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Henry James, Oscar Wilde and Aesthetic Culture$
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Michele Mendelssohn

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780748623853

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748623853.001.0001

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Despoiling Poynton: James, the Wilde Trials and Interior Decoration

Despoiling Poynton: James, the Wilde Trials and Interior Decoration

Chapter:
(p.197) Chapter 5 Despoiling Poynton: James, the Wilde Trials and Interior Decoration
Source:
Henry James, Oscar Wilde and Aesthetic Culture
Author(s):

Michèle Mendelssohn

Publisher:
Edinburgh University Press
DOI:10.3366/edinburgh/9780748623853.003.0006

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

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