Despoiling <i>Poynton</i>: James, the Wilde Trials and Interior Decoration

Michèle Mendelssohn

in Henry James, Oscar Wilde and Aesthetic Culture

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print June 2007 | ISBN: 9780748623853
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748651634 | DOI:
Despoiling Poynton: James, the Wilde Trials and Interior Decoration

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In the spring of 1895, Oscar Wilde was at the epicentre of the most famous lawsuit in homosexual history. The sequence of three trials had begun in early April with Wilde's libel suit against the Marquess of Queensberry, who had accused him of being a ‘posing Somdomite [sic]’. By the end of April, the tables had turned and Wilde was being sued by Queensberry. Unable to pay his debts, Wilde declared bankruptcy and the entire contents of his home were auctioned. This chapter concentrates on the social rupture caused by Wilde's trial. It argues that the events of 1895 ripped apart the fabric of aesthetic social culture and that this is manifest in contemporary interior decoration as well as in The Spoils of Poynton. The novel not only reflects Henry James's uneasiness about the Wilde trials and their implications but, more compellingly, his sense that the aesthetics of interior decoration embodied in the notion of the ‘House Beautiful’ was richly expressive of (and thoroughly caught up in) the crisis of sexual ideology that emerged from the trials.

Keywords: Henry James; Oscar Wilde; trials; libel suit; Marquess of Queensberry; social culture; The Spoils of Poynton; aesthetics; interior decoration; sexual ideology

Chapter.  15004 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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