Oscar Wilde wrote "I don't defend my conduct, I explain it, " when he was imprisoned in Reading Gaol in 1895 for his violation of England's stringent laws against homosexuality. Wilde's nototious liaison with the Marquess of Queensberry's son, Lord Alfred Douglas ("Bosie"), had so inflamed the Marquess that he made public attacks on Wilde's character and morals. In return, Wilde sued for slader, an action which, to Wilde's bitter astonishment, led to a series of scandalous trials and convictions. From his cell in prison, Oscar Wilde wrote "De Profundis," the detailed and unsparing revelation of his love and tragedy.
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Beautiful, fascinating, poetic, and heartbreaking, Wilde becomes the “spectator of his own tragedy” in De Profundis and attempts a sort of mystical Confiteor to make sense of the suffering of his soul. When first I was put into prison some people advised me to try and forget who I was. It was ruinous advice. It is only by realizing what I am that I have found comfort of any kind. Now I am advised by others to try on my release to forget that I have ever been in a prison at all. I know that would be equally fatal. It would mean that I would be always haunted by an intolerable sense of disgrace, and that those things that are meant as much for me as for anyone else -- the beauty of the sun and moon, the pageant of the seasons, the music of daybreak and the silence of great nights, the rain falling through the leaves, or the dew creeping over the grass and making it silver -- would all be tainted for me, and lose their healing power and their power of communicating joy. To reject one's own experiences is to arrest one's own development. To deny one's own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one's own life. It is no less than a denial of the Soul." There are so many great reviews of this here on GR that I'll just add an aspect that I think hasn't been touched upon. Wilde’s meditations on his pre-prison life were colored by the reading he undertook while in prison: the Bible, Dante, Saint Augustine, and Cardinal Newman among others. However, it was still his situational antinomianism upon which he filtered his philosophy even as he found in himself parallels with the prodigal son: Of course the sinner must repent. But why? Simply because otherwise he would be unable to realize what he had done. The moment of repentance is the moment of initiation. More than that. It is the means by which one alters one's past. The Greeks thought that impossible. They often say in their gnomic aphorisms "Even the Gods cannot alter the past." Christ showed that the commonest sinner could do it. That it was the one thing he could do. Christ, had he been asked, would have said — I feel quite certain about it — that the moment the prodigal son fell on his knees and wept he really made his having wasted his substance with harlots, and then kept swine and hungered for the husks they ate, beautiful and holy incidents in his life. It is difficult for most people to grasp the idea. I dare say one has to go to prison to understand it. If so, it may be worthwhile going to prison. Wilde puts the past transgressions (despite what you/I/we see today as transgressions) of the prodigal son into the category of “beautiful and holy things” rather than the effect that later resulted from them, thus making the evil things good rather than accepting that God may bring good from evil. He’s justified his own actions as necessary for the remaking of the man he thought he was become. It is tempting to see him as a new man born from his catastrophe but the short, mostly depressed and alcohol-soaked life of poverty he lived afterward was not exemplary of someone on the road to wisdom or salvation. Instead, it seems he'd become even more mired in "the depths" from which he thought he was rising. However, that detracts nothing from him being one of the masters of the English language.
LibraryThing ReviewUser Review - LibraryThing
The end of Oscar Wilde’s life was so sad it makes me shiver to think about. The world was his oyster, and he was a highly successful playwright and wit at the height of his powers when he was convicted of “gross indecency”, and then sentenced to two years in prison. Humiliated, jeered at by crowds, not allowed to read or write for portions of his imprisonment, scrubbing floors and performing other menial tasks so ridiculously beneath such a brilliant, eloquent mind, losing his children as well as a lot of weight, suffering injuries that would later contribute to his early death, and becoming a pauper – all for essentially being gay. How appropriate to have bought this book in Dublin after seeing the Pride parade march through the streets there. Never again, and always remember. De Profundis, or, ‘From the Depths’, is a long letter Wilde was allowed to write but not send to his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, towards the end of his imprisonment. When he was released in 1897 he gave the letter to Robert Ross, instructing him to give it to Douglas, which may or may not have ever happened. Over the objections of the families on both sides, Wilde did meet Douglas again for short intervals in France and Italy, but died a