The 1966 novel In Cold Blood: A true account of a multiple murder and its consequences by Truman Capote.
The 2005 film Capote directed by Bennett Miller and starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman in the title role.
The 2011 collection of critical essays Truman Capote and the Legacy of In Cold Blood by Ralph F. Voss.
The 1967 film In Cold Blood directed by Richard Brooks and starring Robert Blake as Perry Smith and Scott Wilson as Dick Hickcock.
In this episode, we touch on some aspects of the real events surrounding the murder of a ‘nice family’ from Kansas by two complex and dangerous men who have been recently paroled and believed that the father, Herb Clutter, kept a large amount of cash in a safe in the home. No such safe existed. We don’t go into great detail so if you are looking for a more comprehensive look into the murders of the Clutter’s I would suggest the In Sight Podcast episode on the case.
In Cold Blood was the last book ever written by Truman Capote and was first published in 1965 as a four-part series for the New Yorker and was published as a novel in 1966. Capote was an acclaimed writer of fiction and perhaps his most famous book after In Cold Blood was Breakfast at Tiffany’s. He was controversial largely due to his flamboyant self promotion and the brutal confronting honesty of his prose. Truman Capote promoted the book as an entirely new genre of book, the “literary non-fiction” novel. But it didn’t come out of nowhere, these things seldom do, historical fiction and non-fiction accounts that embellish and twist the truth to suit the author’s needs have existed for centuries. He claimed that In Cold Blood was an accurate account based on years of correspondence and investigation into the horrific murders of the Clutter family and Capote certainly spent an enormous amount of time researching and interviewing those involved. The issue that many critics have with the book is Capote’s embellishment and manipulation of the truth, often including scenes and quotes in the novel that never happened. Another contentious issue was Capote’s obvious attachment to one of the convicted men, Perry Smith and his story was given primacy when many thought that the book should have focused more on the victims and the impact the crimes had on others.
The efficacy of the creation of In Cold Blood and the scandal that surrounds it is almost as interesting, if not more so than the book itself as evidenced by films like Capote and the critical work of Voss. After the film adaptation of Breakfast at Tiffany’s Capote was determined to exercise more creative control over the film of In Cold Blood and the director Richard Brooks worked with him to create a beautifully shot if the somewhat narratively choppy film that they were both happy with.
Brooks, Richard, 1912- & Blake, Robert, 1933- & Wilson, Scott, 1942- & Capote, Truman, 1924-. In cold blood & Columbia Pictures et al. 2003, Truman Capote’s In cold blood, Widescreen ed, Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, Culver City, CA
Capote, Truman 2000, In cold blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences, Penguin, London.
Miller, Bennett, (film director.) & Baron, Caroline, (film producer.) & Vince, William, (film producer.) & Ohoven, Michael, (film producer.) & Futterman, Dan, 1967-, (screenwriter.) et al. 2006, Capote, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Culver City, California
Voss, Ralph F & ProQuest (Firm) 2011, Truman Capote and the legacy of In cold blood, University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.
It’s 2pm Australian Eastern Daylight savings time on the 27th of October 2018 which means The Frankenpod season two starts in just four days on the 31st of October!
Not really intentional it just seemed as good a time as any.
We have some amazing episodes coming with Melissa of The Brook Reading podcast on a particularly divisive and controversial book and I don my tinfoil hat with the ladies of Wives Tales to talk about a cinematic adaptation of one of the most popular conspiracies based novels of the 20th Century.
But for the first episode of season two Brent and I tackle a little true crime by examining a masterpiece of “literary non-fiction”, some of the controversies surrounding it and it’s cinematic adaptations.
We’ve recorded a short promo just to keep everyone in the loop and you can find the initial relaunch blog post here.
This season we will be featuring creepy stories submitted by listeners and some classic gothic short stories you may not have heard before. It doesn’t have to be frightening, it doesn’t have to be dramatic, just a little something that can be read in 5 minutes. If you like you can send it to us as the text for us to read or you can read it yourself and send us an audio file. If writing isn’t your thing we are also happy to accept music.
Make sure you let us know if you want us to promote your project, podcast, writing or anything. It is literally the least we could do.
If you want to come on the podcast and have a chat about your favourite gothic book, movie, television show, graphic novel, poem, character or author you can email us at email@example.com.
Image: A digitized image of the original painting American Gothic that Grant Wood, a master artist of the twentieth century, created in 1930 and sold to the Art Institute of Chicago in November of the same year.
