Friday, 11 July 2014

Was Oscar Wilde a child abuser?

I cannot quite understand why some people think of Oscar Wilde as a martyr. 

Certainly, what consenting adults do in bed should not be a crime. It's very difficult to understand why it ever was, though sodomy was a hanging offence in England until 1861 and decriminalising it between men in 1967 was unpopular with the general public. 

Lord Byron and his friends, homosexual or bisexual themselves, would visit convicted sodomites who awaited execution and jeer at them, according to something quoted in Byron and Greek Love: Homophobia in 19th-Century England by Louis Crompton Faber. I hope this is not true. This story made me suspect that there is a connection between homosexuality and sadism. Other evidence suggests that Byron visited the prisoners from compassion.

By the way, Muslims who formed a political party in England to make sodomy once more a capital offence were arrested by the police last year, which does not seem quite right in a democracy. They were simply proposing a change in the law. 

Oscar Wilde was a wonderful and very lovable man and one should not be self-righteous, especially about sexual sins, but nor should he be, or would he have wanted to be, admired for his tragic flaw, which led him to be unfaithful to his wife and to sleep with young prostitutes. They became rent boys because of poverty and, as I imagine happens to all prostitutes except at the expensive end, had their young lives gravely damaged. 

Wilde became a Catholic on his deathbed.

One of Wilde's rent-boys was 16 and a homosexual act with a boy under 18 was a crime until 1998 in England. On the other hand, after homosexuality was legalised in England in 1967 I don't think men were prosecuted because of 16 year-olds. But there were references at Wilde's trial to a boy who looked 14. 

The age of the boys was irrelevant in 1895 and we don't know if the boy was under 16. The chambermaid at the Savoy told Lord Queensberry's solicitors that she had seen a boy asleep in Wilde's bed aged, as far as she could tell, about fourteen, but later, in court, she said she thought the boy could have been older, could have been sixteen, eighteen or even nineteen. Who knows where the truth lies?

Had he or another prostitute been under sixteen, in our day Wilde would have been tried and convicted. The whole scandal would have been comparable to the conviction of Rolf Harris and would have been as big a scandal now as in 1895.

British society, which is obsessed by paedophilia, still has very odd double standards. If you are a famous, long dead playwright sodomising minors is alright.

Wilde's punishment (hard labour) was terribly sad, but he brought the prosecution  on himself by perjuring himself when he sued the Marquess of Queensberry for defamation after Queensberry called Wilde a 'somdomite' (sic). 

Wilde was given bail and Arthur Balfour and others gave him the opportunity to flee the country, but Wilde chose to serve his sentence. 

I feel very sorry for Wilde, who really was in that overused phrase a tragic figure, but since this, cruel and unjust as it was, was the law, there is no real reason why a man who was well connected should get off while working class men were punished. To think otherwise is outrageous.

In his biography Ellmann says this well-known picture is of Oscar Wilde in drag as Salome. It is not in fact Wilde but a mannish looking Hungarian actress who looked a lot like him.

Paedophilia is a word I dislike as it was invented by the child abusers themselves, but we are now stuck with it. Was Oscar Wilde a paedophile? No. Interference with young teenagers is not paedophilia, which means interfering with pre-pubescent children, and should not be confused with it, but is equally damaging. 

Abuse is more than a matter of the age of the victim though - the age and sex of the adult is also relevant. I do not think a girl of nineteen sleeping with a boy of fifteen child abuse. I have known two beautiful women of thirty who slept with underage boys - that was not abuse either. When middle aged men sleep with thirteen year-olds or fourteen year-olds it is abuse, even if they are rock stars and the girls are willing.

I know an Englishwoman who grew up in an orphanage. She told me that all the boys in the orphanage were buggered by social workers, but none of the girls were touched. She added that she was herself pretty and therefore knew whereof she spoke. 

Some argue that it seems child molesters are disproportionately male homosexuals - for example among Catholic priests. I can only say that I have known several women who were interfered with as young teenagers, with tragic consequences - one who was raped by her father and brother. She poignantly told me that she forgave her brother because boys can't help what they do when they read magazines, but could not forgive her father.

I remember the Comte de Tilly, in his wonderful memoirs, said that to start ones life by being raped was a very poor school for virtue, by which he meant chastity or sexual restraint. It is much worse than that, of course, and child abuse is a crime which affects the victims' children and their children and grandchildren.


  1. I think your comparison with Rolf Harris is complete bollocks, he was punished for having a consensual relationship with a youthful looking, albeit vicious, adult male. The fact that this had only been criminalized shortly beforehand makes it even sadder. Rolf Harris and Saville did all sorts of things against their victims’ will.

