Reading Resolution: “De Profundis” by Oscar Wilde

21. A novel by a famous author, other than the one(s) they are best known for: De Profundis by Oscar Wilde

List Progress: 10/30

May we all be so lucky as to write a screed about our ex and have it preserved for all time. De Profundis is a novella-length letter that Oscar Wilde wrote while in prison, to his former lover Lord Alfred Douglas. Wilde was imprisoned on a charge of “gross indecency”, and he spends the letter both analyzing the toxic relationship with Douglas (nicknamed “Bosie”) that brought him to the depths, as well as what he has learned about himself and his faith through his two years in prison. His religious epiphanies are beautifully written, if a bit simplistic, but the relationship dramas are the reason to read De Profundis. This is airing dirty laundry at its finest, and it is entertaining in the same way that all celebrity tell-alls are, with a veneer of respectability because of its age and author.

Bosie hated his father, the Marquess of Queensberry, and his father hated him back. Disgusted with his and Wilde’s relationship, he made public declarations calling Wilde a sodomite. According to De Profundis, Bosie then goaded Wilde into a charge of libel that there was no way of winning. With the question of libel at play, the courts were then called upon to determine if there was any truth in Queensberry’s allegations, and Wilde’s life was opened wide to public scrutiny and scandal. Much of the letter has the feeling of someone draining a wound, Wilde taking a single opportunity to tell Bosie everything he needs to know about how their relationship failed. Only once the bile has been drained can Wilde begin to write about Christly love and the purifying power of suffering. It feels like what it is: a letter written gradually over a few months, an involved process of self-discovery in and of itself.

Wilde’s conclusions about Jesus are fine, if not the most riveting. He seems to commit the fallacy of thinking that since Jesus is good, and he believes romanticism, individualism, ect are good, that therefore Jesus must be a symbol of romanticism and individualism. More moving are his thoughts about the prison system and what it does to the incarcerated, in issues that are still far, far too prevalent today.

De Profundis is not essential reading by any stretch of the imagination. But for anyone interested in Oscar Wilde, queer history, or prison history, it is an interesting primary document and snapshot of a particular moment in history. And from the brain that conceived of The Picture of Dorian Gray, the text is always lovely.

Would I Recommend It: To anyone with one of the special interests above, yes. In general, not really.

(Note: For anyone interested in supporting the queer incarcerated community of today, consider becoming a free-world pen pal with the organization Black and Pink. I have been a pen pal for several years and strongly recommend it.)

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