This episode I’m joined by Meg from the fabulous pop-culture podcast Indoorswomen. We talked about the 2014 vampire spoof What we do in the Shadows. I love this movie and Meg took part in the Kickstarter to get a US theatrical release of this distinctly New Zealand gothic parody. We completely spoil this movie so if you haven’t seen it before and you plan on watching it, watch it before you listen.
For this episode, I talked to Erin who is the host of SubverCity Transmit and voice actor on No Sleep Podcast and Congeria Podcast. She also runs an awesome, spooky online store called Never Not Clever. So I’m incredibly grateful to Erin for making the time to talk to us.
The film we are chatting about is Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) also known as Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula. Erin knows so much more about the movie than I could possibly hope to learn and among the many insights she has to give, she touches on the influence of Winona Ryder in the production, the Academy Award-winning costume design by Eiko Ishioka and the very deliberately rudimentary special effect that can be such an obstacle to new audiences discovering and engaging with the film.
Other subjects we touched upon include:
Lord Byron, because he always pops up
The Symbolist Movement
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
The 1991 movie Hook
and armadillos… because I just cannot get over this
Died aged 25 on the 24th of August, 1821, in London
Polidori wrote his thesis on sleepwalking during his time studying at the University of Edinburgh (name-checked more than once in our Body Snatchers episode with Courtney from Cult of Domesticity). He became a qualified doctor of medicine at the age of 19.
Sleep-walking plays a role in 19th and 20th-century vampire mythology, but this isn’t attributed to Polidori. Dracula, Carmilla and Varney all use sleepwalking as a kind of hypnotic state induced by the Count.
The young doctor was employed by on Lord George Gordon Byron, to accompany him while he was on his Grand Tour of Europe which would eventually lead them to The Villa Diodati, we’ve covered that here, so I’m going to go ahead and skip this bit. Except I better mention that Polidori was paid 500 pounds to keep a diary of the exploits of the “rockstar” poet by publisher John Murray.
The Fragment Debacle
Byron wrote a Fragment as part of the infamous ghost story challenge, Mary started Frankenstein and both Percy and Polidori started stories that they gave up on soon after. But when Byron discarded the fragment, Polidori used it as a springboard for his novel The Vampyre. Utilizing aspects of the fragment such as the character Arthur Darvill he created a full narrative, a far cry from the discarded document. Polidori took that fragment and turned it into what is believed to be the first vampire story written and published in English. The Vampyre was published a magazine without his permission (CORRECTION ALERT: I stated he gave permission in the Villa Diodati episode but that doesn’t seem to be true) and attributed it to Byron. I’m not sure how The New Monthly Magazine got hold of the manuscript but publishers had heard of this lost fragment of Byron’s and seem to have presumed that The Vampyre was it.
Byron and Polidori both printed corrections but the damage was done, particularly to Polidori’s psyche. He had tried to appeal to Percy and Byron to help him with his writing career and Byron annihilated him. The once The Vampyre was no longer attributed to Byron the public and critical reception turned bad. People no longer wanted to read it and actively condemned it.
Embarrassed and depressed he tried to enter the monastery and become a monk but that didn’t work out, then he tried to study law, but that didn’t work out either. He began to accumulate gambling debts and eventually felt so hopeless that he drank prussic acid and died aged 25.
His some of his published works were his thesis, The Vampyre (attributed to Byron), a poem The Fall of Angels (published anonymously in 1921) and his diary which would only be released in edited form in 1911 by his nephew.
Mary Shelley disagrees Polidori’s actions at the Villa Diodati. In her 1831 introduction to a reprint of Frankenstein she says that it was a conversation between Byron and Shelley:
“Many and long were the conversations between Lord Byron and Shelley, to which I was a devout but nearly silent listener. During one of these, various philosophical doctrines were discussed, and among others the nature of the principle of life”
The conversation between Shelley and Polidori about “principles”and “whether man was to be thought merely an instrument” appears to have some considerable analogy with a conversation to which Mary Shelley and Professor Dowden refer, and which raised in her mind a train of thought conducing to her invention of Frankenstein and his Man-monster. Mary, however, speaks of Byron (not Polidori) as the person who conversed with Shelley on that occasion. Professor Dowden, paraphrasing some remarks made by Mary, says: “One night she sat listening to a conversation between the two poets at Diodati. What was the nature, they questioned, of the principle of life? Would it ever be discovered, and the power of communicating life be acquired? Perhaps a corpse would be reanimated; galvanism had given token of such things. That night Mary lay sleepless,” etc.
-William Rossetti 1911
He must have really upset her, possibly when he propositioned her while she was on holiday with her boyfriend and her small child? That could do it!
