ABSTRACT

In Wilde’s private life no woman was more honoured than his mother, cLa Madre Devotissima’, and none was more betrayed than his wife, Constance. Oscillating between the poles of filial duty and adulter­ ous neglect, Wilde’s sexuality, from about 1886 (after two years of marriage), made orthodox family life an impossibility. Set, therefore, at a distance from the institution which had nurtured him as a child and which, at least as the publicly married and doting father of two sons, he continued to uphold, Wilde cultivated an intellectual notion of the ideal family. His most radical critique of the family is given in cThe Soul of Man Under Socialism’, while the social comedies suggest that degrees of orthodoxy are appropriate according to the politics (radical or reactionary) of the partners involved. One of his earliest, and most conservative, pictures of the ideal family provides him with a model for the government of the State. Arguing for the involvement of women in politics, in an editorial for the Woman’s World, he suggests:

If something is right in a family, it is difficult to see why it is therefore, without any further reason, wrong in the State. If the participation of women in politics means that as a good family educates all its members so must a good State, what better issue could there be? The family ideal of the State may be difficult of attainment, but as an ideal it is better than the policeman theory. It would mean the moralisation of politics. The cultivation of separate sorts of virtues and separate ideals of duty in men and women has led to the whole social fabric being weaker and unhealthier than it need be.