A new documentary is set to shine the spotlight on Oscar Wilde’s predatory lust for young boys from the poorest ranks of society.
The RTÉ series, Scannal, examines the writer’s fall from grace in the greatest gay sex scandal of the 19th century.
While he is one of the most celebrated Irish writers, many experts and academics express concern about his lack of morality when it came to sex.
Professor Colbert Kearney, expert on Irish writers, said the young boys he hired as prostitutes were from the poorest section of society.
“Oscar and his friends had a predilection for young boys. These young boys were not from the upper classes. They were from the lower classes, the very poor,” said the former head of the Department of English at University College Cork.
“He actually said once that there was a special pleasure in danger. That was true but his love of danger was his undoing.”
Historian Pat Liddy said his sexual encounters with 16-year-old and 17-year-old boys were laid bare during his criminal trial for gross indecency.
Dr Noreen Doody, head of the English Department at St Patrick’s College, said the writer had even coined a phrase for his encounters with the young prostitutes:
“Wilde talks of his appetite for affairs with young male prostitutes as ‘feasting with panthers’, a wonderful phrase he used to express his dangerous desires.”
His meteoric rise to success as a literary and social figure was followed by an equally sudden fall into public disgrace, poverty and exile just 12 years after publishing his first work of fiction in 1888.
The writer first met Lord Alfred Bosie Douglas, the young Oxford undergraduate in the summer of 1891 and developed a passionate and ultimately destructive affair.
Homosexuality in the late 19th century was punishable by imprisonment but when Bosie’s father, the Marquess of Queensberry, began to publicly harass and humiliate Wilde for his homosexuality, he made the dangerous decision to sue for libel.
In suing Queensberry, Wilde was aware that he would have to defend in court his relationship with Bosie, Queensberry’s son but he is not thought to have anticipated the explosive evidence which the Marquess’s lawyers would produce about his sex life.
In the aftermath of the trial for libel, he was convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to two years in prison with hard labour.
But while Wilde died tragically in exile in Paris at age 46, his legacy flourished with his words and aphorisms gracing more greeting cards and quote books than any other author.
* Scannal: Oscar Wilde will be shown on RTÉ One tonight at 7.30pm.
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