Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

© Jeff Matthews       entry Nov 2014


Oscar Wilde
(1854 –1900) in Naples

Oscar Wilde's brief tenure in Naples came at the end of a remarkable literary career that  produced such works as The Picture of Dorian Gray (book, 1890), The Importance of Being Earnest (play, 1895), The Ballad of Reading Gaol (poem, 1898), and countless essays and reviews on politics, art and literature. He was extraordinarily gifted and hard-working (in spite of the fact that he enjoyed posing as if he were the most indolent person in the world! -  image, right). That life came to an end as a result of his being tried and convicted on the charge of “gross indecency”—homosexuality. He spent two years in prison, being released in May of 1897. He left Britain shortly thereafter, never to return.

Strangely, he might have avoided that fate had he not instigated the whole legal battle, himself, by suing John Douglas, the Marquess of Queensberry, for criminal libel. Douglas had left a calling card, where all could see it, reading "For Oscar Wilde, posing somdomite" [sic – the marquess was better at drawing up boxing rules than spelling!]. The marquess was the father of Wilde's lover, Lord Alfred Douglas. Briefly, the defence had to show that the accusation by the marquess was, in fact, not libelous, which it did by following Wilde around and cataloging exploits. The case against the marquess was dropped, but a separate case against Wilde was then brought, resulting in conviction. Wilde was no hypocrite. When asked by the prosecution to define "the love that dare not speak its name," Wilde said  that it was “...such a great affection of an elder for a younger man as there was between David and Jonathan, such as Plato made the very basis of his philosophy, and such as you find in the sonnets of Michelangelo and Shakespeare. It is that deep spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect...”. Eloquent, yes, but hardly a defence against the charge of being a homosexual.

In September of 1897, shortly after leaving Britain, Wilde moved with Alfred Douglas to Naples, where they lived at the Villa Giudice at via Posillipo 37. Even though Wilde travelled under a pseudonym, his presence in the city was well-known.  He did nothing to hide it, either. He spent time with Douglas in one club or another where young men hung out, but also where the literati gathered, so Wilde might find translators for his works. Wilde and Douglas lived at Villa Giudice for a few months surrounded by scandal until they were separated by their respective families under various financial threats. The threats worked; Douglas was forced to return home in early December 1897. Wilde moved to a cheap hotel at via S. Lucia, 31. He tried to have some of his works produced in Naples but without success. He efforts to find translators also failed. He left Naples in February 1898 and went to Paris, where he died destitute. He is buried there; the epitaph on his tomb is taken from The Ballad of Reading Gaol:

 And alien tears will fill for him
 Pity's long-broken urn,
 For his mourners will be outcast men,
 And outcasts always mourn.


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