De Profundis

De Profundis

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by Oscar Wilde

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Oscar Wilde wrote "I don't defend my conduct, I explain it," when he was imprisoned in Reading Gaol in 1895 for his violation of England's stringent laws against homosexuality. Wilde's nototious liaison with the Marquess of Queensberry's son, Lord Alfred Douglas ("Bosie"), had so inflamed the Marquess that he made public attacks on Wilde's character and morals.

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Oscar Wilde wrote "I don't defend my conduct, I explain it," when he was imprisoned in Reading Gaol in 1895 for his violation of England's stringent laws against homosexuality. Wilde's nototious liaison with the Marquess of Queensberry's son, Lord Alfred Douglas ("Bosie"), had so inflamed the Marquess that he made public attacks on Wilde's character and morals. In return, Wilde sued for slader, an action which, to Wilde's bitter astonishment, led to a series of scandalous trials and convictions. From his cell in prison, Oscar Wilde wrote De Profundis, the detailed and unsparing revelation of his love and tragedy.

With a major feature film biography scheduled for release and the current tremendous success of the long-running play Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, the text of this remarkable document with the Hart-Davis notes is uniquely relevant. This volume alone provides the entire content of De Profundis; W.H. Auden's famous essay in The New Yorker further sets the stage.

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From the Publisher
"Displays the insight, honesty, and unself-conscious style of a great writer."
—W. H. Auden

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Modern Library Classics Series
Edition description:
2000 MODER
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.19(w) x 7.95(h) x 0.43(d)

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Preface by Richard Ellmann

De Profundis is a kind of dramatic monologue, which constantly questions and takes into account the silent recipient's supposed responses. Given the place where it was written, Wilde might have been expected to confess his guilt. Instead he refuses to admit that his past conduct with young men was guilty, and declares that the laws by which he was condemned were unjust. The closest he comes to the subject of homosexuality is to say, impenitently, that what the paradox was for him in the realm of thought, sexual deviation was in the realm of conduct. More than half of De Profundis is taken up by his confession, not of his own sins, but of Bosie's. He evokes two striking images for that young man. One is his favorite passage from Agamemnon, about bringing up a lion's whelp inside one's house only to have it run amok. Aeschylus compared it to Helen, Wilde to Douglas. The other is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who have no realization of Hamlet's tragedy, being "the little cups that can hold so much and no more."

The main theme of self-recrimination is that he did not break with Bosie. But his letter is an attempt to restore relations. And while he admits to "weakness," he explains the weakness as due to his affection, good nature, aversion to scenes, incapacity to bear resentment, and desire to keep life comely by ignoring what he considered trifles. His weakness was strength. The gods, he has discovered, make instruments to plague us out of our virtues as well as our vices.

Wilde acknowledges that along with good qualities, he was "the spendthrift of my own genius." But he passes quickly over this defect, and those that attend it. Much of De Profundis is an elegy for lost greatness. As he whips his own image, he cannot withhold his admiration for what that image was. Elegy generates eulogy. He heightens the pinnacle from which he has fallen:

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. . . . 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. I had genius, a distinguished name, high social position, brilliancy, intellectual daring: I made art a philosophy, and philosophy an art: I altered the minds of men and the colours of things: there was nothing I said or did that did not make people wonder: I took the drama, the most objective form known to art, and made it as personal a mode of expression as the lyric or the sonnet, at the same time that I widened its range and enriched its characterisation: drama, novel, poem in rhyme, poem in prose, subtle or fantastic dialogue, whatever I touched I made beautiful in a new mode of beauty: to truth itself I gave what is false no less than what is true as its rightful province, and showed that the false and the true are merely forms of intellectual existence. I treated Art as the supreme reality, and life as a mere mode of fiction: I awoke the imagination of my century so that it created myth and legend around me: I summed up all systems in a phrase, and all existence in an epigram.


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De Profundis 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Oscar Wilde was one of the greatest playrights of past centuries.His insight into society, namely English society, always embodied a witty genius and yet also represented it most fully. Despite the fact that his name was 'dragged through the mire' it has risen up to be admired and respected amongst modern day playrights, it is also a source of pride for English society. De Profundis, in my own feeble opinion, represents the acculmination of Wilde's philosophy. Also, it has a beautiful usage of the English language. The unorthodox love-letter is a refreshing, realistic, and in some ways almost Kant-like take on Love. This book is the most beautiful in gay literature and is also the most striking letter writter by this great figure.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is probably the most clever, pathetic, ordinary, extraordinary, dishonest, revealing letter to an ex that's ever been written for publication. Penned by one of the most brilliant scholars and wordsmiths ever to live, it is nevertheless a letter intended chiefly to reveal to the world the recipient's consistently horrible and most selfish deeds and omissions. Written one page per day over the course of Wilde's last few months in prison, de Profundis ends with a proposal that the lovers meet once again after Wilde's release. That so great a man as Wilde couldn't shake free the hold of a man whose passing would not have diminished the course of human events in any conceivable way is depressing in the extreme. That Wilde, whose piercing vision and understanding of human behavior was flawless, yet forgiving, had so little interior insight makes one despair of ever executing honest human relationships.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Come on
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I regard this as the most beatifull love letter ever. Wilde writes to his friend Bosie from prison his deepest feelings and emotions about the events and circumstances that lead to his imprisonnement. This book should be compusory in every English class wordwide. Wilde's abillity to love and forgive is heart warming and admirable.