Oscar Wilde was like Christ in his suffering, says Stephen Fry

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The Independent Online
Oscar Wilde, the poet and playwright sentenced to two years' hard labour for sodomy, was a Christ-like figure, according to Stephen Fry, the actor who plays him in a new film.

In an article in the New Yorker magazine, Fry, who has described himself as a celibate homosexual, reflects at length on Wilde's impact on his own life and on the experience of portraying him. Comparing perceptions of him in the Victorian era with the way he is viewed now, Fry states: "There are obvious parallels with the life of Christ ... Wilde was despised and rejected; he made fools of the pharisaical elements of society; he had disciples; he was betrayed by one he loved."

As Wilde awaited the imminent arrival of the authorities to take him to prison, "he sat in his red plush Chelsea Gethsemane knocking back the hock and seltzer while all those around him told him to flee before the entrance of the soldiers".

Finally, the actor suggests, he "rose again to become within a short time after his death the most widely read and translated English-language author in Europe after Shakespeare".

Fry's performance in the film, Wilde, due to be released in October, won praise from critics after a private screening this week. One described it as a rehabilitation for him after his celebrated walkout from Simon Gray's play Cell Mates two years ago. Wilde's lover and nemesis, Sir Alfred Douglas, is played by Jude Law.

In the New Yorker article, Fry says the playwright fell victim to Victorian moral hypocrisy. "Most of the hands that were rubbed in glee when Wilde fell were rubbed because all that he stood for fell with him," he says.

"Damn Wilde for the dull and uninteresting crime of putting his organ of generation into certain places, and there was no need to contemplate his real crime, which was not sexual inversion but moral, political, spiritual and artistic inversion."

One hundred years later, by comparison, Fry says, Wilde's status has changed to that of "the Crown Prince of Bohemia".

Fry says he particularly admires heterosexuals who value the playwright highly because their motivation is pure. "It was easy enough for a Jewish nancy boy like me to draw solace from Wilde the outcast," he writes.