    Wilde had very conflicted feelings about Catholicism as about many things, and I don’t really care what kind of pseudo-conversion he may have had. But clearly this article from the Stephen Fry-hating Telegraph would please you


    1. I totally agree that there is all the difference in the world between sleeping with a child prostitute and grooming a child - or worse raping one, as Savile repeatedly did. The 14 year old boy was a rent boy before he met Wilde, one imagines.

      Still, those few people who get done in Romania for using child prostitutes get heavy sentences, at least where the children are pre-pubescent, which I imagine the boys Wilde slept with were not.

      I read someone yesterday saying the evidence against Rolf was too flimsy to convict.

    2. Here’s a not-mad-sounding telegraph reader about the conversion, in the comments section. Can’t remember what the bio actually says, but remember long passages of Wilde being terribly confused by it all.

      Allectus • 4 years ago
      "Correct me if I am wrong, but before being baptised into the Catholic Church, Wilde would have had to confess his sins and express repentance. Did the church accept homosexuality in those days or would Wilde have had to denounce most of his adult life-style just before death?"
      You are wrong. Wilde made no confession and there is little evidence that he ever repented of his "sins".
      Read the account of Wilde's death-bed conversion in the Richard Ellmann biography. By the time Robbie Ross called the priest, Wilde could no longer speak, and was only able to signal his assent by raising his arm. Ross had been reluctant to send for a priest before, despite Wilde's requests, because he believed, on the basis of their conversations on the subject, that Wilde was not sincere in his desire to embrace Catholicism. So it seems that it was only the providential loss of his powers of speech - and, of course, the desire of the Church to make a famous convert - that saved Wilde's soul ....

    3. I do not think I made myself clear above. There is a huge difference between sleeping with an under-age prostitute and raping a child but sleeping with under-age prostitutes is absolutely appalling and does incalculable harm to the child.

  2. I don’t remember any reference to a 14 year old and have always been under the impression that Wilde’s partners were consenting (young) adults. One thing that shines through Ellmann’s bio is Wilde’s generosity of spirit, which manifested itself in many ways. It’s not even in the same ballpark as Savile and having those two names anywhere near each other invites a false comparison, however much you then explain how they are different. It strays into the idiotic territory of what Charles Moore did in the Spectator not too long ago, inviting comparisons between Savile and Russell Brand and then adding in the ridiculous line “I would not dream of suggesting that Russell Brand is a sex criminal”


  3. You persuaded me to take out the attention-grabbing but cheap reference to Savile.

  4. As you glancingly acknowledge, there have always been class issues with punishment for sexual indiscretions and predatory behavior, going back to King David. And many especially otherwise conservative homosexuals have been driven to oppress their less fortunate peers as cover, or out of guilt, self-hatred, or whatever. Examples are easily found.

  5. Completely agree. A wonderful writer but it is time to make it clear that he did not go to prison because he made that speech in court.

  6. I suppose this abuse is perpetuated in our public schools. What is the mean age for sodomy at Eton for instance?

    1. I suspect that is all very out of date. Etonians go home at weekends and girls flock after them.

  7. Until he was nine, Oscar Wilde was educated at home, where a French bonne and a German governess taught him their languages. He then attended Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh. I assume he did not acquire a Paisley accent there.

  8. I read a biography of Byron a few years ago and I remember the passage describing his visits to those in prison convicted of homosexual offences. One couple Byron saw was a young army officer and a teenage soldier. Byron wrote afterwards "I didn't think the lieutenant's piece was worth going to Tyburn for." This seems incredibly callous; but on the other hand it is clear that Byron was very moved by the tragedy he saw and spoke consolingly to the victims of "justice" and gave some of them money. So I don't think it's fair to say he "jeered" at them.

    The lieutenant and his boy were both hanged. Quite frankly, if a group of Muslims or anyone else thinks that was a good thing and campaigns for a return to those laws, I'd be glad to see them arrested - bugger democracy (as it were).

    Mr Wood, you always write fascinating and thought provoking articles, but I think this one is a bit off target.

  9. You must be out of your mind to make such inferences about Oscar Wilde. There are no Irish Homosexuals never mind paedophiles, whatever they might be.
    Yours, in disgust

  10. As an Old Portoran myself I doubt he picked up a Paisley accent in the west of Ulster! But he did anglicise his accent after his first year at Oxford according to Ellman's excellent biography.

