of The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the novel deserves credit as a pioneering depiction of homosexual relationships in serious English fiction. But it is important to emphasize that Wilde hints at homosexuality rather than expresses it directly. Homosexual readers would certainly have responded to the book's undercurrent of gay feeling and may have found the very name "Dorian" suggestive of Greek homosexuality since it was Dorian tribesmen who allegedly introduced homosexuality into Greece. But Wilde purposely leaves the exact nature of the sins of Dorian Gray mysterious and vague; his dissipations are by no means exclusively or even primarily homosexual. More clearly homoerotic, however, is the competition of Basil Hallward and Lord Henry Wotton for the attentions of Dorian.

Wilde's attitude toward homosexuality in the novel may best be seen in his portrayal of Basil. The character most clearly defined as homosexual, Hallward is also the most morally sensitive character. He represents an idealized, platonized homosexuality, linked to a long tradition of art and philosophy. Tellingly, however, Basil's love for Dorian is presented ambiguously. On the one hand, its power is confirmed by the transformation of Basil's art that it effects. On the other hand, it is the source of guilt and fear, and the very art that it inspires is ominous, for that art culminates in the sinister portrait. By presenting the naive and unformed Dorian with an image of himself (the artist's own image of him), by awakening him to his beauty and thereby encouraging his vanity, Basil may even be said to initiate the entire tragedy. The diabolism of the painting may be dismissed as a gothic plot device, but Wilde's serious purpose in implicating Basil in the corruption of Dorian Gray is to underline the major theme of the work, the wickedness of using others. This theme is clearest in Dorian's heartless exploitation of others and in the amused, detached voyeurism of Lord Henry, but it is involved as well in Basil's reduction of Dorian to "simply a motive in art" found "in the curves of certain lines, in the loveliness and subtleties of certain colours."

If Basil is to blame for objectifying Dorian, so too is Lord Henry. Although Basil and Henry are at first glance extremely dissimilar—the one earnest and idealistic, the other cynical and disillusioned—the rivals share an artistic impulse. They both want to transform and re-present reality, a desire that may be a psychological compensation for their essential passivity. Basil's artistry finds expression in painting, Henry's in the exercise of influence. Tellingly, Henry's homoerotic attraction to Dorian is whetted voyeuristically by Basil's worship of the young man, and Henry is thereby roused from his characteristic languor to a desire to influence Dorian, a process that is itself sublimated expression of homosexuality. The worldly cynic undertakes as his goal the "making" of Dorian much as a poet or sculptor might shape a work of art.

The central irony of The Picture of Dorian Gray is that the Hellenic ideal of "the harmony of soul and body" pursued by Basil and Henry alike, and localized in their separate visions of Dorian, is not realized largely because they project onto the young man their own unbalanced and fragmentary images. Moreover, in the corrupt and materialistic world of late-nineteenth-century London, Dorian's project of self-realization amounts simply to a self-indulgence that mocks both Basil's idealism and Henry's tendentious (mis)interpretation of Pateresque epicureanism. Rather than harmonizing, in the course of the novel, Dorian's soul and body become increasingly disconnected and finally separated entirely, as symbolized in the increasing disjunction between the unaging beauty of Dorian's body and the hideous representation of his soul (that is, the picture). This irony suggests that the Faustian theme is by no means confined to the gothic diabolism of Dorian's supernatural bargain for a youthful appearance. By assuming godlike powers of creation, Basil and Henry also partake in the Faustian desire to escape human limitations.

But if Basil and Henry are finally condemned for their objectification of Dorian and for their Faustian aspirations, the romantic dream of an idealized harmony of body and soul nevertheless survives the moralistic conclusion to protest against an unsatisfactory reality and a tragic history. The Picture of Dorian Gray is a text divided against itself, but its creative tensions yield both a poignant sense of loss that the world cannot be recreated and made whole and an implied vision of a world at ease with homosexuality, a world in which sensual enjoyment has been made an element of "a new spirituality, of which a fine instinct for beauty was to be the dominant characteristic." Perhaps more responsible than any other single English work in forging the stereotypical link between art, decadence, and homosexuality, The Picture of Dorian Gray—for all its moralistic posturing—mourns the loss of a golden age and art's inability to recreate that homoerotic harmony of flesh and spirit nostalgically associated with Hellenism.

