Presenter: Prof. Douglas Kerr
Programme 60: The Trials of Oscar Wilde
In the first five years of the decade of the 1890s, Oscar Wilde was a celebrity artist who dominated the literary and cultural scene of London. In 1895, he had two smash successes playing in the fashionable West End, An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Ernest. But after a series of sensational trials that year, he was sent to prison for two years. “When the verdict was announced,” the young poet W. B. Yeats was to remember, “the harlots in the street outside danced upon the pavement.” Wilde emerged from prison a broken man, and died in poverty and shame in 1900. His downfall was not just a personal scandal and tragedy, but had a significant effect on social, cultural and sexual life, and profoundly altered the status and the style of the arts, and the public perception of the artist, in late Victorian England. The trials of Oscar Wilde were legal events with repercussions in the understanding of morality, literature, gender and sexuality, class, fashion, and of course the law itself. Oscar Wilde – gay, Irish, and an artist – ended up an outcast and pariah, after a spectacular downfall which he precipitated himself.
Discussing the trials of Oscar Wilde with Douglas Kerr are Dr Jessica Valdez, of Hong Kong University, a specialist in the literature of the Victorian age, and Dr Marco Wan, Associate Dean of Law at HKU. Dr Wan is the editor of Reading the Legal Case (Routledge 2012) and his other writings on Oscar Wilde have appeared in the Oxford Journal of Legal Studies and Law, Culture and the Humanities. Click here to listen to the programme.