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Read online or Download De Profundis (Full PDF ebook with essay, research paper)
by Oscar Wilde


Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781518612220
Publisher:
CreateSpace Publishing
Publication date:
11/09/2015
Pages:
44
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.09(d)

Overview

 

De Profundis (Latin: "from the depths") is a letter written by Oscar Wilde during his imprisonment in Reading Gaol, to "Bosie" (Lord Alfred Douglas).During its first half Wilde recounts their previous relationship and extravagant lifestyle which eventually led to Wilde's conviction and imprisonment for gross indecency. He indicts both Lord Alfred's vanity and his own weakness in acceding to those wishes. In the second half, Wilde charts his spiritual development in prison and identification with Jesus Christ, whom he characterises as a romantic, individualist artist. The letter began "Dear Bosie" and ended "Your Affectionate Friend".Wilde wrote the letter between January and March 1897, close to the end of his imprisonment. Contact had lapsed between Douglas and Wilde and the latter had suffered from his close supervision, physical labour and emotional isolation. Nelson, the new prison governor, thought that writing might be more cathartic than prison labour. He was not allowed to send the long letter which he was allowed to write "for medicinal purposes"; each page was taken away when completed, and only at the end could he read it over and make revisions. Nelson gave the long letter to him on his release on 18 May 1897.Wilde entrusted the manuscript to the journalist Robert Ross (an ex-lover, and rival to "Bosie"). Ross published the letter in 1905, five years after Wilde's death, giving it the title "De Profundis" from Psalm 130. It was an incomplete version, excised of its autobiographical elements and references to the Queensberry family; various editions gave more text until in 1962 the complete and correct version appeared in a volume of Wilde's letters.In 1891 Wilde began an intimate friendship with Lord Alfred Douglas, a young, vain aristocrat. As the two grew closer, family and friends on both sides urged Wilde and Douglas to lessen their contact. Lord Alfred's father, the Marquess of Queensberry, often feuded with his son over the topic. Especially after the suicide death of his eldest son, the Viscount Drumlanrig, Queensberry privately accused them of improper acts and threatened to cut off Lord Alfred's allowance. When they refused, he began publicly harassing Wilde. In early 1895 Wilde had reached the height of his fame and success with his plays An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest on stage in London. When Wilde returned from holidays after the premieres, he found Queensberry's card at his club with the inscription: "For Oscar Wilde, posing somdomite [sic]".Unable to bear further insults and encouraged by Lord Alfred (who wanted to attack his father in every possible way), Wilde sued Queensberry for criminal libel. Wilde withdrew his claim as the defence began but the Judge deemed that Queensberry's accusation was justified. The Crown promptly issued a warrant for his arrest and he was charged with gross indecency with other men under the Labouchere Amendment in April 1895. The trial was the centre of public discussion as details of Wilde's consorts from the working class became known. Wilde refused to admit wrongdoing and the jury were unable to reach a verdict. At the retrial Wilde was sentenced to two years' imprisonment, to be held to hard labour.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Displays the insight, honesty, and unself-conscious style of a great writer."
—W. H. Auden

Related Subjects

  • ">English Letters
  • ">Irish Letters
  • ">Literary Fiction - Other
  • ">Poetry - General & Miscellaneous
  • ">Prisoners & Accused Persons - Biography
  • ">Prisons & Prison Life

    Read an Excerpt

    Preface by Richard Ellmann


    De Profundis is a kind of dramatic monologue, which constantly questions and takes into account the silent recipient's supposed responses. Given the place where it was written, Wilde might have been expected to confess his guilt. Instead he refuses to admit that his past conduct with young men was guilty, and declares that the laws by which he was condemned were unjust. The closest he comes to the subject of homosexuality is to say, impenitently, that what the paradox was for him in the realm of thought, sexual deviation was in the realm of conduct. More than half of De Profundis is taken up by his confession, not of his own sins, but of Bosie's. He evokes two striking images for that young man. One is his favorite passage from Agamemnon, about bringing up a lion's whelp inside one's house only to have it run amok. Aeschylus compared it to Helen, Wilde to Douglas. The other is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who have no realization of Hamlet's tragedy, being "the little cups that can hold so much and no more."

    The main theme of self-recrimination is that he did not break with Bosie. But his letter is an attempt to restore relations. And while he admits to "weakness," he explains the weakness as due to his affection, good nature, aversion to scenes, incapacity to bear resentment, and desire to keep life comely by ignoring what he considered trifles. His weakness was strength. The gods, he has discovered, make instruments to plague us out of our virtues as well as our vices.

    Wilde acknowledges that along with good qualities, he was "the spendthrift of my own genius." But he passes quickly over this defect, and thosethat attend it. Much of De Profundis is an elegy for lost greatness. As he whips his own image, he cannot withhold his admiration for what that image was. Elegy generates eulogy. He heightens the pinnacle from which he has fallen:

    I was a man who stood in symbolic relations to the art and culture of my age. I had realised this for myself at the very dawn of my manhood, and had forced my age to realise it afterwards. . . . Byron was a symbolic figure, but his relations were to the passion of his age and its weariness of passion. Mine were to something more noble, more permanent, of more vital issue, of larger scope.

    The gods had given me almost everything. I had genius, a distinguished name, high social position, brilliancy, intellectual daring: I made art a philosophy, and philosophy an art: I altered the minds of men and the colours of things: there was nothing I said or did that did not make people wonder: I took the drama, the most objective form known to art, and made it as personal a mode of expression as the lyric or the sonnet, at the same time that I widened its range and enriched its characterisation: drama, novel, poem in rhyme, poem in prose, subtle or fantastic dialogue, whatever I touched I made beautiful in a new mode of beauty: to truth itself I gave what is false no less than what is true as its rightful province, and showed that the false and the true are merely forms of intellectual existence. I treated Art as the supreme reality, and life as a mere mode of fiction: I awoke the imagination of my century so that it created myth and legend around me: I summed up all systems in a phrase, and all existence in an epigram.

    Continued...



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