Oscar Wilde enjoyed the extravagant promises of the Victorian Age, capturing the imagination of London’s aesthetic elite. However, beyond the enlightened few, everything about the man provoked consternation to the prudish, hypocritical Victorians—from the green carnation in his buttonhole to his sensational novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Like his suits, Wilde, a tireless self-promoter and purveyor of the unforgettable bon mot, was exquisitely tailored. While young, he was best dressed in bold plaid, plus fours, starched shirts with high, tight collars or gabardine suits cut short above the hip. Wilde traded his own slender, youthful visage (French
pleated hair and Cupid lips) for a bloated middle age rife with extravagant capes and voluminous fur-lined coats.
In his revisionist biography of Oscar Wilde, Who Was That Man?, Neil Bartlett describes how Wilde became a huge man with a penchant for young, willowy boys. He was an intriguing mass of contradictions: The love letters he sent to his wife, Constance, are as beautiful as the letters he sent to the dark-hearted “Bosie,” his lover. The innocent stories he wrote for his beloved children were a counterpoint to the pornographic tales he created from his forays into London’s dank underworld.
The pornography attributed to Wilde in the British Library, under the pseudonym “Teleny,” reveals his sado-pedophilic fantasies. Young boys figure highly in these violent, disturbing texts. The virginal youths are deflowered by older, cruel men, their innocence torn from them.
In The Picture of Dorian Gray, it is the reworking of these same themes that lead Wilde to his pessimistic and wholly modern conclusions about our shared horror of the loss of youth and how we might reclaim it.
When casting for a perfect Dorian, I was not interested in hiring a great beauty, but rather, a young boy. After all, beauty is subjective, youth indisputable.
For the movie’s Dorian Gray, it was imperative that our actor, David Gallagher, look effortlessly chic. David is very much the stick-thin look of right now and Dior Homme (as reinvented by our costume designer, Hedi Slimane). Dressing the literary youth icon of our age was a perfect solution for us and Dior: Slimane set his homoerotic boy-man aesthetic against the new Puritanism of American mainstream culture.
It is Lord Henry Wotton who appeals to the youthful Dorian Gray and speaks for the moisturized 40-plus generation, when he says to Dorian: “I wish that I could change places with you. To get back my youth; I’d do anything in the world. You are the type that the age is searching for and is afraid that it has already found. The world has always worshipped you—and it always will.”
If Wilde’s sensational sodomy trial had happened today, would the acclaimed wit have ended up in prison? Given that we find it hard to throw celebrities in jail, perhaps not. But Wilde’s predilection for sex with underage boys? I am sure that his hard drive would have been littered with unsavory images of children.
Once in prison, Wilde was given a thin gray cotton shirt and pants. Issey Miyake—or Kim Jong Il—might have gotten a kick out of this minimal Bauhaus look, but Wilde loathed it and woefully described his prison uniform in the poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol. A couple of years later, he was dead. (“It’s either me or the wallpaper.”) But as hard as I look, I cannot discover what he was buried in. Except, of course, shame.
This article was edited by Black Book for whom the piece was originally written. It has been pointed out to me that Hedi lent us the clothes for Dorian rather than designing them for the film. I have also been asked what happened to the film. How did it do? Well, in my own estimation it did OK. It closed the London Lesbian and Gay film Festival, opened the Miami G&L film festival and opened the New York G&L film festival amongst others. It had a small life and then vanished.
10 replies on “Oscar Wilde”
I looked up “Death of Oscar Wilde” and came up with this from a BBC report on the anniversary of his death:
“Sally Brown, curator of a major exhibition of Wilde’s life at the British Library until February, said she was “not convinced at all that he died from syphilis”.
The exhibition includes a medical report from two doctors on 27 November 1900, three days before his death at the age of 46 – which diagnoses encephalitic meningitis.”
And from a website called Findadeath.com, (Warning: the info is very graphic if you go to the site.), I read that he died in Paris, was buried at Bagneux Cemetery. And then, “In 1909 his remains were moved to Pere Lachaise under Jacob Epsteins monument …, paid for by a Mrs. Carew. Robert Ross’s ashes were placed in the tomb in 1918.”
Poor man, he must have been in terrible pain at the end. Apparently, his ex-lover, Robert Ross, was with him when he died. I’d like to think that it gave him comfort. Ross must have loved him very dearly to want to be buried with him. Since they were together at the end, perhaps if Ross kept diaries or journals, he might have made mention of Wilde’s last ensemble?
