Updated: Jun 1
In this video, Patti Smith reads from Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis. De Profundis was written while Wilde was incarcerated in Reading Gaol (HM Prison Reading).
The terrible story of Oscar Wilde’s eventual imprisonment for the ‘crime’ of homosexuality has fascinated me for years. Mainly because at the core of this story is the classic tale of a person (Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas) who desires fame, hooking his claws into a person who is already famous. Bosie seems to have been the classic spoiled rich kid and a particularly loathsome one at that. The relationship between the two men seems to have been a toxic psychological brew of a controlling groupie from hell domineering an overly accommodating rich man. Added to this volatile mix was the feud with Bosie’s father (The Marquess of Queensberry). Queensberry loathed his son and despised Wilde.
However, Oscar Wilde seemed strangely oblivious to the nature of the relationship. You have to wonder why Wilde didn’t realize he’d wandered into the middle of a war zone. A war zone where the only casualty would be Wilde himself.
You also have to wonder if things would have turned out differently if Wilde hadn’t succumbed to Bosie’s demands to bring a libel charge against Queensberry. Queensberry had accused Wilde of being gay (which is a much nicer way of paraphrasing of what Queensberry really wrote). Oscar’s friends advised him not to take this course of action, clearly seeing that Wilde was being used as ammunition by Bosie. In court, Queensberry had to defend the charge by proving his allegations were true. Which he successfully did. This lead to the arrest of Wilde, two trials, and Wilde’s later imprisonment.
Bosie (of course) fled to Europe thus avoiding any direct fall out. Unsurprisingly, he became even worse in later life. He was anti-gay and anti-Jew, with a side hobby that involved accusing everyone of libel. Winston Churchill returned the favor and Bosie wound up in prison himself in 1924.
It was while in prison that Bosie views about Oscar Wilde softened a little.
As Oscar died penniless in Paris in 1900, I don’t think this was Bosie finally realizing what he’d done. It was just more narcissistic whining from a man who didn’t understand that he couldn’t behave however he wanted and get away with it. And perhaps it was Bosie's a last bid to claim some type of fame by saying he’d been friends with Oscar Wilde.