Or alternately was Polidori misattributing Byron’s conversation to himself?
She also mentions Byron’s Fragment without making so much as a mention of The Vampyre, simply judging Polidori for his abandoned attempt at the lakeside Villa that night. Shelley does not owe Polidori any charity, but it is curious how willfully she avoids attributing him with even the slightest value.
Polidori, continued to be a footnote in literary and cultural history as his nieces and nephews would go on to be much more critically acclaimed; Dante (poet and artist), Willian (writer), Maria (writer) and Christina Rossetti (Poet; My essay on Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market) Polidori never met them, he died before they were born.
“But in our family, if you cannot write an epic or novel, that by its originality knocks all other novels on the head, you are a despicable creature, not worth acknowledging”
Claire Clairmont to Jane Williams
Claire was born Clara, was nicknamed Jane as a child, and then adopted Claire in her teenage years. She was a wild teenager, and it sounds like she would have been a lot of fun until she got bogged down by Byron and all his drama.
It is quite possible she had some kind of affair with Percy Bysshe Shelley who was married to Harriet and already having an affair with Mary. Some of his poems are thought to be about her and their affair may have resulted in a baby called Elena. A baby by that name was registered as being born to Shelley and “Maria” but Mary could not have been the mother. If Claire was the mother she went up Mount Vesuvius just before she gave birth which is a weird call.
Whoever Elena was, she had a short life in foster care and died age one.
This brings us to Byron.
See Villa Diodati for more details on that mess. After her affair with Byron, she realized she was pregnant with his child. She wrote lengthy letters to the poet beseeching him to help her, financially and emotionally. But we’ve discussed how awful Byron was so you can probably guess how that went.
She had a daughter Allegra with no support whatsoever from Byron. Then in an effort to provide the best possible opportunities for her daughter, she sent Allegra to him in Italy.
I get it, a single mother, in Regency England, she didn’t have many options. She also had no way of knowing how little the poet would have to do with little Allegra once she arrived in Italy. Allegra was placed in a convent, alone. Byron never visited her.
Claire was furious! Byron had promised her that Allegra would at least be able to see him, not directly under his care, but at least in his house. Byron was unresponsive to her letters and requests to get Allegra back. So she formed a cunning plan.
The Kidnap Plot
Claire was intensely unhappy and worried about her daughter’s wellbeing in the convent. Her living conditions were unknown to Claire, but she did not hold out much hope for the suitability and safety of her accommodations. She was just a little kid, and if her father was going to neglect her she should be with her mother. Claire began to plan to get her daughter back. She tried to convince Percy Bysshe Shelley to forge a letter from Byron allowing Claire to remove Allegra from the convent. But before she could put her plan into action little Allegra died of typhus or a malarial like fever aged just 5. The only person to visit Allegra during her time in the Italian convent was Percy. Claire blamed Byron, understandably so, and ferociously hated the poet beyond his death saying that he had ‘given her only a few minutes of pleasure but a lifetime of trouble’.
After Allegra, then Shelley’s death, Claire’s desire in life seemed to be finding some semblance of peace and normalcy. It seems a though the rollercoaster of Claire’s early adult years had quenched whatever desire for turbulent romantic entanglements she had had. She spent time as a music teacher, a governess and a few other respectable and consistent jobs. She kept in touch with her stepsister Mary, and while their old rivalry and competitiveness occasionally caused a ripple, they stayed in correspondence until Mary’s death. Mary for her part said that she thought that is was impossible that Percy and Claire had a physical relationship. No matter what the truth is in regard to the nature of their relationship, it is clear they cared a great deal for each other.
Claire never married, an unusual choice at the time, but when taken in the context of what she endured at the hands of Lord Byron, it is not surprising. She had her fair share of suitors, including Trelawny who was part of the Shelley circle towards the end of Shelley and Byron’s lives. But Claire was fine without the drama.
She outlived all of her companions who were there at the Villa Diodati on the fateful night of the ghost story challenge. I find Claire the most relatable out of the bunch. Her life didn’t go exactly how she planned and she was not some inaccessible gothic romantic heroine.
When I was little I thought Igor came from the story of Frankenstein.
When I was a teenager I thought they created Igor for the film.
Now that I’m an adult I have no goddamn idea. The “Igor” of the 1931 Frankenstein… was not called Igor, his name was Fritz. So where did this rambling, pivotal, yet utterly disposable character come from? Is he really a 20th century Universal Studios creation or is there something more to this embodiment of the strange, the gatekeeper to monstrosity and unnerving manservant that we call “Igor”.
