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Introduction

Introduction

Chapter:
(p.1) Chapter One Introduction
Source:
Oscar Wilde Prefigured
Author(s):
Dominic Janes
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226396552.003.0001

What divided the two sides in Oscar Wilde's trial was not the question of whether Wilde was a sodomite but whether it mattered that people could appear to be sodomites. On the one hand, it could be held that sodomy was so obscene that it should be kept from public attention completely. On the other, it might be felt that intimations of sodomy were simply part of the amusing spectacle of sophisticated life. Flirting with the appearance of sodomy was not uncommon in the century leading up to the trial, and it was not the same as proud affirmation, as it had to take place in the context of the threat of public denunciation. Wilde’s public image was prefigured in a ribald, satirical tradition since the eighteenth century, which associated dandified performances with sodomitical desires. In a cultural climate of linguistic insufficiency, expression of same-sex desire had become coded through combinations of suggestive gesture, wordplay, clothing, and demeanor. For this reason, the year 1895 did not see the creation of a homosexual identity but rather the distribution of an image of the effeminate pervert that was to become a dominant stereotype of the homosexual for much of the twentieth century.

Keywords:   queer, dandy, Oscar Wilde, fashion, gay, homosexual, sodomy, stereotype, caricature

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