few years afterwards in 1900, disgraced and impoverished. The letter was then published posthumously five years later. There is a pervasive feeling of overwhelming sadness in De Profundis, as well as Wilde’s attempts to come to terms with the absurdity and cruelty of it all. Prison was so damaging to his sensitive, artistic soul, and yet he tried to make sense of it, find meaning, and become a better person for having been there. His words flow so beautifully, and while the content at times was not all that interesting, such as the Christian themes and likening Christ to an artist, one cannot help but feel sadness for the condition he was in, and the tragedy of his life and career being cut short so senselessly. Unfortunately, while finding the first edition from 1905 was very cool, it came with a significant drawback, for when the book was first published, large portions of the letter were suppressed – in particular, Wilde’s recounting of his personal time with Douglas, and everything that led up to his arrest – and it’s worse for it, losing the ‘feel’ of a letter and the stories from his life. Gone are the passion and myriad feelings towards Douglas, who had influenced Wilde into a playboy lifestyle and then encouraged him to sue his father for libel, which of course ended in the disastrous U-turn of events and Wilde’s own arrest. It’s for this reason I knock down the review score a bit, though it may be a bit unfair, not having the full text which appeared in later editions. Quotes: On beauty: “…merely to look at the world will be always lovely. I tremble with pleasure when I think that on the very day of my leaving prison both the laburnum and the lilac will be blooming in the gardens, and that I shall see the wind stir into restless beauty the swaying gold of the one, and make the other toss the pale purple of its plumes so that all the air shall be Arabia for me.” On prison, and the charity of the poor: “The poor are wise, more charitable, more kind, more sensitive than we are. In their eyes, prison is a tragedy in a man’s life, a misfortune, a casualty, something that calls for sympathy in others. They speak of one who is in prison as of one who is ‘in trouble’ simply. It is the phrase they always use, and the expression has the perfect wisdom of love in it. With people of our own rank it is different. With us, prison makes a man a pariah. I, and such as I am, have hardly any right to air and sun. Our presence taints the pleasures of others. We are unwelcome when we reappear. To revisit the glimpses of the moon is not for us. Our very children are taken away. Those lovely links with humanity are broken. We are doomed to be solitary, while our sons still live. We are denied the one thing that might heal us and keep us, that might bring balm to the bruised...
De Profundis by Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde's moving essay on spirituality and faith from the depths of despair and degradation
www.upword.com/ wilde/ de_profundis.html
the approved fanlisting for Oscar Wilde
the approved fanlisting for Oscar Wilde. Approved by thefanlistings.org, this fanlisting for Oscar Wilde was adopted mid October 2005 from the very lovely ...
The Trials of Oscar Wilde
A site dedicated to the explication of the trials of the three trials of Oscar Wilde. Essays, transcripts, letters, images, and other materials relating to ...
www.law.umkc.edu/ faculty/ projects/ ftrials/ wilde/ wilde.htm
OSCAR WILDE : DE PROFUNDIS « eye of the cyclone
oscar wilde de profundis. “It is tragic how few people ever ‘possess their ... download, Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis. This entry was posted on October 19, ...
digitalseance.wordpress.com/ 2007/ 10/ 19/ oscar-wilde-de-profundis/
Wilde's "De Profundis."; DE PROFUNDIS. By Oscar Wilde. 12mo. Pp ...
DE PROFUNDIS. By Oscar Wilde. 12mo. Pp., 123. With portrait. Gray boards. Deckle edges. Gilt top. New York: gp Putnam's Sons. $1.25 net. 10c. postage. ...
query.nytimes.com/ gst/ abstract.html?res=F20714FC3F5E12738DDDA80894DC405B858CF1D3
The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, volume ii: De Profundis ...
If the editorial tasks that face the editor of Dorian Gray are intricate, those posed by the work commonly known as De Profundis are fearsome. ...
res.oxfordjournals.org/ cgi/ content/ full/ 57/ 228/ 130
ill-advised: BOOK: Oscar Wilde, "De Profundis"
He was also working on a literary essay, something similar to what we now usually know as De Profundis . The two texts had much in common, and the result ...
illadvised.blogspot.com/ 2005/ 09/ book-oscar-wilde-de-profundis.html
De Profundis by Oscar Wilde - Project Gutenberg
Letter written from prison. In plain text, and as a zip file
www.gutenberg.org/ etext/ 921
Oscar Wilde, De Profundis, and the rhetoric of agency | Papers on ...
Oscar Wilde, De Profundis, and the rhetoric of agency from Papers on Language and Literature in Reference provided free by Find Articles.
findarticles.com/ p/ articles/ mi_qa3708/ is_200101/ ai_n8949965
Suppressions in ‘De Profundis’
Some time ago I pointed out (what was to me a new discovery) that certain passages in the German translation of Oscar Wilde’s ‘De Profundis’ did not exist ...
www.oscholars.com/ TO/ Appendix/ Library/ BENNETT.htm