Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Strange Parallel: Libel Cost the Wildes, Father and Son, Their Greatness

    The parallel that exists between the end of Oscar Wilde’s glittering career and his father’s, William Wilde, is striking.
    Oscar Wilde brought his lover’s father, the Marquess of Queensbury, to court in a libel action in 1895. Homosexuality was illegal at the time , so Wilde was on a hiding to nothing when Queensbury brought rent boys into court to bear witness to Wilde’s homosexual  activities. The libel case was lost, and later Wilde was arrested on charges of gross indecency. He was found guilty and sentenced to two years hard labour. Released in 1897, he soon after moved to Paris where he died penniless in 1900, aged just 46 years.
   Thirty one years earlier, his remarkably gifted father, William Wilde, was also embroiled in a libel case, which led him to give up a career in which he had achieved international acclaim and a knighthood.
    A patient, Mary Travers , with whom he had been involved, later embarked on a campaign to discredit him; in a pamphlet she wrote and circulated, she characterised him as Dr Quilp, who raped his patient while she was under the influence of chloroform. When Lady Wilde complained to Travers’ father, Mary Travers brought a libel case against her. Travers won the case but was awarded damages amounting to one farthing. The financial cost to the Wildes was large, but the damage to his reputation was much more serious. The scandal was the talk of the town. He retired from his medical practice, (he was Ireland’s leading occulist),and removed himself from Dublin society to the west of Ireland.

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