Oscar Wilde: The Unrepentant Years and Oscar’s Ghost review – Wilde after prison

Nicholas Frankel’s book together with Laura Lee’s study of Alfred Douglas and Wilde’s legacy chart a tragic relationship that is also one of the most fascinating gay love stories

Three months before Oscar Wilde was released from prison, in February 1897, his wife Constance obtained a legal separation and a formal end of his responsibility for his two sons. After much rancorous discussion, she agreed to offer him an annual allowance of £150 a year on condition that he did not get in touch with her or the children without her permission. The other condition, as Nicholas Frankel writes in his detailed and finely judged account of Wilde’s life after prison, was “that he not associate in future with any person deemed disreputable in the eyes of his own lawyer”. This was an indirect reference to Lord Alfred Douglas, who had been Wilde’s lover.

It was arranged that Wilde, on release, once he had washed and shaved and changed into a new suit, would take the boat to Dieppe, where his friends Robert Ross and Reggie Turner were waiting for him. Before his departure for Dieppe, Wilde had a note sent to the Jesuits in Farm Street in London asking for a Catholic priest to come so that he might receive spiritual guidance. When the Jesuits refused, Wilde “broke down and sobbed bitterly”. Between then and his death three and a half years later, he would be marked as someone to be avoided. “My existence is a scandal,” Wilde would later write to Ross.

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