Thursday 6 September 2018

Oscar Wilde, André Gide and sex with underage boys

I have a huge admiration and much affection for Oscar Wilde, but I get annoyed when he is treated as a hero because of his sex life. There is nothing remotely heroic about it. 

I asked in this blog a long time ago, in a post that gets lots of clicks, if he were a child molester. He had relations with boys under the age of 18, which was illegal in England till twenty years ago and one boy was mentioned at his trial who looked fourteen. 

I recently accidentally came across this book review from 1997, which suggests that Wilde procured young boys for Lord Alfred Douglas and Andre Gide and had relations with them himself. I quote.

''Wilde lost his virginity to Robbie Ross when the latter was a year below the current age of consent [in England in 1997] , and the boys Wilde wined and dined were frequently younger than that - as when he became involved with a 16-year-old who had been smuggled into London from Bruges to be installed in the Albermarle Hotel. According to Oscar Browning, the pederastic Victorian public-school master, "on Saturday, the boy slept with Douglas; on Sunday he slept with Oscar. On Monday he slept with a woman at Douglas's expense."
I incidentally remember a portrait of Browning hung in the Cambridge Union where I idled too much time pointlessly as an undergraduate. He was fired from Eton where he taught for being excessively friendly with the future Lord Curzon and other boys and went on to have a glittering career as a don at King's College, Cambridge.

Paedophiles (who are attracted to pre-pubescent children) are attracted to children of either sex indiscriminately, but pederasty (homosexual relations with boys who have reached puberty) is different.

In the 1970s, when homosexuality was not respectable or spoken about much, though no longer shocking, pederasty was not always considered as the horrible thing that it is. 

One example is the one man play 'Latin!' by Stephen Fry, which I saw him reprise in my first week at Cambridge in October 1980. He had performed it at the Edinburgh Festival that summer and I thought about it when I paid my first visit to the Festival this summer. 

I did not expect to quote the now disgraced and usually very irritating Johann Hari with approval, but I commend to you this article by him about 'Latin!', where the central character, Dominic Clarke, is a teacher who "carnally violates" a 13-year-old orphan, and about Alan Bennett's claim, in a play of his about Benjamin Britten, that a teacher who gropes his pupils can be the real child or true innocent.

'Dominic runs away with the 13 year old to live in Morocco. They write back to explain that there, young boys and men can live together as sexual partners. The school's pupils, en masse, demand to be allowed to live in Morocco. The plain implication is that these 13-year-olds were also longing to be abused by older men.

'I know Bennett and Fry are wrong, because when I was a teenager, I was subjected to the persistent sexual advances of an older man in a position of authority over me. I managed to escape the situation without being abused, but I know other boys did not. There can indeed be an initial element of being flattered, or even excited – but it is also married to feelings of fear and revulsion that somebody who is supposed to have offered safety is offering danger. The adolescent is not in a position to make an informed choice. It is healthy for adolescents to explore their sexualities among themselves – but when an adult intrudes into this process, it can damage their sexual development with consequences for the rest of their lives.'


  1. Something that sticks in my mind from some memoir of the period is that the parents of a boy who was interfered with by the headmaster of Harrow insisted on exposing him, despite his wife's entreaties on her knees. They ignored her, said the memoirist, 'even though she was a Stanley.' I mistakenly thought this was Browning but he wisely never married. It was Charles Vaughan.

  2. Without taking sides in this debate I just wish to correct a premise of the argument. The age of 18 is irrelevant in the Wilde case.

    First, there was NO age of consent for same sex relationships in Wilde's time: ALL sex between males of any age was illegal.

    Second the heterosexual age of consent was raised the age to 13 in Great Britain and Ireland by the Offences Against the Person Act, and ten years later the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 it was raised to 16.