Download Visions of Queer Martyrdom from John Henry Newman to Derek Jarman PDF

TitleVisions of Queer Martyrdom from John Henry Newman to Derek Jarman
PublisherUniversity of Chicago Press
ISBN 139780226250618
CategoryArts - Film
File Size6.9 MB
Total Pages244
Table of Contents
                            Title Page
Copyright Page
1 The Bitter Tears of John Henry Newman
2 William Bennett and the Art of Ritualism
3 Father Ignatius’s “Wonderful . . . Monastery Life”
4 Frederick Rolfe’s Scrapbook
5 Saint Oscar
6 The Private Lives of David and Jonathan
7 Derek Jarman and the Legacy of Queer Martyrdom
Document Text Contents
Page 122

with only God and his friends as witnesses. Yet his life and actions were powerfully
formed from Victorian formations in which religion and same-sex desire were
interrelated in ways that can seem problematic from the secular perspectives of
mainstream gay liberation.437 Neil McKenna echoes the general sense of the late
Wilde as essentially representing a tragic decline: “Before prison, Oscar had been a
joyous pagan, a Greek out of time. Now there were moments when he acted like a
penitent Christian. During the first hours of freedom at [the Anglo-Catholic Rev.
Stewart] Headlam’s house, he announced on the spur of the moment that he would
like to go on a Catholic retreat.”438 I argue that such viewpoints fail to acknowledge
the constitutive role of religion in the construction of queerness during the nineteenth
century, such that Wilde should not be seen as having failed because he was unduly
(and peculiarly) religious. Rather, his time was one in which Catholic performance
was reaching its limits as a site for the expression of sexual deviance and I believe that
Wilde appreciated both its opportunities and its limitations in this regard.

Patrick O’Malley has spoken of “Wilde’s obsession with religion throughout his
life.”439 His mother, Speranza, may have baptized Oscar first into the (Protestant)
Church of Ireland and again into the Roman Church. While at Oxford he was
“immersed in a culture shaped by Tractarian dissidence” and he was, nominally,
Anglican through his adult life.440 He closely followed the bitter disputes over the
development of Anglo-Catholicism and he witnessed the strenuous legal attempts to
halt its rise and to demonize its leaders, as discussed in chapters 2 and 4. This also
helps us to understand Wilde’s last major work, his letter to Bosie that we know as De
Profundis. Jonathan Dollimore is very down on this text since he sees its concerns as
evidence that Wilde was caving in to prescripted roles of submission and self-
sacrifice; that he was, in effect, accepting the closeted form of queer martyrdom that I
have been describing in the previous chapters with its stress on self-abnegation.441
Nevertheless, it is clear that the stance that Wilde presents in the manuscript is far
more complex than this.442

The text is partly addressed to Douglas, partly to posterity, and is notable for
including elements of the language of the King James Bible. It can be read as an
attempt to sacralize what had just happened. As Frederick Roden put it, “Instead of
going to heaven, the writer entered hell and must transform it through imagination”
into something of beauty.443 This can be regarded as a strategy that attempts to
recognize that pain is “the most intense of aesthetic experiences.”444 The text can be
understood, therefore, not as a collapse into conventional pieties, but as a further stage
of Wildean subversion and of self-invention.445 And is it even really Christian? For
Ellis Hanson it was a classical apologia aimed at reasserting the Hellenic model of
Wilde as sage and Bosie as pupil. Yet, the text clearly discusses Christianity and
indeed makes it central insofar as, for Ellman, Christ appears in De Profundis as a

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“type of Wilde in the ancient world.”446 It is best to conclude that in this work he was
struggling to achieve a synthesis between Hellenic and Christian aesthetic visions.447

It is also likely that Wilde’s fascination with religion in general and Roman
Catholicism in general was founded upon his participation in modes of
sensationalized Protestant viewing of Catholicism. He was fascinated by the
widespread anti-Catholic notion that paganism lived on in modern Catholicism.
Moreover, he was well aware that popular anti-Catholic rhetoric presented Catholics
as harboring a perverse enthusiasm for pain.448 Patrick O’Malley has argued that it is
a “language of fascination, the irresistible attraction to evil that structures the anti-
Catholic response to Rome in the latter half of the nineteenth century.”449 It was
precisely this gothic mode that Wilde employed with such relish in his only novel,
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). Dorian not only collected vestments, but ones that
were abundantly decorated with scenes of aestheticized suffering; orphreys “starred
with medallions of many saints and martyrs, among whom was St. Sebastian” and
chasubles “figured with representations of the Passion and Crucifixion of Christ.”450
Wilde commented that “Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry is what the
world thinks of me: Dorian is what I would like to be—in other ages perhaps.”451 In
other words, when he wrote this, Wilde positioned himself as a victim of evil, the
world thought of him as the fosterer of evil, and in another life, resplendent doomed
evil, a Satan, is what he would like to have been.