Wilde's most important and least ambivalent contribution to gay literature is the remarkable letter written in prison, De Profundis, a work that creatively transmutes the disaster of his prosecution and imprisonment into a ludic triumph. Written over a period of three months in 1897, after he had been imprisoned for some eighteen months, and addressed to Lord Alfred Douglas, De Profundis is far more than the recriminatory attack of a disenchanted lover or a self-serving, self-pitying tract. It might best be described as Wilde's attempt to create and present a complex and contradictory but nevertheless authentic self, one to displace or qualify the masks he had himself created earlier and the ugly images attributed to him in the popular press. The importance of Wilde's prison letter for gay literature is that in it the writer breaks out of the bourgeois mold he had so frequently attacked yet to which he so tenaciously clung. As a result of his imprisonment, he discovers a new freedom and emerges as Saint Oscar, the victim of gay oppression who finally triumphs over a philistine society.

The key faculty of the authentic self that Wilde creates in De Profundis is imagination. Imagination, as used in the work, is a preexistentialist term for the individual's attentiveness to received ideas and relationships; it indicates a liveliness of the spirit, an awareness of the meaning of experience, a critical alertness to the nature of one's relationships both to others and to social institutions, and a constant questioning of established social codes. In De Profundis, imagination is Wilde's means of liberating himself from his problematic relationship to society.

The most daring aspect of De Profundis is Wilde's simultaneous depictions of Christ in his image and himself in Christ's image. Christ is presented not as a supernatural being but as a fascinating artist whose power of imagination "makes him the palpitating centre of romance." The embodiment of agape, Christ understands the sufferings of others. He is also the proponent of radical individualism, and rather than consisting of moralistic prohibitions, Christ's "morality is all sympathy." Wilde also depicts Christ as an imaginative social critic, alert to the injustices of society and waging a war against social tyranny. Christ's antagonists are the philistines, who never question the dehumanizing and limiting social codes that they enforce, codes that have created a thoroughly inhumane prison system, incarcerated Wilde for his homosexuality, and robbed him of his children. The portrait of Christ as the romantic artist martyred by a philistine society functions for Wilde not merely as self-aggrandizement but also as a means of attacking the religious base of philistine morality.

In De Profundis, Wilde defends his homosexuality, or Uranianism, obliquely but strongly, and the work deserves a prominent place in the literature of homosexual apologias. Wilde's frank admission of his homosexuality as "a fact about me" translates his sexual identity into an element of the new self-knowledge he has gained in the crucible of suffering and one that he will not willingly deny or surrender. Skeptical of the medical model of homosexuality emerging in the late nineteenth century, he refers dismissively to Cesare Lomboroso, an Italian criminologist who believed homosexuality was a congenital dysfunction, to be treated in insane asylums rather than prisons. Although open to a theoretical connection between homosexuality and artistic creativity, as implied by homosexual apologists like JOHN ADDINGTON SYMONDS and EDWARD CARPENTER and endorsed in "The Portrait of Mr. W.H." and The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde observes laconically that "the pathological phenomenon in question is also found among those who have not genius." Rather than belaboring the causes of homosexuality, he is defiant of those who would condemn him. He resolutely denounces the "wrong and unjust laws" of the "wrong and unjust system" that convicted him, and confesses that "The one disgraceful, unpardonable, and to all time contemptible action of my life was my allowing myself to be forced into appealing to Society for help and protection. . . ." This new awareness of his relation to a society whose code he violated yet naively looked to for protection is an important measure of his growth in imagination as a result of his experience.

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." 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.

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 from the persecution of the mob." For he became a martyr figure, a haunting symbol of 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. (See also ENGLISH LITERATURE: NINETEENTH CENTURY.)

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