There are some interesting parallels between the circumstances surrounding the trials of Oscar Wilde and the situation that Jian Ghomeshi now finds himself in.
Oscar, after learning that a defamatory card had been delivered to his club by the Marquis of Queensberry (father to one of Wilde’s lovers, Lord Alfred Douglas), decided to sue. On the card were the words ‘Oscar Wilde posing (as a) Sodomite’ (there is some uncertainty about the exact wording). Nonetheless, Oscar sued for libel. Queensberry subsequently rounded up a number of young men who were known to sell their favours, to testify against Oscar, contesting his claim that he was not a sodomite. In fact, they had been paid generously by Wilde to engage in homosexual acts.
The result was that Oscar lost his case. He had to pay court costs, and, if I recall correctly, had to declare bankruptcy, due to the fact that Queensberry called in some debts. Anyhow, because of the evidence presented in the first trial, Oscar was prosecuted by the Crown on charges of gross indecency. This is where the phrase ‘The love that dare not speak its name’ gained currency. It is from the poem “Two Loves” by Lord Alfred Douglas, published in 1894 and was commonly interpreted as a euphemism for homosexuality. By Wilde’s definition “ [..] it repeatedly exists between an older and a younger man, when the older man has intellect, and the younger man has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him.” No matter. The jury found him guilty as charged and he was sentenced to two years hard labour. He came out a broken man, living out the rest of his tragically short life in France, in poverty and in poor health. He died in a seedy Parisian hotel from a form of encephalitis.
In today’s scandal the CBC is playing Queensberry to Ghomeshi’s Wilde. Suing the CBC is a doomed cause. Apparently members of a union (as Ghomeshi is) cannot sue their employers, and these same employers have the right to fire anyone whose private lives might diminish or besmirch their ‘brand’ or reputation. Meanwhile, witnesses are now coming forth to tell their BDSM sex stories to CBC audiences, complete with allegations of having been beaten by Ghomeshi, and corroborating the Toronto Star stories of Ghomeshi having had non-consensual, violent sex with multiple partners.
Homosexuality at the time of Oscar’s trial (despite being practiced discreetly by many, including Queensberry’s eldest son) was as shocking as violent non-consensual sex is today. There is however one important difference between the cases. Unlike homosexuality, violence against women will never be accepted by society. In fact it is an insult to Oscar Wilde to equate what he did, to what Ghomeshi has done. Nonetheless, if the comparison between these two situations is to hold, then, once Ghomeshi’s suit against the CBC has been thrown out, the Crown will press charges against him for assault, and other related illegal activities.