What then are we to make of Wilde’s final years of exile? He had had an awestruck
audience with Pope Pius IX in 1877, but it was only when he returned to Rome in
1900 that he became “obsessed with the pope” albeit in association with a powerful
sense of irony.452 When he received the Easter blessing he joked to his former lover
Robert Ross that “my walking stick showed signs of budding.”453 He was blessed six
more times during this stay. In late March he wrote to Ross, “This time I must really
become a Catholic, though I fear if I went before the Holy Father with a blossoming
rod it would turn at once into an umbrella or something dreadful of that kind. It is
absurd to say the age of miracles is past. It has not yet begun” (see fig. 5.1).454 Ross
said that he dissuaded Wilde from becoming Catholic for fear of superficiality, but he
was responsible for the priest’s administration of baptism and extreme unction on 14
December 1900.455 Ross had asked Wilde if he wanted to see Fr. Cuthbert Dunne, of
the Passionist Fathers, at his deathbed. Wilde raised his hand and Ross assumed this
meant yes. Ross did not know if he was properly conscious. Ellman says that he was
still was not sure whether this was about “faith” or “style”: “The application of sacred
oils to his hands and feet may have been a ritualized pardon for his omissions or
commissions, or may have been like putting a green carnation in his buttonhole.”456
But a man who could write shortly before his death that “I am not a Catholic: I am
simply a violent Papist,” was quite capable of enjoying the state of queer ambiguity

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687 Jarman, quoted in Peake (1999), p. 395.
688 Note the role of his own garden at Dungeness which has been described as a “queer garden”

that was a “monument to fragility and defiance” by McKay (2011), p. 145; see also A. Harris
(2009), p. 233.

689 Carr (1998), p. 25; see also Jarman (1995) and Perriam (2000).
690 Carr (1998). p. 9.
691 Loughlin (2004), p. 270–73.
692 Sborgi (2007), p. 493.
693 Jarman (1991), p. 52. He constructed quite a different sort of nuclear family in Dungeness from

that advocated by social conservatives; see Thomas (1993).
694 Lovatt (2002).
695 Note the importance of the use of beauty to contest the ugly “spectacle” of AIDS as constructed

in the media, on which see the key works of Watney (1987), (1996), and (1997), together with
Watney and Gupta (1986), Gilman (1987), Seidman (1988), D. Miller (1989), Sontag (1991) and
(2003), Winkler (1994), Herek and Capitano (1999), Griffin (2000), and Lippard and Johnson
(2006). Ayres (2003) makes for an interesting comparison through its discussion of Foucault,
AIDS, and asceticism.

696 Cook (2008b), pp. 297–98.
697 Roden (2001), p. 262.
698 W. Jenkins (2004).
699 Hunt (2002), p. 1.
700 Quoted and discussed in Songy (2007), p. 239. For a detailed critique of Roman Catholic

attitudes to homosexuality, see G. Moore (2003).
701 Bates (2004), p. 302.
702 Ibid., p. 6.
703 Sachs (2009), pp. 183–84, and quotation at 183, footnote 13.
704 Gledhill (2007).
705 Kirkup (1976), p. 26; and Travis (2000), p. 259.
706 N. Walter (1977), pp. 9–16; and L. Moran (2001a).
707 See Grimshaw (2004), Roden (2009), and Stanford (2011).
708 Arditti (2009), pp. 113 and 147.
709 Ibid., p. 108.
710 Ibid., p. 165; see also Kear (1997) on “eating the other: imaging the fantasy of incorporation.”
711 Arditti (2009), p. 152. These are all works with queer undertones. On Gray see also chap. 1 of

this present book.
712 Arditti (2000), p. 338.
713 Boisvert (2005), p. 24.
714 Loughlin (2007), p. 7.
715 Benson (1933), p. 37.
716 Leech (1999), p. 115; see also Leech (1988); and Pickering (2008), pp. 184-206.
717 J. Davis (2001), pp. 113–14.
718 MacCulloch (2013).
719 D. Harris (1996), p. 189.
720 Sinfield (1991), p. 58.
721 McCuskey (1999), p. 394.
722 Segal (2001).
723 Flinn (1995).
724 Note the advantages of a recuperative approach to the queer past as suggested in Love (2007)

and Castiglia and Reed (2012).
725 Jarman (2001), p. 255; see also Moor (2000).

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726 Lawrence (1997), p. 246.
727 Trotter (2000).
728 On Wilde’s “fairy stories” see Goodenough (1999) and Duffy (2001).
729 Wilde (2010), p. 88.

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