Its an iconic image, the obsessed mad scientist connecting the wires to his creature and the machinery that presumably has something to do with the whole process. He might cackle, he might yell to the heavens, he might even wear steampunk goggles. But in this equation of the isolated man and his dangerous obsession, there is often a third party, someone to flick the switch. Enter Igor.
His character generally fills at least one of these three roles:
The other that acts as a buffer between the doctor and his creation, such as in the 1931 brain mix up, we can blame almost anything on Fritz in his role as the assistant.
The humanity to the Doctor’s crazed monstrous mania. He is in on the project, and tries to stop the Doctor or appeal to his better nature, in vain.
A human exposition facilitator. In the novel of Frankenstein which features no assistant, the primary story telling of the creation process occurs over a large passage of time and through Victor’s narration. So without an overarching voice narration, an assistant can ask the questions that will allow the Doctor to fill the audience in on what is happening.
Presumption; Or the Fate of Frankenstein (1823)
Richard Brinsley Peake’s stage adaptation would set up some the more outlandish and comedic elements of the modern Frankenstein myth. In this play Victor’s friend Henry Clerval from the novel and the new character invented for the play, Fritz, assist him in his experiments. This allows for a broad distribution of blame for the subsequent events rather than all the responsibility lying at the feet of Doctor Frankenstein. Fritz also functions as an audience surrogate or even narrator in many parts.
Fritz (Dwight Frye) is definitely a scapegoat and entirely expendable. The criminal brain mix up is a game changer, it takes the blame away from Frankenstein, and places the emphasis on nature rather than nurture. He is a low stakes victim and by virtue of his cruelty towards the Creature and unfortunately due to his appearance. The ablist judgements at play in portrayal of Fritz and his successors give the audience an excuse to dislike the assistant right from the outset, which I think we can all agree is an issue and deeply problematic.
Son of Frankenstein (1939)
We are introduced to Bela Lugosi’s Ygor. Ygor also has a physical impairment which was the result of an attempt to hang him for grave robbing. The former blacksmith can control the “Monster” making him a formidable opponent for Frankenstein’s son. The cultural othering of Ygor or the assistant as being a different nationality and therefore strange.
Young Frankenstein (1974)
This time played by Marty Feldman, and named Igor, this comedy portrayal of the assistant would shape our understanding of the character forever. His exaggerated and unnerving appearance combined with Feldman’s incomparable and unsettling performance has buried the “Igor” deep into our collective cultural understanding of the Frankenstein myth.
We will be watching Victor Frankenstein soon. I’m excited to see how Daniel Radcliffe deals with the somewhat intangible legacy of Igor.
Our featured podcast promo is 33% Pulp and they have a Flash fiction competition running at the moment, so go enter that!
Oscar Wilde is one of the greatest literary icons, from his poetry to his plays, his essays to his novels and everything in between. Oscar Wilde oozes charisma and charm, he delights and entertains, but just below the surface, there is a deep sadness and sorrow.
His life has been documented in great detail and I will not be able to go into his life in the depths that many others have. Similar to my summary of Mary Shelley’s life it will be an overview of his life and the impact of his works rather than a deep dive.
Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born on the 16th October 1854 in Dublin. Similar to Shelley he grew up around theorists, academics and writers. His mother, Jane Wilde, was an Irish patriot and his father, William Wilde was an esteemed surgeon with at best a scandalous and at worst a darkly criminal sexual past. During his Dublin and Oxford years, he became a classicist of some note and was there at the beginning of the popularisation of aestheticism lead by Walter Paton and John Ruskin. There is a lot to unpack when talking about the emergence of the philosophy of aestheticism so I won’t go into that.
Wilde is perceived to be part of the transition between Romanticism and Modernism.
Wilde is modern in the sense that he breaks apart the Victorian and Romantic idealism using wit and witticism. Like Mary Shelley, Wilde stitches together bits of preceding literature, mythology and academic theory and fashions these disparate parts into something that is at once new exciting and familiar on a deep subconscious level. His work deals in Doppelgangers and duality, both in style and in the characters he creates.
The guiding principle of the aestheticism that Wilde would be renowned for is Art for Art’s sake which was proposed by Gautier. This ideology allowed Wilde to interact with the budding consumerism of the late Victorian period effectively gaining sponsorship for wearing the bohemian he was renowned for. As his plays Salome, Lady Windermere’s Fan, An Ideal Husband and the Importance of Being Earnest became both popular and critically acclaimed he achieved a celebrity status which would be a key factor in his devastating fall from grace.
