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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Tone of De Profundis

De Profundis, the title given to Wilde's letter by friend Robert Ross, is the Latin translation of the beginning of Psalm 130:1, a penitential psalm in which the writer begs God's forgiveness for sin. That is not, however, the tone Wilde uses in his letter. In De Profundis Wilde uses a condescendingly accusatory tone toward the intended recipient. Wilde specifically states, "I will begin by telling you that I blame myself terribly." (p.98) Nevertheless, Wilde goes on to blame Bosie for impeding his creative talents while they spent time together, for his bankruptcy, and his eventual imprisonment. Accepting the blame allows Wilde to remain in control though it is obvious that Wilde has no self-control.

Wilde states that he was unable to complete An Ideal Husband while he was with Bosie, only finishing when Bosie traveled to Egypt. He blames Bosie saying "while you were with me you were the absolute ruin of my art." (p.101) Wilde describes every encounter with Bosie as destructive but still gives Bosie room in his life. Though Bosie's family was rich, Wilde covered all of Bosie's expenses and gave Bosie whatever he wanted, whether in the form of money, food, housing, and travel. These expenses contributed to Wilde's eventual bankruptcy, for which Wilde ultimately blames Bosie. Wilde also accuses Bosie of using him to get back at his father, with whom Bosie endlessly feuded. Bosie encouraged Wilde to pursue the libel case, which led to his eventual conviction and imprisonment. Bosie's hate of his father blinded him to the fact that his miscalculation could harm Wilde. Bosie knew that having a relationship with Wilde would anger and provoke his father to action. Bosie's only concern was that his father would lose money.

Wilde is condescending when he repeatedly states that a relationship with Bosie was a mistake because Bosie was intellectually inferior.

"your lack of any power of sustained intellectualconcentration: the unfortunate accident?for I like tothink it was no more?that you had not been able toacquire the "Oxford temper" in intellectual matters,never, I mean, been one who could play gracefully withideas, but had arrived at violence of opinion merely?that all these things, combined with the fact that yourdesires and your interests were in Life, not in Art, wereas destructive to your own progress in culture as they wereto my work as an artist. When I compare my friendshipwith you to my friendship with still younger men, as JohnGray and Pierre Louys, I feel ashamed. My real life, myhigher life, was with them and such as they." (p. 100)

Bosie was not on Wilde's level intellectually and appreciated the things of life that were of a lower nature. He did not share Wilde's affinity for the artistic life, and this side of himself Wilde was forced to rely on other friendships-Wilde lessens his interactions with Bosie to just friendship-in order to fulfill his intellectual needs. He calls his friendship with Bosie "intellectually degrading." (p. 100) Wilde points out that his time with his friend Robert Ross was not only cheaper but also more intellectually rewarding.

Wilde portrays Bosie as selfish and mentally weak, which is probably true. But it is obvious that Wilde enjoyed the time that they spent together. They had disagreements but Wilde always allowed Bosie back in his life because of the good times they had together. This belief is aided by the fact Bosie and Wilde ended up together once Wilde left prison. Despite the ideas expressed in De Profundis, Wilde can only blame himself for the results of his relationship with Bosie.

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