“May Morning on Magdalen College, Oxford, Ancient Annual Ceremony.” William Holman Hunt, 1888/1893. [Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, 1907P132]

It’s debatable whether the name Ernest, used punningly by Wilde in his most famous play The Importance of Being Earnest, was chosen as a late Victorian code word for “gay”.

For instance, the Wildean academic, John Stokes, suggests here this may be true “since the word ‘Earnest’ bears a euphonious relation to the [gender-variant] term Uranian”—presumably in the sound of its continental equivalents. [1]

On the other hand, the actor, Sir Donald Sinden, who both knew and consulted Lord Alfred Douglas and Sir John Gielgud on the point, once wrote to The Times to dispute the suggestion. [2]

However, whether the words Ernest and Earnest are homosexual or merely homophonic, one thing is clear.

The choice of names, and particularly the name Ernest, formed part of a gay literary subtext close to Wilde in the 1890s.

Continue reading Homophones

Quixote of the Queer


Textual Analysis for Students

A verse parody appeared just three weeks after Oscar Wilde arrived in America. It was one many such newspaper items in 1882 that poked fun at Wilde and the aesthetic movement.

It was notable for its affected and satirical overuse of alliteration. Although Wilde was known for his occasional penchant for this verbal prose style (something that Whistler later parodied), it was probably not recognized by the author of this verse when it was written in January 1882.

It is more likely that its use was prompted by expressions such as “too-too” and “utterly utter” that were connected to the also alliterative Apostle of the Aesthetes.

As such, the text is instructional in understanding allusions to Wilde and the aesthetic movement. Let us examine the terminology:

Continue reading Quixote of the Queer

Oscar Wilde’s Birthday Dinner


A Review of the Oscar Wilde Birthday Dinner, 2017

This Article First Appeared in Intentions,
(New Series No. 105, Feb. 2018)

Published by the Oscar Wilde Society


The twenty-sixth Oscar Wilde Society annual birthday dinner was held on October 13, 2017 at the National Liberal Club in Whitehall — a now familiar home for the Society and its regulars. However, for one delinquent expatriate member it was a first visit to this ‘new’ venue, a fact which prompted the surprised realisation that my previous birthday dinner was almost twenty years ago.

On that distant occasion the dinner was held at the Cadogan Hotel, an experience now so far removed from The National Liberal Club that it might have happened to an invented younger brother. This Wildean idea seemed apt because, if we condense the intervening two decades into the perspective of successive events, the two places emerge as opposite sides of the same coin of the Oscar realm.

Let me explain.

Continue reading Oscar Wilde’s Birthday Dinner

Primary Sources — Defined

In my recent article about Oscar Wilde’s cello coat, and throughout my online archive of Oscar Wilde In America, I often allude to Primary Sources.

For ease of reference, below is the working definition. [1]

Primary Sources

A primary source is the contemporaneous, documented, and reliable viewpoint of an individual participant or observer usually in the form of:

—Newspapers, periodicals and other published materials reporting actual events, interviews, etc., by participants or observers.
—Journals, speeches, letters, memoranda, manuscripts, diaries and other papers in which individuals describe events in which they were participants or observers.
—Records of organizations. The minutes, reports, correspondence, etc. of an organization or agency.
—Primary accounts contained in memoir, biography and autobiography although these may be less reliable if they are written well after the event and distorted by personal agenda, dimming memory or the revised perspective that may come with hindsight.
—Period photographs.

Fortunately, it is increasingly easy to locate primary sources, particularly public domain books, using online searches at places such as the Internet Archive and Google Books.

What is not generally accepted as a primary source, nor should be acceptable in any scholarly account, is the simple referral to a previous work that itself does not rely on a primary source—this practice propagates myth.

Cure for Insomnia

As a counterpoint to this dogma read the article here for a rambling yet lighter view of how the notions of primary material factor into some aspects of Wilde.

[1]  Based on guides prepared by The University of Central Oklahoma and The University of California Berkeley Library.

The Happy Prince


—Watch Sundance Live—

The 2018 Sundance Film Festival gets underway today, January 18th, and making its world premiere is The Happy Prince written and directed by Rupert Everett.

It is the story of the last days of Oscar Wilde—and the ghosts haunting them brought to vivid life. His body ailing, Wilde lives in exile, surviving on the flamboyant irony and brilliant wit that defined him as the transience of lust is laid bare and the true riches of love are revealed. Or so it says here.

The film features Rupert Everett as Wilde and Emily Watson as Constance, along with Colin Firth, Colin Morgan, and Edwin Thomas.

If you can’t get to Utah there will be coverage on the Sundance YouTube channel:

Continue reading The Happy Prince

Cello Encore


—Corroborating Research

In a recent article I established the literary source for the cello coat worn by Oscar Wilde at the Grosvenor Gallery. However, I left it open to interpretation whether Wilde actually did have such a coat tailored or, perhaps, just happened to have one like it. After all, there was only one report of the “cello” shape.

However, we can now be definitive.

Further research allows us to make the coat story complete—although, as we shall see, the archaic variant word compleat would make for a better fit.

Continue reading Cello Encore

Oscar Wilde’s Cello Coat

A Literary Mystery Solved

A Research Piece for Scholars

While there continues to be a welcome variety of approaches to Oscar Wilde’s life, many of the incidents in the Wilde story tend to remain the same.

One of the recurring plot points in most studies and biographies of Wilde and his circle, over the last 30 years, is the occasion of the opening night of the Grosvenor Gallery, when Wilde purportedly wore a coat in the shape of a cello.

This intriguing story became the subject of conversation I had at the recent annual dinner of the Oscar Wilde Society in London. Because of my work on Wilde and dress, I was asked by an academic engaged on a related theme whether I knew the earliest reference to Oscar’s cello coat—as current research could only trace the story back to Ellmann (1987). [1]

I confessed I did not know. So I decided to investigate.

Continue reading Oscar Wilde’s Cello Coat