Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Importance of Being Irish Gentlemen

Source of quote.
I've been thinking about the way that Oscar Wilde's family treated him when he was going to trial. The following is an excerpt from H. Montgomery Hyde's book: Oscar Wilde.
The Marquess had hired a gang of roughs and instructed them to follow Wilde and see that he did not secure admittance to any hotel in town. [...] Towards midnight, however, they lost sight of him. At this time Wilde's mother was living with Willie in Oakley Street, Chelsea, and it was to the door of their house that Wilde at length staggered in a state of complete physical exhaustion. 'Give me shelter, Willie,' he gasped as his astonished brother opened the door. 'Let me lie on the floor, or I shall die in the streets.' With these words he collapsed across the threshold, as Willie Wilde put it, 'like a wounded stag.'
[...] The family atmosphere had the worst possible psychological effect upon him. Both his eccentric mother and his drunken brother kept telling him that he must behave like an Irish gentleman and face the music. 'This house is depressing,' he complained. 'Willie makes such a merit of giving me shelter. He means well, I suppose, but it is all dreadful.'
I feel I should make it clear that Oscar's brother, Willie, wasn't housing their mother, but their mother was housing him and his wife. It was her house.
Newman Noggs and Kate Nickleby
Charles Dickens

Franny Moyle calls Oscar's trials eerily similar to his father's own scandal years before. The scandal of Wilde's father came about as part of the fallout of a relationship with a young woman, called Mary Travers. After their relationship ended, Travers accused Sir Wilde of seducing her, then published a pamphlet that parodied Sir and Lady Wilde as Dr and Mrs Quilp. In her pamphlet, Dr Quilp raped a female patient anaesthetised under chloroform. Lady Wilde was vocal and outraged; Travers sued her for libel. The legal costs financially ruined the Wildes. The case was publicized all over Dublin and Sir Wilde was criticized for refusing to enter the witness box - an act which was criticized as ungentlemanly.

Oscar's mother obviously remembered the Travers case. Her insistence that it would be ungentlemanly for him not to turn up in court clearly echoes what happened with her husband. But Willie actively prevented Oscar from fleeing.

I'm beginning to believe that Oscar's older brother, Willie, was scarred deeply by these events. As in Edgar Allan Poe's The Telltale Heart, the things that people frequently repeat about themselves are the things that they are trying to convince themselves of; that's why one doesn't go around telling people they're not crazy! Willie oft repeated that he was an 'Irish gentleman'. Never was he more adamant that his brother was also an Irish gentleman than when Oscar was thinking of fleeing to Paris.

It was never inevitable that Oscar would be convicted in court. Everybody, including Queensberry and the judge, thought that Oscar would flee to Paris. His friends even arranged transportation for him. I believe Oscar wanted to flee to Paris and that was why his brother blackmailed him into staying. His brother could not stand the idea of history repeating itself in their family.

In Willie's mind, after all, they were Irish gentlemen.

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  1. This is a very interesting and thought-provoking post.

  2. "Sir William" - he collected mummified ibises, according to Wikipedia!

    1. He collected a lot of Egyptian "antiquities." I find the whole family so fascinating!

  3. Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker were Irish but not "Irish" Irish, if you know what I mean. The were products of the Victorian culture which permeated into Ireland from the British occupiers. They were Anglo Irish in it's essence.

  4. Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker were Irish but not "Irish" Irish, if you know what I mean. The were products of the Victorian culture which permeated into Ireland from the British occupiers. They were Anglo Irish in it's essence.

    1. Thank you for commenting! Oscar certainly shed any trace of his Irish accent as soon as he attended Oxford.

      Although the word "Irish" is in the title of this post, this post isn't about the Wildes' Irishness. In this post, I'm trying to say that their idea of what an Irish gentleman was influenced Willie Wilde psychologically and it influenced the way that the Wildes treated Oscar Wilde during his trials. Whether they had an accurate idea of what being Irish even meant is irrelevant to my point here.