    I think referring to Wilde's buggering young men is a bit off the mark. According to Ellman, Wilde had a distaste for anal sex and may have engaged in this activity only once (with Ross). Wilde favoured 'intercrurial coition' - albeit with relatively young men. A boy who looks fourteen is not necessarily a fourteen year old boy (otherwise they would call him a fourteen year old boy).

    I have no doubt Wilde was not a paedophile or a child abuser. He may have had tendencies toward pederasty, but there is nothing to suggest anything non-consensual in anything I've read. Wilde appears to have something of a favourite client of his boys (presumably because he was gentle, generous and easily cozened) and he seems to have been perversely attracted by his own destruction.

    Wilde's personality is complex, but it appears the young men he was convicted of corrupting were more worldly than he was. This is an interesting blog. One thing that may interest you is the oblique reference Ellman makes to Roseberry's links to the Wilde affair - apparently all documentation has been lost or destroyed, but the ferocity of the drive to prosecute Wilde appears unusual. It is a mystery and we are unlikely ever to know what really happened.

    1. I was given but have not done more than dip into Ellman's book. I've read Rupert Hart-Davis's collected letters and a book on the trial by Montgomery Hyde. In some book, perhaps in Hyde, faeces on bedsheets were mentioned. I am sure there was nothing non-consensual except that under-age boys are too young to give legally valid consent. I have always wondered about Lord Rosebery. A.J. Balfour tried to tip Wilde off to flee the country - yes he was certainly self destructive and in many ways a wonderful man

  11. Jane Cotta, the chambermaid at the Savoy Hotel, told Lord Queensberry's solicitors that she had seen a boy asleep in Wilde's bed 'a common boy, rough looking', aged, as far as she could tell, about fourteen. Later in court, she thought the boy might have been sixteen, eighteen or even nineteen.

  12. All that Jimmy Savile was 'guilty' of was setting off a ridiculous witch-hunt when he had dead for a whole year. We are still in the grip of it now, but people are beginning to question the unreliability of witnesses coached by TV journalists, gullible police officers, and so-called therapists.

  13. Wilde was a pederast (homosexual ephebophile), not a pedophile. There's nothing to indicate that he ever had a sexual interest in, much less sexual relations with, pre-pubescent boys. I believe his predilection for teenage boys was influenced by his love for Ancient Greece.

    But keep in mind that by late-Victorian standards, a young boy of sixteen or seventeen years old, especially one of the working classes, would have been considered a fully emancipated adult.

    Here, Jane Cotta mistook him for the guilty person:

    "To Harris's intense surprise Wilde declared that the testimony of Jane Cotta was wrong. 'They are mistaken, Frank.', he said, 'It was not me they spoke about at the Savoy Hotel. I was never bold enough. It was Bosie Douglas.' Harris saw this as the escape route. He proposed drawing plans of the hotel rooms to demonstrate that it was Bosie whose sheets had been soiled and not Oscar’s. However, Wilde resolutely forbade him to do this: querying the evidence of the servants would expose Bosie to prosecution." -From Hyde Montgomery's biography of Wilde.

    It was Lord Alfred Douglas's bed and boy.

  14. Thank you for the suggestion about Douglas and for correcting me about the word paedophile. You are absolutely right about the latter point and I should have corrected this mistake long ago. Wilde was a pederast or homosexual ephebophile, not a pedophile. I was not aware of the distinction when I wrote this but became so long ago. There is no evidence that he had relations with a boy younger than sixteen, something that became legal in England in 2000. The law reducing the age of consent for homosexuals passed the House of Lords only after a long struggle and was only passed by invoking the 1911 Parliament Act which enabled a bill that passed the House of Commons twice to become law despite the opposition of the (still mostly hereditary) peers. How things have changed since those days.

    On the subject of pederasty this might be of interest.

  15. Why are disgusting "cougars" not considered abusers? Perhaps if these women weren't so pathetically insecure they could find consenting adults instead of taking advantage of children.

    If an adult male screwing a willing teen girl is abuse, then so is a sad woman 'seducing' a teen boy. They are not 'beautiful', they are ugly pathetic souls.

  16. He evidently had a taste for young boys, self admittedly, and no one knows with certainty what went on behind closed doors. It's not the sort of thing one parades. He's likely a pervert with an ability to write. There are plenty of those around. They're still scum. Fame and artistry are inconsequential when it pertains to these type of perpetrators--were it my child, I'd be red handed with vengeance. Who will come to their defense?

  17. What absolute tosh. You arbitrarily declare that a young woman having sex with a male minor isn't abusive. Why? Also personal anecdotes have no bearing on whether or not homosexuals are over-reprexented amongst child abusers