The sight is one we can only imagine as no photograph exists. Oscar Wilde in prison garb, wearing a cap with a thick veil to cover his face, his body weak from malnourishment, his mind disheveled from duress.
This story begins in 1891 when Wilde, an already famous writer, falls in love with a young 21 year old Oxford undergraduate by the name of Lord Alfred Douglas, or as friends affectionately call him, “Bosie”.
Their love blossoms. They write each other letters. Wilde writes in one letter, “You are so dear, so wonderful. I think of you all day long, and miss your grace, your boyish beauty, the bright sword-play of your wit, the delicate fancy of your genius, so surprising always in its sudden swallow-flights towards north and south, towards sun and moon — and, above all, yourself.”
But then Bosie’s father, a man intolerant to homosexual relations learns of the relationship.
Bosie’s father accuses Wilde of sodomy. Wilde counters with a suit of libel. In the suit, the homosexual relations of Wilde’s life are revealed. Wilde drops the suit. But because of information that comes out, a criminal case against him begins.
The time is now May of 1895. Wilde receives a prison sentence of two years. His crime is gross indecency. That’s the technical term. His actual crime — homosexuality.
His punishment while severe is less than what the judge wants. “It is the worst case I have ever tried. In my judgement it is totally inadequate for such a case as this. The sentence of the Court is that you be imprisoned and kept to hard labor for two years,” says the judge.
Upon his release, when others recommend he forgets his time and the reasons for his imprisonment, Wilde writes that “To regret 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.”
Note: The photo is of Oscar and Bosie in 1893.