Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Oscar Wilde - De Profundis

Oscar Wilde's emotionally raw manuscript details the inner turmoil surrounding his relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas following his controversial arrest and conviction for gross indecency It's an honest and intimate look at the author in his most vulnerable state.
Oscar Wilde spent two years in prison from 1895 to 1897. It was during this time that he wrote a 50,000-word letter to his former lover and friend, Lord Alfred Douglas. Published under the title, De Profundis it's an exploration of Wilde and Douglas' relationship which was fueled by passion and disfunction. The writer criticizes Douglas' vanity and lack of integrity, while revealing his growth and spiritual development.
De Profundis is arguably one of Oscar Wilde's most candid works. It was greatly affected by his physical and mental isolation during confinement. Despite his conditions, Wilde managed to produce a raw and unfiltered piece about love, loss and spiritual renewal.

Comment: A classic I got when I was still at university and, after a literature class, I felt compelled to get this and read it. Well.... no further comment on why it has been in the shelf for more than two decades...

It is well known this is the letter Oscar Wilde wrote to Lord Alfred Douglas while in prison. The letter addresses many issues, about different themes, all somehow related to Wilde's feelings for being imprisoned on what he perceived as being an unfair situation and accusations by Douglas' father and which Douglas himself did nothing to stop or defend Wilde.

I have read Oscar Wilde's most famous novel, The Portrait of Dorian Gray, and loved it. I still have a book with his most famous plays as well and I had this book. Although one can say fiction and real life are different, there's also a reason why the easily recognized cliché by Wilde of "art imitating life" proves to be so contemporary now as it has always been. Oscar Wilde could not refrain from having his style, his skill, in charge of this letter.

I liked the prose here, as I had when I read his fictional work, and it is true the content is rich and evocative and all the allusions to art, to writing, to cultural aspects and more are wonderful gems which we can now think as being witty or specific in regards to how Wilde saw the world, in the same way we think of this when reading his fictional work. Oscar Wilde was writing an angry letter but this didn't stop him from using his thoughts and knowledge and skill to produce something that has lasted all this time as what we consider a classic.

However, to me now, the challenge is on how to look at this work: just a classical text with plenty of passages to be delighted with, or for what it truly is, a way to exorcise negative feelings after what the author felt was a betrayal? I don't have the knowledge to fully criticize the content as a true critic of literature would be able to do, therefore I will simply summarize my personal views on the existence of this letter and what it might have meant.

Basically, to me this felt like a very bad choice, especially if the author wanted to keep things personal. It is true we can notice Oscar Wilde was feeling vulnerable and he was depressed and this might have made him act in ways he might have not otherwise, but after what had happened, I can't help wondering why he decided to still write a letter to Lord Douglas! Hadn't similar issues of exposing his feelings before put him in the situation he was at the time, because of how public everything was and by how indiscreet they had been?

It's a silly comparison, but it reminds me of those who now complain about having their lives open to anyone with social media after they publish things themselves to start with! I mean, shouldn't clever people like Oscar Wilde certainly was - he is vain enough to claim this himself - know how society worked and what could happen? Even disregarding the rules by being famous does not mean one is free from having to follow them anyway, shouldn't he had had the intelligence to know it? I suppose love and passion cloud one's mind and notion of the world, but, please...

All this would have been moot if the letters were to be among them alone. As one intends when writing a personal letter to someone. But even admitting that Douglas was not to be trusted, as others around them might not have been, and Oscar Wilde was vulnerable and dependent on people and their actions outside the prison, should he put on paper such personal and detailed information anyway? He says so, in this same letter, how disappointed he had been when Douglas had shared things before, had allowed their letters to be known before! This had happened to him already! How blind can one be, I wonder...

Of course, it's easy to speak now, after we know what happened, but I feel Oscar Wilde is to blame for the whole debacle as well, unlike what he claims in the letter, where he only admits to have been caught in the intensity of his feelings. It is true Douglas was not a good person and he acted in juvenile and immature ways, but Wilde isn't an innocent and all this complaining feels a little like entitlement. I can understand the moment, the danger and even the fact passion clouded his mind, but despite all the excuses, I still feel the content of this letter was the proof everything could have been avoided.
Grade: 5/10

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