Wilde had quite a number of girlfriend’s before he married Constance Lloyd, they had two children together and Wilde is commonly thought to have been a devoted father, and potentially even a good husband. He was a poet, essayist, novelist and playwright, he also held a position as editor of Lady’s World during which he strongly advocated for dress reform. It cannot be emphasized how key dress reform was in the early days of feminism. It allowed women to forgo the corsets and prohibitive crinoline hoops for clothing that allowed them to move freely and didn’t cause the dramatic health issues of the earlier period of Victorian dress. Whilst it is thought he only took the position as a means of regular income as freelance writing was not covering Wilde’s somewhat lavish lifestyle, he certainly was a force for good and progressive voice advocating for female independence. I’ve written a little about the dress reform movement before so here’s the link to that.
There was a sort of Social doubling happening in the England into which Wilde released The Picture of Dorian Gray published in 1890. Being openly gay was not considered as immoral as we might think, looking back on the repression of the Victorian era. Oscar Wilde was among the men who maintained a heteronormative family life whilst also engaging in homosexual relationships that were not so much hidden as relatively unspoken of outside of those social spheres. But the tides were changing and a law had been passed that would allow gay men to prosecuted under gross indecency laws. These laws weren’t really taken very seriously but all that was about to change.
It was during this time that our Protagonist met Lord Alfred Bosie who regularly frequented sex workers and brought out a particularly indulgent and decadent side in Wilde.
It was Bosie’s father who sent the inflammatory and misspelt note to Wilde saying that he was “posing as a somdomite” yes… somdomite. Which was the genesis of what was to be an almost complete social rejection of Wilde.
Wilde, encouraged by Bosie, sued Bosie’s father the hyper-masculine Marquess of Queensbury for liable. This move backfired dramatically with the suit for liable being dismissed and Wilde was arrested for gross indecency.
Here is a passage describing the events leading to the trial from the Trials of Oscar Wilde, please bear in mind when reading this that it was published in 1906 and there is a fair amount of insulting language directed at Wilde and homosexuality in general. Obviously, I am not okay with this kind of attitude and bigotry, but this will give you a bit of an insight into how Wilde’s reputation would be damaged for decades and decades:
He was addicted to the vice and crime of sodomy long before he formed a “friendship” which was destined to involve him in irretrievable ruin. In London, he met a younger son of the eccentric Marquis of Queensbury, Lord Alfred Douglas by name. This youth was being educated at [Pg 8]Cambridge. He was of peculiar temperament and talented in a strong, frothy style. He was good-looking in an effeminate, lady-like way. He wrote verse. His poems not being of a manner which could be acceptable to a self-respecting publication, his efforts appeared in an eccentric and erratic magazine which was called “The Chameleon.” In this precious serial appeared a “poem” from the pen of Lord Alfred dedicated to his father in these filial words: “To the Man I Hate.”
Oscar Wilde at once developed an extraordinary and dangerous interest in this immature literary egg. A being of his own stamp, after his own heart, was Lord Alfred Douglas. The love of women delighted him not. The possession of a young girl’s person had no charm for him. He yearned for higher flights in the realms of love! He sought unnatural affection. Wilde, experienced in all the symptoms of a disordered sexual fancy, contrived to exercise a remarkable and sinister influence over this youth. Again and again and again did his father implore Lord Alfred Douglas to separate himself from the tempter. Lord Queensberry threatened, persuaded, bribed, urged, cajoled: all to no purpose. Wilde and his son were constantly together. The nature of their friendship became the talk of the [Pg 9]town. It was proclaimed from the housetops. The Marquis, determined to rescue him if it were humanly possible, horsewhipped his son in a public thoroughfare and was threatened with a summons for assault. On one occasion—it was the opening night of one of the Wilde plays—he sent the author a bouquet of choice—vegetables! Three or four times he wrote to him begging him to cancel his friendship with Lord Alfred. Once he called at the house in Tite Street and there was a terrible scene. The Marquis fumed; Wilde laughed. He assured his Lordship that only at his son’s own request would he break off the association which existed between them. The Marquis, driven to desperation, called Wilde a disgusting name. The latter, with a show of wrath, ordered the peer from his door and he was obliged to leave.
