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Sex, Knowledge, and Receptions of the Past$
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Kate Fisher and Rebecca Langlands

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780199660513

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199660513.001.0001

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Wilde in the Fifties

Wilde in the Fifties

Chapter:
(p.265) 12 Wilde in the Fifties
Source:
Sex, Knowledge, and Receptions of the Past
Author(s):

Chris Waters

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199660513.003.0013

This chapter considers the various meanings attached to the sexual life of Oscar Wilde in the 1950s. Now a queer icon, Wilde enjoys a prominent place in the pantheon of gay heroes. Such was not the case in the 1950s. In that decade, consumed with what was termed the ‘problem’ of homosexuality, Wilde’s life was rewritten in terms of contemporary understandings of that ‘problem’. He became a prism through which homosexuality was understood in the decade that marked the centenary of his birth and was dominated by psychoanalytic narratives of psychosexual development. This chapter examines how knowledge of Wilde was produced by biographers, homophile activists, doctors, and psychiatrists in the 1950s and explores the implications of the Wilde that was articulated for the emerging homophile movement; it asks what ideological investments were at work in the varied attempts to produce the truth of Wilde’s sexuality in the 1950s.

Keywords:   gay history, homosexual law reform, homosexuality, Oscar Wilde, psychiatry, sexology, sexual inversion, Wolfenden Committee

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