Pederasty and Sexual Activity in Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince and Other Tales“


  • Chris Bartle (University of Leeds) University of Leeds



This article argues that pederastic sexual activity is evident in The Happy Prince and Other Tales“ (1888), and it suggests that sex was a significant element in Wilde's pederastic imagination. I contend that sexual activity is a pressing topic in Wilde studies due to the prevalence of the queer theory framework in the field. The historical exactitude of queer theory has produced an overdue analysis of Wilde's eros in relation to ‘pederasty' as opposed to ‘homosexuality', but its profound anti-foundationality has led to a refusal to calcify the moments in Wilde's fiction when sexual activity between males may be in the figurative mix, and this repeats the de-realising representational strategies that once consigned male-male sex to a shadowlike existence. I contest the etherealising bent of queer theory vis-à -vis “Wilde on theoretical, textual and historical grounds, and I then unearth a hitherto unidentified interaction between the pederastic and sexual elements in The Happy Prince and Other Tales“. I show that the issue of mutuality in pederastic relations is a significant concern for Wilde, and I argue that he remains pessimistic about the place of sex in pederastic relationships because it subsumes, distorts, or eradicates what he saw as pederasty's invigorative properties.