One hundred years after his death, Oscar Wilde reigns on stage and screen. The bizarre success of Gross Indecency--a clunky, unimaginative theatrical reenactment of Wilde's "sodomy trials," portraying the complicated Wilde as a sort of wounded Felix Unger--and the forthcoming movie starring Stephen Fry attest to a sudden interest in Wilde as character. And character he was: leader of the fin-de-siècle
Aestheticist movement, flamboyant dresser, wonderfully witty talker, Wilde--a clever but never "great" playwright/novelist/poet/essayist--was essentially famous for being famous, and for being homosexual in an age during which Britain was deciding what sexual deviance meant and whether to punish it. In The Trials of Oscar Wilde: Deviance, Morality And Late Victorian Society
historian Michael S. Foldy advances a theory: Wilde, who was imprisoned for "indecent acts" with men, served as whipping-boy for larger societal anxieties over "moral health"--and as scapegoat for the crimes of Lord Rosebery, the homosexual Prime Minister. While several books already interpret Wilde's trial as a social mirror, Foldy manages to unearth interesting aspects of the case, and the Rosebery angle is intriguing. Wilde fans would do well to skip the play and check out the trial transcripts and Foldy's analysis instead.Copyright © 1996, Boston Review. All rights reserved.
-- From The Boston Review