What if Oscar Wilde said; No?!?

We have all done it, or I don’t know about you, but I have at least, I mean I’ve often though what if. This idea of experimenting with the what if’s can be very fascinating and also dangerous, fascinating because we can then explore other possible directions history could have taken, dangerous because some might have problems with seeing the difference between truth and fantasy. Or more correctly seeing the difference between the; what if, and the real what.

What if history is also known as Counterfactual history, by which we mean the idea of exploring the course of events that would have , or more correctly is believed to have, come to pass is a certain event would have turn out differently than it actually did. Probably one of the most fashionable or popular ‘what if’s’ is the idea of what if Germany had Won the second world war? Would we all have spoken German by now? And would that have meant that we already would have German economic ideas in place in the European budgets??? In other words could a German victory in the 1940’s have prevented this economic crises Europe is facing now??? Other what if’s that is popular: What if Robert E Lee had won the battle of Gettysburg? Or what if Napoleon had won at Waterloo?, among others. Maybe one of the earliest examples of this counterfactual history method is; Charles Petrie’s ‘If: A Jacobite Fantasy, first publishes on the 3rd of January 1926 in The Weekly Westminster.[1]One of the most famous books in counterfactual history is Philip K Dick’s The Man in the High Castle from 1962[2], the first of the two texts is concerned with what if the Stuart line had been re-established on the throne in 1745, the second is about what if the Axis powers had won World War Two, both are well worth to read, but that is not the main issue of this article.

For those of you who follow the notions of history months, will know that February in many countries is LGBT-history month, and in that instance I want to examine a WHAT IF that I was acquainted with the other day (2nd of Feb. 2012) at a lecture held by Professor Eric Anderson, what if Oscar Wilde had not had his slip of words and admitted that he was gay, would we then consider flamboyant feminine men as the stereotypical Homosexual? I do not want to judge, but I can say honestly, and I think many with me, that many a Gay man have something slightly feminine with his being. I am not here saying that all homosexual men are feminine or flamboyant, or that all feminine and, or, flamboyant men are gay, please understand me correctly, what I am trying to say is; there are a certain group of men who are both gay, flamboyant and feminine in their way, and this idea of gays being flamboyant and feminine comes from Oscar Wilde.[3] Not from what he wrote, but from his own way of living and our ideas of him.[4] The ideas can be summed up in the words of the Marquess of Queensberry’s words in June 1894 ‘You look it and you pose as it, which is just as bad[5].on the morning of the 4th of April 1895 Oscar Wilde’s tongue slipped, and he stated in court: ‘Oh, no, never in my life; he was a peculiarly plain boy’,[6] when he was asked if he had ever kissed a specific servant referred to in the court documents.[7] Then the question is; what if Oscar Wilde had not had his slip of tongue? Would we then have more plays or poems by him? Would we have defined the cliché homosexual man as a masculine man? Or even an average diversity as we now are moving towards? Or would we never have had the acceptance and development with have been seen the last 20 years or so on the topic of LGBT rights?

As you have seen there are many ways to use counterfactual history, sometimes it’s used to enlighten us to real possibilities, other times they can be pure experiments of thoughts, but at least one thing is for certain and that is that the art of Counterfactual history once and for all have proven that history is not a linear chain of positive development is wrong, for we are now aware that so much could have been different if certain things, actions or even words would have been done, said or acted differently.

This is just one of many ways to use the What If ideas while reading or thinking of history, what is your favourite what if in history?

[1] http://www.jacobite.ca/essays/if.htm (accessed 17.50 on the 6th of Feb. 2012)

[2] http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/nonfiction/highcastle.htm (accessed 17.52 on the 6th of Feb. 2012)

[3] A. Sinfield, vii

[4] Ibid, vii.

[5] M. Holland, xix, 2004

[6] Ibid, 207.

[7] Ibid, 207.


Anderson, E., Homohysteria, lecture on the 2nd of Feb 2012.

Holland, M., Irish Peacock & Scarlet Marquess; The Real Trail of Oscar Wilde, (London, 2004)

Sinfield, A., The Wilde Century; Efeeminacy, Oscar Wilde and the Queer Moment, (Chichester, 1994)




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