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Painting of two people fencing, one man is dressed as a woman

A look at diverse forms of love and desire through works in the Royal Collection

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

Poems 1881

RCIN 1084257

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Now celebrated as one of Britain’s most famous gay figures, during his life time Oscar Wilde was persecuted and imprisoned for his sexuality. Wilde had relationships with men throughout his life, most famously with Robert Ross and Lord Alfred Douglas. In a letter to Douglas, the otherwise eloquent Wilde wrote:

I have no words for how I love you.

 

Douglas’ father, the Marquess of Queensbury, was enraged by Wilde’s relationship with his son. In 1895 he left a Wilde a calling card accusing him of being a ‘sodomite’ (which he famously misspelled as ‘somdomite’). Against the advice of his friends, Wilde sued the Marquess for libel. The court found in favour of the Marquess and days later Wilde was arrested for homosexuality. Imprisoned, awaiting trial, Wilde wrote to Douglas assuring him of:

my immortal, my eternal love for you… that you love me in return will sustain me in my unhappiness and will make me capable, I hope, of bearing my grief most patiently.

 

 On May 25, 1895, Wilde was sentenced to two years’ hard labour, the maximum sentence allowable.

In 2017, Wilde received a posthumous pardon under the Alan Turing Law. The law pardoned thousands of men who had been historically convicted under anti-gay laws between 1885 and 2003. Wilde’s life and work has proved hugely influential in the LGBT+ community and beyond.

This volume of poetry by Wilde, simply entitled Poems, was printed in 1881, prior to his rise to fame. Like many authors, Wilde presented a copy to Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII). Wilde added a handwritten inscription, a letter extoling the virtues of the Aesthetic movement, and marked several poems in the index that he thought would be of particular interest to the prince.