I first read Oscar Wilde, the way many have, in a high school English class. Unlike some teachers however, my teacher told the class that Oscar Wilde’s homosexuality colored his writing of The Importance of Being Earnest. At the time, I was closeted myself. Something about Earnest’s need to hide his identity resonated with me, over a century later. When I studied abroad in Ireland, I was able to make a pilgrimage to Merrion Square in Dublin to see statues of Oscar Wilde who was born and raised in that city, adorned with his quotes.
So of course, when I had the opportunity to read My Own Dear Darling Boy edited and with a afterward by Ulrich Bauer, the most complete collection of the surviving letters that Wilde wrote to his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, I jumped at the chance. Baer warns readers in the preface, however, to avoid making Wilde’s letters about a political agenda. After all, Wilde was himself against that kind of argument. He simply wanted his letters then they were read during his trial for “gross indecency” to be read as an authenic representation of love and skilled writing rather than evidence of specifically just “homosexual desire”.
The letters themselves on their own are quite lovely and ultimately tragic, as Oscar Wilde meets an untimely death after being pushed into poverty by his arrest and imprisonment. There are some great lines like, “What is left to us is the knowledge that we love each other,” and “I love you, I love you, my heart is a rose which your love has brought to bloom, my life is a desert fanned by the delicious breeze of your breath, and whose cool springs are your eyes, the odor of your hair is like myrrh, and wherever you go you exhale the perfume of the cassia tree.”
I did wish that we also had more than one of Lord Alfred Douglas’s letters, but apparently the one we have is the only he sent to Oscar Wilde while Wilde was awaiting his sentence. Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas, were both deeply flawed individuals. But reading their letters shows less about their relationship that it does about the art of the love letter.
There is more content on the topic of love letters, at the end of the book, in an essay titled “Love Letters That We Ought to Burn” by A.S.W. Rosenbach. Rosenbach was a collector who obtained and published some of Wilde’s letters to Douglas. Purposefully ironic, in “Love Letters That We Ought to Burn”, Rosenbach argues that love letters are too inimate to shared, and shares the love letters of several historical figures anyway.
Complete with a preface, essays, an afterward, and timeline of Oscar Wilde’s life, I would recommend My Own Dear Darling Boy to any Wilde or LGBTQ+ history scholars or general fans of Wilde’s writing.