Friday, May 19, 2017

Oscar Wilde, crimes, punishments, and sticky wickets

First there is this from The History Channel website:

On this day in 1897, writer Oscar Wilde is released from jail after two years of hard labor. His experiences in prison were the basis for his last work, The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898).

Wilde was born and educated in Ireland. He studied at Oxford, graduated with honors in 1878, and remained in London. He became a popular society figure valued at dinner parties for his witty remarks. Embracing the late 19th century aesthetic movement, which embraced art for art’s sake, Wilde adopted the flamboyant style of a passionate poet and self-published a volume of verse in 1881. He spent the following year in the United States lecturing on poetry and art. Wilde’s dapper wardrobe and excessive devotion to art were parodied in Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta Patience in 1882.

After returning to Britain, Wilde married and had two children. In 1888, he published a collection of fairy tales he wrote for his children. Meanwhile, he wrote reviews and became editor of Women’s World. In 1891, his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, was published. He wrote his first play, The Duchess of Padua, the same year and wrote five more before his arrest. His most successful comedies, including The Importance of Being Earnest and Lady Windermere’s Fan, are still performed today.

In 1891, the Marquess of Queensbury denounced Wilde as a homosexual. Wilde, who was involved with the marquess’ son, sued the Marquess for libel but lost the case when evidence supported the marquess’ allegations. Because homosexuality was still considered a crime in England, Wilde was arrested. Although his first trial resulted in a hung jury, a second jury sentenced him to two years of hard labor. After his release, Wilde fled to Paris and began writing again. He died of acute meningitis just three years after his release.

* * * * *

And there is this personal postscript:

I suppose different people have different points of view about Wilde, his writing, his personal life, and his criminal conviction (and imprisonment). As for myself, living much of my life in a glass house, I will not throw stones but will remain silent about Wilde's specific issues (except to sing the praises of The Importance of Being Earnest, one of my favorite stage comedies), and I leave the door open for your comments. More generally, though, I have a two-pronged question for you:

(1) To what extent if any should a government (society) criminalize personal, private behaviors? (This is a complicated question and a bit of a sticky wicket, friends.)

(2) Have you ever broken the law and escaped either discovery, prosecution, or penalties? (And there you have another sticky wicket, friends, so make sure the statute of limitations has run its course for any crime(s) you own up to here because Big Brother might be monitoring this site.)

My answers to both question might surprise you, but I wait for your answers before I even think about spilling any beans about myself.


  1. You've asked some complicated questions, indeed. Tim. The answer to Question 1 depends on what you mean by 'private' and 'personal.' If what you mean by that is sex between truly consenting adults, who are in a position to make a choice, then no. The government shouldn't interfere. But that's just my view; others may differ.

  2. Regarding question 1, I agree with Margo. As for the second, well I used to be a party animal. But not anymore.

  3. Well, Frank and Margot, I wasn't thinking only of sexual behaviors, but I agree with the trite notion that governments should stay out of bedrooms. In many ways I am a libertarian, and I think we are hamstrung by too much government and too many laws. And, Frank, In the high stakes game of risky behavior, I see your party animal days and raise you ten times more (and worse)! Many thanks to God that Big Brother was not watching me.

  4. People should be able to do anything they want, providing it doesn't injure anyone else... Of course, "who decides" is the unanswerable question that pours sugar into the gas tank of human relations... I feel the whole race lives in a fantasy world, so any engendered proposition is doomed to failure, anyhow... Such is Life in Wonderland...
    Sure, I had a wild, way too much fun youth like everyone else I know, but what do you expect, I one of those human creatures myself...
    Another engaging topic, Tim... Tx

  5. The problem with moral laws is that the United States no longer has a moral culture -- so the laws are just the arbitrary application of force. Unless we are using force to prevent someone from actually hurting someone else, we're in a moral grey to black area: coercion except in the case of active defense is an evil, I believe. Iran can have moral laws because it is overwhelmingly Muslim, and ditto for old Christian Europe...but when there are multiple faiths and creeds in contention, I don't think it is possible or fair. I think either we have to create a new moral culture, or we wait until this one dissolves completely and we are conquered by someone who imposes a culture from without. Either way, I don't think our libertine society will sustain itself for very long.

    As for laws and the breaking thereof, the best I can claim is rolling through the odd stop sign. Self-government means I'm very well behaved even though I despise outside government...

    1. Mudpuddle, Stephen, et al . . . The problems arise in the fact that laws are made by human beings; hence, laws and legal systems are inherently fallible. Of course, what's the alternative: lawlessness?