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Art for Art’s Sake: Art as Sexual Disease in the Trials of Oscar Wilde

Author(s): Rebekah M. Blankenship

Journal: Colonial Academic Alliance Undergraduate Research Journal
ISSN 2165-7076

Volume: 3;
Issue: 1;
Start page: ;
Date: 2012;
Original page

Oscar Wilde, the celebrated author of The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest, appears to be most famous for his productions at the Old Bailey in 1895. After a disastrous libel trial, Wilde suffered public humiliation as he was arrested for “gross indecency” on charges of being a sodomite. While for a Wilde biographer this is important in and of itself, I will argue that the historical moment of Wilde’s trials also lent themselves to the flourishing of the newly formed model of sexuality. In the 19th century, science had abandoned the previous idea that sexual desire was linked to the body and was now shifting towards a mental locus of sexual desire, or sexuality. Wilde embodied this rift between body and sexuality with his burly body and dandy persona. While ideas of sexuality shaped the outcome of Wilde’s own trial, the publicity of his trial also sent tidal waves out into the world authenticating and spreading sexuality in Victorian minds.
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