At all costs and hazards, at the risk of any pain and grief to himself, Lord Queensberry was determined to break off the disgraceful liaison. He stopped his son’s allowance, but Wilde had, at that time, plenty of money and his purse was his friend’s. At last the father went to the length of leaving an insulting message for Oscar Wilde at that gentleman’s club. He called there and asked for Wilde. The clerk at the enquiry office stated that Mr. Wilde was[Pg 10] not on the premises. The Marquis then produced a card and wrote upon it in pencil these words, “Oscar Wilde is a Bugger.” This elegant missive he directed to be handed to the author when he should next appear at the club.
From this card—Lord Queensberry’s last resource—grew the whole great case, which amazed and horrified the world in 1895. Oscar Wilde was compelled, however reluctantly, to take the matter up. Had he remained quiescent under such a public affront, his career in England would have been at an end. He bowed to the inevitable and a libel action was prepared.
One is often compelled to wonder if he foresaw the outcome. One asks oneself if he realized what defeat in this case would portend. The stakes were desperately high. He risked, in a Court of Law, his reputation, his position, his career and even his freedom. Did he know what the end to it all would be?
Whatever Wilde’s fears and expectations were, his opponent did not under-estimate the importance of the issue. If he could not induce a jury of twelve of his fellow-countrymen to believe that the plaintiff was what he had termed him, he, the Marquis of Queensberry, would be himself [Pg 11]disgraced. Furthermore, there would, in the event of failure, be heavy damages to pay and the poor man was not over rich. Wilde had many and powerful friends. For reasons which it is not necessary to enlarge upon, Lord Queensberry was not liked or respected by his own order. The ultimate knowledge that he was a father striving to save a loved son from infamy changed all that, and his Lordship met with nothing but sympathy from the general public in the latter stages of the great case.
Sir Edward Clarke was retained for the plaintiff. It is needless to refer to the high estimation in which this legal and political luminary is held by all classes of society. From first to last he devoted himself to the lost cause of Oscar Wilde with a whole-hearted devotion which was beyond praise. The upshot of the libel action must have pained and disgusted him; yet he refused to abandon his client, and, in the two criminal trials, defended him with a splendid loyalty and with the marked ability that might be expected from such a counsel. The acute, energetic, silver-spoken Mr. Carson led on the other side. It is not necessary to make more than passing mention of the conspicuous skill with which the able lawyer conducted the case for the [Pg 12]defendant. Even the gifted plaintiff himself cut a sorry figure when opposed to Mr. Carson.
Extraordinary interest was displayed in the action; and the courts were besieged on each day that the trial lasted. Remarkable revelations were expected and they were indeed forthcoming. Enormous pains had been taken to provide a strong defence and it was quite clear almost after the first day that Wilde’s case would infallibly break down. He made some astonishing admissions in the witness-box and even disgusted many of his friends by the flippancy and affected unconcern of his replies to questions of the most damaging nature. He, apparently, saw nothing indecorous in facts which must shock any other than the most depraved. He saw nothing disgusting in friendships of a kind to which only one construction could be put. He gave expensive dinners to ex-barmen and the like: ignorant, brutish young fools—because they amused him! He presented youths of questionable moral character with silver cigarette-cases because their society was pleasant! He took young men to share his bedroom at hotels and saw nothing remarkable in such proceedings. He gave sums of thirty pounds to ill-bred youths—accomplished blackmailers—because they were hard-up and he felt they [Pg 13]did not deserve poverty! He assisted other young men of a character equally undesirable, to go to America and received letters from them in which they addressed him as “Dear Oscar,” and sent him their love. In short, his own statements damned him. Out of his own mouth—and he posing all the time—was he convicted. The case could have but one ending. Sir Edward Clarke—pained, surprised, shocked—consented to a verdict for the Marquis of Queensberry and the great libel case was at an end. The defendant left the court proudly erect, conscious that he had been the means of saving his son and of eradicating from society a canker which had been rotting it unnoticed, except by a few, for a very long time. Oscar Wilde left the court a ruined and despised man. People—there were one or two left who were loyal to him—turned aside from him with loathing. He had nodded to six or seven friends in court on the last day of the trial and turned ashen pale when he observed their averted looks. All was over for him. The little supper-parties with a few choice wits; the glorious intoxication of first-night applause; the orgies in the infamous dens of his boon companions—all these were no more for him. Oscar Wilde, bon vivant, man of letters, arbiter[Pg 14] of literary fashion, stood at the bar of public opinion, a wretch guilty of crimes against which the body recoils and the mind revolts. Oh! what a falling-off was there!
Witnesses came forward, Wilde’s letters to Bosie were read aloud and Wilde’s sex life was dragged into the courtroom and paraded around for all to see.
