Anniversary Post: Oscar Wilde’s Arrest

The Picture of Oscar WildeOn this day in 1895, Oscar Wilde was arrested for the crime of sodomy. It’s an outrage, of course. Just the same, Wilde brought it on himself. The Marquess of Queensberry left a note for Wilde at his club, which read, “For Oscar Wilde, posing sodomite.” So Wilde sued him for criminal libel. Of course, Wilde was a sodomite. And the Marquess had no trouble finding male prostitutes who would testify to that fact. So Wilde lost the case.

Immediately after that, a warrant was issued for Wilde’s arrest. He went to court and lost. He was given two years in prison, although the judge believed that the acts were so vile that they deserved far more than that. After serving the full sentence, Wilde went to France, where he should have gone long before. He died about three years later, his health having certainly been compromised by his time in prison.

Pretty much everyone today sees the treatment of Wilde as ridiculous. I think it is interesting, because drug users are treated exactly the same way today. And what is the difference? In both cases it is private behavior. But things have reversed over time. In 1895, opium use was generally considered a bad habit — much like tobacco is today. But homosexuality was seen as a grave threat to society. Today it is drug use that will destroy society. There is really nothing but bigotry behind both positions.

We mark this day as the start of the persecution of Oscar Wilde. The only thing that has changed is which people the UK government persecutes.

One thought on “Anniversary Post: Oscar Wilde’s Arrest

  1. It’s a good parallel — especially because both were used to beat on poor people. Everyone on two continents knew Wilde was super-duper gay; that was his touring shtick in America. “Sodomy” was a way of life for many rich people and a feeble excuse used for cops to harass the poor; Wilde, out of pique or principle or who-knows-what, set himself in a position where the English criminal courts had to bust him.

    And today you could force Wall Street traders to pee in a cup; fewer of them would test clean than 1990s baseball players. We don’t make stockbrokers pee in a cup, because . . . well, you know why.

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