Academic journal article Journal of Research in Gender Studies

Dishing the Dirt: Reading Oscar Wilde's Trial in the French Press

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Gender Studies

Dishing the Dirt: Reading Oscar Wilde's Trial in the French Press

Article excerpt

In André Gide's novel, The Immoralist, the story's protagonist, Michel, refers to an "absurd, shameful, and scandalous lawsuit [which] had given the newspapers a convenient opportunity to tarnish his name" ("un absurde, un honteux procès à scandale [qui] avait été pour les journaux une commode occasion de le salir.")1 Through the voice of Michel, Gide makes a rather thinly veiled allusion to the scandalous trial and conviction of Oscar Wilde, a writer he knew particularly well both as a writer and personally since 1891. Gide's allusion to Wilde positions the debate concerning the place of the homosexual in late 19th century society at the heart of his con- ceras. There can be no doubt that Gide's reference to an actual event in his fictional narrative must have been fueled by discussions taking place in Paris among writers and intellectuals during the time period surrounding Wilde's trial and subsequent conviction in London. Articles published in La Revue Blanche, L 'Echo de Paris, and Le Journal by some of the biggest names in French literature of the era such as Octave Mirbeau, Jean Lorrain, Paul Adam, Laurent Tailhade and Hughes Rebell, as well as a small number of influential critics including Henry Bauër, Paul Roché and Louis Lormel,2 contributed to that discussion. Using these journal articles as a historical looking glass of sorts, I propose to render a preliminary response to the trenchant opening question of The Immoralist: "How can a man like Michel serve the state?" ("En quoi Michel peut-il servir l'état ?").3 I have chosen to focus my study on the common points found throughout these articles in such a way as to reveal the framework of what was, in France, the "defense" of Oscar Wilde.4 It must be noted that this approach is altered by the fact that I have removed from my analysis the shortest articles (such as audience observation reports) that summarized Wilde's trial in a superficial, or even caricatural manner.5 We will see, however, how commentaries on what was then called "The Oscar Wilde Affair" represented for the French press an opportunity to outline, despite the deafening silence of certain important writers from the period (notably Zola), that which might have been the place of homosexuals in European society at the end of the 19th century.

The French press' reactions to the three Oscar Wilde trials followed immediately, and seem to counter ad hoc the punitive expedition in which the English justice system had engaged itself against the Irish writer. Between the months of April 1895 and July 1895, setting aside mere observation reports and other short pieces published here and there in the daily press, at least a dozen lengthy, leading articles appeared in Paris. From four of these articles, published between the 10th of April 1895 (just days after Wilde was accused and even before the opening of his trial) and the 29th of May 1895 (three days after his conviction), emerge similarities that closely fit the chronology of the facts. The authors of these four articles, namely the critics Paul Roché6 and Louis Lormel,7 and the writers Paul Adam8 and Laurent Tailhade,9 attempted to stir public opinion and to create a social uprising of sorts against the court ruling. In mid-June, three weeks after Wilde's conviction, Henry Bauër10 and Octave Mirbeau" published two other articles exposing the cruelty of the English penal system - in particular, the forced labor to which Wilde has been sentenced - and the inhuman character of his punishment; a punishment which wholly contradicted the values of progress that had been, for these writers, embodied by English democracy, at least until then.

In no place in the world, writes Mirbeau, is respect for urban social life better respected. (If) authority conceals itself, in any case it never takes the form of violence.

En aucun endroit du monde, on n 'y pratique mieux le respect de la vie urbaine. [Si I] 'autorité se dissimule ; en tout cas, elle ne se présente point sous une forme de violence (Mirbeau, 46). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.