CANCELLED: Oscar Wilde, Sexuality, and the State [Day 1]

Friday, May 15, 2020
10:00 am PDT – 5:00 pm PDT

William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
2520 Cimarron Street

conference organized by Joseph Bristow (UCLA)

This conference will consider both the fin-de-siècle contexts and the worldwide consequences of the three trials involving Oscar Wilde that took place at the Central Criminal Court (Old Bailey) from 3 April 1895 to 25 May 1895. These trials, which arguably constitute the most famous criminal proceedings relating to the state prohibition of male homosexuality, resulted in a brutal two-year sentence for committing acts of gross indecency with other males, for which Wilde suffered solitary confinement with hard labor. He was tried under the punitive eleventh section of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885: a law that underwent partial decriminalization in England and Wales in 1967 (somewhat later in Scotland and Northern Ireland).

The organizer Joseph Bristow has recently completed for Yale University Press a 250,000-word manuscript, “Oscar Wilde on Trial: The Criminal Proceedings, from Arrest to Imprisonment,” which features a reconstruction of the trials through a wide range of newspaper and other printed sources. This volume–which turns to British press accounts because the official shorthand court records have been missing from the National Archives since at least 1920–is sorely needed. The last comprehensive account appeared in 1962, and it contains very uneven coverage of the ways in which the Crown prosecution used unreasonable methods to persuade the jury that Wilde was guilty of an easy-to-corroborate crime. More to the point, the 1962 edition–on which scholars still rely–presents an outdated view of male homosexual intimacy. Bristow’s volume situates the Wilde trials in relation to several other well-known cases involving homosexual scandal: the Dublin Castle affair; the male brothel on Cleveland Street; the trial of Edward de Cobain; and the Gatty v. Farquharson dispute.

Oscar Wilde, Sexuality, and the State takes the occasion of Wilde’s courtroom ordeal as a starting-point for understanding not only the growing awareness of queer subcultures during the 1880s and 1890s but also the long shadow that Wilde’s trials cast upon the proscription of same-sex intimacy in many different parts of the world. The legacy of Wilde’s imprisonment can be felt in divergent areas of the colonial and post-colonial world, especially in Australia, New Zealand, Africa, South Asia, Hong Kong, and Singapore. The fact that more than 50,000 or so men were convicted under the egregious terms of the 1885 law in Britain speaks to the increasing ways in which male-male intimacy became prosecutable during a period of seventy-two years. The conference provides the opportunity to look at the impact that charges of gross indecency had in Britain, particularly in relation to persistence of homosexual extortion, changes in policing methods, and the attempted criminalization of lesbian intimacy. The symposium provides a forum for legal and humanities scholars to exchange insights into this significant current of modern sexual history.

Collette Colligan, Simon Fraser University
Caroline Derry, The Open University
Mackenzie Gregg, University of California, Riverside
Katie Hindmarch-Watson, Johns Hopkins University
Neville Hoad, University of Texas at Austin
Leila Neti, Occidental College
Simon Stern, University of Toronto
Charles Upchurch, Florida State University
Marco Wan, University of Hong Kong


Image: Front cover,Illustrated Police News, Saturday, 4 May 1895

There is no charge for this event. Advance booking is requested.

After booking Day 1 below please remember to also book your spot for Day 2.

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