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"Wilde"—A Story of Addictive Love

By Elaine Cassel

Being maligned and even prosecuted for whom and how you love has a long historical and legal tradition. One of the greatest wits and playwrights of the English literary tradition, Irish-born Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), sacrificed everything for the love of the wrong person of the wrong sex at the wrong time.

"Wilde," starring Stephen Fry and directed by Brian Gilbert, is taken from Richard Ellman’s definitive biography, Oscar Wilde (Random House, 1987). It focuses on Wilde’s tempestuous, abusive, destructive, long-time affair with Lord Alfred Douglas (played by Jude Law), the son of the Marquis of Queensbury (Tom Wilkinson).

Shortly after Wilde married, he realized that he has a strong sexual attraction for young men. But Wilde fell in love with the wrong young man when he fell for Lord Alfred, known as Bosie. For Bosie was the son of a brutal tyrannical father. In addition, the Marquis was intensely homophobic. Rather than trying to keep their affair silent, Bosie used his relationship with Wilde to get at his father, and Wilde, of course, was happy to be the center of attention—whatever its nature.

But Wilde stepped over the line when he took the Marquis’ bait (the Marquis publicly accused Wilde of committing sodomy) and sued the Marquis for libel. Not only did Wilde lose the lawsuit, but the facts that came out at the civil trial led to his criminal prosecution for sodomy. Wilde was sentenced to two years hard labor. His wife and children suffered greatly; they eventually left England to escape the intense publicity.

Were this all of the story, it would be just another saga of star-crossed lovers trapped in a social and legal setting that was to be their doom. However, this was not a pretty love affair. Bosie was a hateful, vengeful, emotionally and verbally abusive lover. Bosie mocked Wilde's age and Wilde, as a concession to his highly narcissistic lover, tolerated Bosie’s sexual encounters with younger men.

The movie depicts several important developmental and social issues that may play out in romantic relationships. Bosie abused Wilde the way his father had abused him. Wilde was so addicted to his lover that he tolerated Bosie’s abuse and acted irresponsibly in the name of love. The addiction knew no limit. Having lost all for this love—his marriage, his children, his reputation, his brilliant writing career—he was prepared to resume the relationship when he left prison because he had nothing left to lose.

Though we can only imagine how the younger Bosie will treat the aged and broken ex-con, we know that some things—including abusive relationships—rarely change. The movie leaves us pondering the sad fact that even the most brilliant and talented among us can be helplessly ruined by destructive emotions.

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