The Trials of Oscar Wilde: Deviance, Morality, and Late-Victorian Society

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9780300071122: The Trials of Oscar Wilde: Deviance, Morality, and Late-Victorian Society

Following Oscar Wilde's 1895 trials for committing "acts of gross indecency with men," he lost his freedom, his family, his reputation, his will to create, and even his will to live. This book sets out to examine what it was about late-Victorian society that allowed this to happen, indeed needed it to happen, and what the trials tell us about the taste and morals of late-Victorian England.
Michael S. Foldy argues that the prosecution of Wilde was directly linked to many larger social, cultural, and political issues that transcended the legal and moral concerns about his homosexuality. Analyzing the trial testimony and the coverage in the press, Foldy considers the various images and metaphors used to describe the threat that Wilde posed to English society, and he investigates the social and cultural contexts that dictated how those images were perceived.
Foldy shows how the public construction of Wilde's identity as "deviant" was both informed and limited by existing heterosexist structures of repression and mechanisms of restraint and by the emergence of a new variant of homophobia. He suggests that Lord Rosebery, the prime minister of the time, may himself have been a homosexual, and that the successful prosecution of Wilde was necessary to prevent a larger and infinitely more damaging revelation. Ultimately, Foldy locates the meaning of the trials within the rhetorical context of the contemporary public debate over the "health" of England—a debate whose terms had been defined largely by moral conservatives—and demonstrates that in a nation that had many reasons to be concerned about its future, Wilde was perceived to represent a constellation of potent threats to the health of British society.

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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

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Book Description Yale University Press, New Haven, 1997. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Dust Jacket Condition: New. First Edition. Following Oscar Wilde's 1895 trial for committing "acts of gross indecency with men", he lost his freedom, family, reputation, will to create and even his will to live. This book sets out to examine what it was about late Victorian society that allowed this to happen, indeed needed it to happen, and what the trials tell us about the taste and morals of late Victorian England. Michael S. Foldy argues that the prosecution of Wilde was directly linked to many larger social, cultural and political issues that transcended the legal and moral concerns with his homosexuality. Analyzing the trial testimony and the coverage in the press, he considers the various images and metaphors used to describe the threat that Wilde posed to English society and he investigates the social and cultural contexts that dictated how those images were perceived. Foldy shows how the public construction of Wilde's identity as "deviant" was both informed and limited by existing heterosexism structures of repression and mechanisms of restraint and by the emergence of a new and modern variant of homophobia. He suggests that Lord Rosebery, the prime minister of the time, may himself have been a homosexual and that the successful prosecution of Wilde was necessary to prevent a larger and infinitely more damaging revelation. Ultimately, he locates the meaning of the trials within the rhetorical context of the contemporary public debate over the "health" of England - a debate whose terms had been defined largely by moral conservatives - and demonstrates that within a nation that had many reasons to be concerned about the future, Wilde was perceived to represent a potent constellation of threats to the health of British society. Size: 8vo - over 7¾" - 9¾" tall. Bookseller Inventory # 036948

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