Oscar Wilde, Fox Hunting and 'Gross Indecency'

Posted by Luke on 30th Nov 2017

Oscar Wilde: the favourite partygoer who died on St Andrew's Day in 1900

Who's the larger-than-life personality we can remember on November 30th?

If you know your saints, you might be thinking St Andrew - but I'm talking about the flamboyant 19th-century figure, Oscar Wilde.

He died aged only 46, on today's date in the year 1900. He's been a source of inspiration to us, but what was Oscar Wilde famous for? Why do we want to pay tribute to him?

Wilde was a playwright, a wit, a poet, a party-goer. Also a bit of a leftie, despite his privileged upbringing.

You may know of him thanks to the brilliant one-liners and comebacks he invented, like these:

"I can resist everything except temptation."
"There is only one thing worse than being talked about - and that is not being talked about."
"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."

Don't you wish you'd come up with those first?!

Wilde grew his hair long, dressed flamboyantly and was caricatured in the press. He must have really stuck out in late 19th century London.

Stephen Fry as Oscar Wilde

Many people say that Stephen Fry looks and sounds a bit like him - Fry even took the lead role in the 1997 film 'Wilde'.

Oscar Wilde tea towel
Above: Stephen Fry - credit vpjayant

"With the abolition of private property, then, we shall have true, beautiful, healthy individualism. Nobody will waste his life in accumulating things, and the symbols for things. One will live... Most people exist, that is all."

Wilde wrote a play called The Importance of Being Earnest and a novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray which was turned into two films in 1945 and 2009.

He also wrote an essay called 'The Soul of Man Under Socialism', in which he imagined that one day technology would free up everyone to pursue their innate artistic creativity. This managed to annoy both conservatives and socialists at the time.

He was an Irish nationalist, defended American anarchists, spoke up for the poor and wrote about homosexuality.

Last year we decided to produce an anti-hunting tea towel. At first, we couldn't think of a good quotation to go with it, but then found inspiration from Wilde's biting wit:

Fox Hunting tea towel

"The English country gentleman galloping after a fox: the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable."

Let's remember that Wilde made this dig against the upper classes more than 100 years ago - when fox hunting was still very much allowed in Britain.

Oscar Wilde's Tragic Death

Unfortunately, he came to a tragic end.

He got embroiled in a disastrous libel trial against the homophobic Marquess of Queensbury, who'd called Wilde a 'somdomite' [sic]. Wilde lost the trial and went brankrupt.

Then to make matters worse, he was arrested and prosecuted for 'sodomy and acts of gross indecency'. The judge gave Wilde two years' hard labour.

Wilde's health took a plunge after his experiences in prison, and he died of meningitis, destitute and exiled after fleeing anti-gay Victorian England, at the beginning of the 20th century.

But despite being royally mistreated by the system, Wilde could always raise a smile:

"Always forgive your enemies - nothing annoys them so much."

Thanks, Oscar, for entertaining us.

Click to see the Oscar Wilde tea towel