You wrote “The pornography attributed to Wilde in the British Library, under the pseudonym “Teleny,” reveals his sado-pedophilic fantasies. Young boys figure highly in these violent, disturbing texts. The virginal youths are deflowered by older, cruel men, their innocence torn from them.” I keep thinking of the insight that you had during Sex Rehab where you realized that you were recreating your victimization by your step-father by choosing consenting, adult, straight identifying men as lovers. Perhaps Wilde’s pornography is a recreation of his victimization as a youth by an older cruel man?
There’s an “Unofficial Website of Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas” put up by playwright, Anthony Wynn (www.alfreddouglas.com). I was looking up Bosie’s age at the time of the trial. My God! The chalk and pastel drawing of Bosie, done in 1893 by Sir William Rothenstein, looks so much like Hurd Hatfield in the earlier version of “Dorian” that it’s eerie and unsettling. It’s almost as if Wilde took Bosie as his Dorian, Sir William Rothenstein as the painter and perhaps, himself as Lord Wotton? (I haven’t read any bio of Wilde or dissection of the play. This just struck me when I looked at the drawing. Bosie is incredibly androgyne. Really beautiful.)
According to the website, Oscar might have met Bosie as early as 1887 in Rouen. They were officially introduced in 1891 and Oscar wrote him the sonnet, “The New Remorse”. Since he was born in 1870, he would have been either 17 or 21. I found the following from “The Trials of Oscar Wilde” at http://www.trutv.com:
“A sexual morality and social improvement movement in the 1880s resulted in strong legislation against pedophilia, as well as sodomy. The Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 raised the age of consent from 13 to 16 and section 11 of the act made “gross indecencies” punishable by imprisonment as a misdemeanor. Prior to the Criminal Law Amendment Act a sexual assault against a child between 13 and 16 was not a criminal offense and Parliament had intended section 11 to apply only to pedophilia cases. Instead, conservative judges began to consider homosexual sodomy cases under the gross indecencies clause. (No lesbians were ever prosecuted because when she approved the act, Queen Victoria was said to be flabbergasted at the idea of Sapphic love.) Prosecution was still rare, however, and pursued only in the most indiscrete cases. Wilde, on the other hand, was not a man to be discrete in any activity.”
It’s scary to think that previous to the new law, the age of consent was 13. And from a “Slate” article, “The Mind-Booty Problem”:
“The original age of consent, codified in English common law and later adopted by the American colonies, ranged from 10 to 12. In 1885, Britain and the states began raising the age to 16, ostensibly to protect girls’ natural innocence. This moral idea was later bolstered by scientific reference to the onset of puberty.”
It seems that those we consider children now because of age, were not always considered so. And in the case of Oscar & Bosie, if not for the legal problem that their homosexuality posed, Bosie was legally able to consent being at least 17. And in this day and age, perhaps, society would have been kinder. At least in some areas of the country.
I would like to think that when he died, that although broken in health and financially, that Oscar was not broken or bowed in spirit. Certainly, NOT shamed. He had both, Bosie & Robert Ross at his side after all. He did not die a degenerate. He died unregenerate. And proud of it.
P.S. There are two beautiful poems on the website for Lord Alfred Douglas, “Bosie”. I think that you would quite enjoy them.
Duncan, why didn’t you write that biography of Oscar Wilde? It would have been YOUR point of view I would have read. The opportunity is waiting for you to start writing, fill your days with creativity instead of being so damn self indulgent.
You were complaining that people find there is always something to complain about(soho house blog) yeah right!!!
D I love you man, but you need a job.
haha irena, you took the words outa my mouth!
I DOOOO need a job.
In “Silverado”, Linda Hunt’s character, Stella, says that if you don’t fit the world, you make the world fit you.
CREATE your job.
Duncan…you do have a job if you would apply yourself….you are a brilliant director and writer….
….I know Duncan….easy for me to say…but you ARE a brilliant director and writer..that is a fact!
I’m sort of late to the party here. I’m a huge fan of AKA and I remember not long after seeing it, I found out you were making The Picture of Dorian Gray. I remember checking that (gorgeous) website at least once every week to find out when it would be released (either theatrically or on dvd). Eventually the website disappeared and the movie seemed to disappear, too. Has it not been picked up by a distributor anywhere? I kept looking for other region DVDs, but it just doesn’t seem to exist. Is there any way to see this? I’ll gladly buy a copy from you.
– Michael Seth
same here. i saw the trailer on utube and found it interesting that the film is not only an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, but also of Will Self’s “Dorian”. If there is any chance to get the film on dvd, please let me know:-)
All the best, Nadine