Despite all this, Oscar Wilde sat poised in the witness box and even managed to elicit laughter. Playfully taunting the Prosecution Mr Gill. I highly recommend reading the transcripts on Project Gutenberg, who by the way I am not sponsored by, by the way, because the entire thing relies on volunteers and it is amazing and you should go to gutenberg.org right now.
Despite Wilde’s wit, he was unable to appeal sufficiently to the jury.
He was found guilty and sent to gaol.
That night there was an exodus of 6 hundred single, thought to be gay, men fled England for Paris.
Oscar Wilde was imprisoned from 1895 to 1897, During which time he wrote a letter to Bosie which was published as De Profundis.
He died 3 years after his release on the 30th November 1900 in Paris. The cause may have been syphilis, but most likely it seems to that is was meningitis. His accuser The Marquess of Queensbury died earlier that year from syphilis, Bosie would survive a further 45 years.
There is a pivotal player in this story that is frequently overlooked and underestimated and we are going to spend a bit of time getting to know Constance Wilde. The woman who was as much a victim of the scandal that was to follow and her very deep suffering is often a mere footnote in the story both in its earlier incarnation as a scandalous tale of debauchery and our contemporary understanding of the story as one of sexual freedom versus Victorian repression.
“So sweet, so pretty and good, how came she by her outrageously intellectual husband? It was impossible not to predict suffering for a woman so domestic and simple mated with a mind so searching and so perverse, and a character so self-indulgent.” – Richard Le Gallienne.
This quote doesn’t do the brilliant woman justice
Constance Lloyd was also born in Ireland in 1859, she was an acclaimed writer of children’s stories and this legacy is almost entirely eclipsed by the looming shadow of Oscar.
There is speculation that maybe she delighted in her family’s disapproval of her choice in husband. There appears to be a meeting of minds, particularly in their early relationship with Constance embracing the dress reform movement and softer, more practical wear for women as a form of female independence. Constance is not the shy retiring woman at home that history wants to paint her as. While it is true that she was steadfast and supportive of Oscar, even when it seemed like he was ignorant and indifferent to her suffering. But this support and strength in the face of scandal and censure paint the picture of a woman whose strength of character is quite phenomenal. She had to flee England with her two children in a kind of exile to shelter her young family from aggressive societal disgrace. They changed their name to Holland and she tried to sustain a relationship with Wilde, visiting him in prison and kept a dialogue going between the father and his children. She died, possibly from spinal damage caused by a fall and possibly from syphilis contracted from her husband in 1898, in Italy.
There is a nude, pregnant statue of Constance in Merion Dublin.
The moral of the Story? Can there be a moral to this story? Or is it like any one of Wilde’s fictions that defies a moral. No one can know enough about the life of another person to provide a satisfactory moral conclusion.
If it was syphilis that claimed Wilde, then perhaps we could draw a moral conclusion about a life of decadence, but we will never know. If Constance had been rewarded for her strength and loyalty then we could claim a moral about the strength of spirit, but there is no clear reward for our heroine, in fact, it is her ‘goodness’ that leads to tragedy. Bosie outlived them all despite being the somewhat amoral catalyst of the Wilde’s undoing.
The Picture of Dorian Gray has a moralistic end but not moralistic intentions. He finalized his stories with a moral finish, tying up the ends in or to provide closure and satisfaction, but not to provide a morality or judgement. We get a satisfactory conclusion, which is more than can be said of the tragic story of Oscar Wilde.
Here is an excerpt from De Profundis, his extended letter to Bosie, which he wrote while serving his sentence for gross indecency to take us out. I’ll see you soon.
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. Few men hold such a position in their own lifetime, and have it so acknowledged. It is usually discerned, if discerned at all, by the historian, or the critic, long after both the man and his age have passed away. With me it was different. I felt it myself, and made others feel it. 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. But I let myself be lured into long spells of senseless and sensual ease. I amused myself with being a flâneur, a dandy, a man of fashion. I surrounded myself with the smaller natures and the meaner minds. I became the spendthrift of my own genius, and to waste an eternal youth gave me a curious joy. Tired of being on the heights, I deliberately went to the depths in the search for new sensation. What the paradox was to me in the sphere of thought, perversity became to me in the sphere of passion. Desire, at the end, was a malady, or a madness, or both. I grew careless of the lives of others. I took pleasure where it pleased me, and passed on. I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character, and that therefore what one has done in the secret chamber one has some day to cry aloud on the housetop. I ceased to be lord over myself. I was no longer the captain of my soul, and did not know it. I allowed pleasure to dominate me. I ended in horrible disgrace. There is only one thing for me now, absolute humility.
