Oscar Wilde on trial

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  • Intro

    Irish writer Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) was a Victorian celebrity, famed for his wit, his elegant appearance and his celebration of decadence. But 1895, the year of his most famous stage success, The Importance of Being Earnest, was also the year of his downfall.

     

    Although Wilde was married with two sons, he was a homosexual, something that was illegal in the UK until the 1960s. When his lover's father left Wilde a calling-card provocatively addressed to a 'posing somdomite [sic]' in February 1895, Wilde took him to court for libel. But during the case, details of Wilde's activities in the gay underworld were revealed. Within days he himself was on trial for 'indecency'. This is the front page of the Police News at the time of Wilde's trial in London's Bow Street. Wilde was found guilty and jailed for two years. The experience - described in his poem, The Ballad of Reading Gaol - broke his spirit. Wilde spent the last three years of his life wandering Europe in self-imposed exile, a shadow of his old self.

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