Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Nottingham lace of the curtains

I was today reading an account of the Oscar Wilde scandal by Hesketh Pearson, and wish not to have done it. Not a pleasant scene, no. I don't know at which stage the feverish revisionism and counter-revisionism of historiography currently resides, but the last time I looked (and it was in the early 90's, I'm afraid) it was fashionable to claim that "the Victorians" were not at all as prudish and inhibited about sexuality as it was once common to think.

And of course there is a point to that: most people in any age are lustful and carnal, naturally. Victoria herself with her thirty-odd (as memory serves) children was surely no stranger to sex and would undoubtedly have been bored to death thinking only of England while engaging in it. But to admit this obvious fact does not mean that there did not also exist awful and disgusting public middle class taboos about sexuality and sex. There did, and Oscar Wilde was one of countless of victims to them.

There is a certain peculiarly Anglo-Saxon (it seems) mode of hypocritical moral outrage even today - perhaps not as strong as it once was, but it's certainly still capable of rising to feeding frenzy every now and then. Not to speak of the unspeakable Anglo-American justice systems which seem to exist pretty much just to make a particularly nasty and sadistic section of the middle class to feel smug about itself. Och aye, shouldn't have touched that story this morning...

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