For a great account of Constance Wilde’s life check out Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs Oscar Wilde by Franny Moyle
Meet Dorian Gray. He enjoys just about everything and in copious amounts. Like any quality gothic anti-hero there is a whisper of a family history that involves passion, death, scandal and abuse. Whilst there is an idealised image of the guy there is something more damaged and vulnerable that is ripe for Lord Henry’s exploitation. As a muse for Basil, he has been the source of pure inspiration, but that is about to change.
Dorian seems to be motivated by curiosity, vanity and a diabolical indulgent streak. His lack of care for those around him begins with the flippant way he treats Basil’s affections and then plays out in the most devastating fashion in his treatment of Sybil Vane. The capacity for this cruelty was always within Dorian, Basil mentions it in the opening chapter, Lord Henry simply offers new possibilities. Lord Henry is still one of the most terrible and unfortunate influences a young man with Dorian’s particular flaws could come across. Appealing to Dorian’s curiosity and desire he exposes him to the seedy underbelly of London and deploys witty epigrams to stun him into believing that it is all perfectly acceptable. I’m not sure that Dorian is particularly intelligent. He does seem to be easily confused.
Dorian as the Destroyer
The guy seems impervious the damage he is doing. He does not seem to care that, whilst he has been given a free pass by swapping fates with the portrait, none of the people he corrupts or endangers has such a reprieve. He leaves a trail of ruined men and women, some who have become addicted to drugs that he introduced them to, or have a had to turn to sex work because he destroyed their reputations. He is not permitted into high society as he once was, excepting the society of those who tolerate Lord Henry gladly. His destruction and degradation of those around him only begin to gnaw away at him after Basil’s death, and it is largely for selfish reasons. He doesn’t like feeling guilty or being tied to the loathsome visage of the portrait so he tried to follow a path of redemption. When these attempt at redemption don’t yield immediate results he cannot handle it and throws a tantrum, stabbing the picture and bringing about his own demise.
To Lord Henry
“You know how a voice can stir one. Your voice and the voice of Sibyl Vane are two things that I shall never forget. When I close my eyes, I hear them, and each of them says something different. I don’t know which to follow.”
Meet Basil Hallward, he enjoys painting on hilltops and painting in his studio. He just really likes painting and Dorian. Basil exudes warmth in the same way that Lord Henry can chill a person to the bone. Until Dorian came along, we get a distinct impression that Basil had friendships, but none that he was particularly invested in, to the point where they would interfere with his art. Then came Dorian Gray who became his art, and consequently his ruin.
It seems that Basil would love to be motivated by art for art’s sake and beauty for beauty’s sake, but something has gone terribly awry for the painter who wished to hold up the mirror to the world and has instead found his own reflection front and centre in his work. Henry is quick to point out that Basil is not as good looking as Dorian, and he is right, but the artist’s concern that he has painted himself into the picture has more depth than Henry seems capable of fathoming. It is Basil’s desire for Dorian and his utter worship, obsession and dependence upon him that Basil sees as he looks at the picture. It is these factors that motivate Basil at the beginning of the novel. However, as Dorian’s innocence and purity diminish, his hold on Basil appears to lessen somewhat and it is his old the desire to display his art that forms part of the events that will lead to his death.
Basil as the Victim
Every gothic tale needs a victim, and Dorian Gray has many.
Why does Dorian kill Basil? Is it because he is tired of keeping his secret? Do Basil’s horror and revulsion of the painting in its new monstrous form provoke his wrath? Or is it the simplest of all the answers, Basil is a threat to the painting, therefore Basil must be destroyed.
But why show Basil the painting at all? Yes, his constant questions were getting annoying, but surely Dorian could have said he destroyed it or it got damaged. I always got the impression that the murder of Basil was premeditated to an extent. Dorian was alert to the possibility when he walked his friend to the room where the painting lay. He may have acted on impulse, but he was acutely aware of that impulse and the ability to make good on it beforehand.
Why does Wilde kill Basil?
Basil is the last vestige of Dorian pre-Henry. Basil as the person who opened the door to vanity, left it open for corruption and Dorian blames him for that. Basil represents the last of Dorian’s virtue, and he must be destroyed for Wilde’s novel to begin the final stage of the narrative; the complete downfall of Mr Dorian Gray.
Basil in happier times:
“You know we poor artists have to show ourselves in society from time to time, just to remind the public that we are not savages. With an evening coat and a white tie, as you told me once, anybody, even a stock-broker, can gain a reputation for being civilized.”