Something To Declare

The Oscar Wilde Calendar. London, Frank & Cecil Palmer Ltd., London 1910. [Mason 637-9]
(Author’s Collection)*
A New Earliest Example of Wilde’s ALLEGED Remark:

—I have nothing to declare except my genius.—

In my latest post I referenced the godfather of Oscar Wilde researchers, Stuart Mason, in connection with his unique scrapbooks of Wilde ephemera.

“Stuart Mason” was, in fact, the pseudonym of Christopher Sclater Millard, who produced Wilde’s first, and finest, bibliography, a decade-long study he conducted alongside many other Wildean pursuits including authoring Wilde books, being his staunch defender, and sharing his experience as a fellow victim of state-sanctioned homophobia and imprisonment. He was also, crucially to our story, at one time the private secretary to Wilde’s literary executor Robert Ross, in whose circle he was intimately entangled.

One of Millard’s projects in 1910 was to produce, with the assistance of Ross, a small volume entitled The Oscar Wilde Calendar. A Quotation from the works of Oscar Wilde for every day in the year with some unrecorded sayings selected by Stuart Mason.

It is difficult now, with an over-abundance of real and imaginary Wilde quotations to appreciate that, back in 1910, a book of Oscar Wilde quotations was not only a novel idea, it was a necessary one. The majority of these now famous Wilde sayings would have been new to most people fifteen years after Wilde was airbrushed from society. Ross, meanwhile, was on a charm offensive to rehabilitate Oscar’s reputation, and this little book would help to amuse the public and fill a literary gap. In this respect, it is worth noting that the Calendar is also symbolic as the first appearance in print of two pictures: the last live image of Oscar Wilde taken in Rome in 1900, and a photograph of the painting of Wilde by Harper Pennington.

Returning to our purpose, however, this little book is important because it provides a new earliest example of the remark Wilde dubiously made at New York Customs: “I have nothing to declare except my genius.”

And therein lies a story.

Continue reading Something To Declare

Rediscovered II

Oscar Wilde, 1889. One of series by W & D Downey, Ebury Street, London, S.W.

You will recall the rediscovered photograph of Oscar Wilde (similar to the one above) that I featured in this post — where it was effectively published for the first time in almost 130 years.

The photograph had originally appeared in the March 10, 1893 issue of the Westminster Budget, in an article entitled “Mr. Wilde’s Forbidden Play” about Oscar’s French work Salomé.

At the time of that earlier post I expressed the hope is that an original print might come to light, but one has not done so yet. However, what has emerged is another copy of the newspaper, this time with a better quality image—now shown above.

So who do we have thank for this improved print?

Continue reading Rediscovered II

Interview With Natalie Barney

The woman Oscar Wilde met as a girl in 1882 who became the lover of his niece and had an affair with his own lover’s future wife.

Confused? Then to understand the full intrigue you should read my post A Scene at Long Beach and learn how the story began with Natalie Barney as a little girl. Then return to this article which features a rare interview with her in her 90th year.


Natalie Barney was a playwright, poet and novelist resident in Paris, during which time she served on committees “that commemorated both [Wilde’s] birth and death.”. As early as 1900, she was openly lesbian and published love poems to women under her own name, before going on to found a salon of decadent Modernists on the Left Bank for more than 60 years.

Within this clique Natalie Barney conducted many non-monogamous relationships, and at least two of her lovers had Wildean connections.

Continue reading Interview With Natalie Barney

Anatomy of a Cartoon

The Story of Oscar Wilde’s Infamous Curtain Call

Take a closer look at the details of the above cartoon.

It is one of the Fancy Portrait series from the long established satirical journal Punch and it appeared in response to the opening night of Wilde’s play Lady Windermere’s Fan at the St. James’s Theatre on February 19, 1892.

It was an event worth memorializing, not least for the occasion of Oscar’s famous curtain call, two aspects of which have become the stuff of legend. 

First, that Wilde took to the stage still smoking a cigarette—which some thought disrespectful. Second, that he gave an amusing speech of playful immodesty—which others thought condescending. Or, at least they did in those stuffy Victorian days. One irate newspaper correspondent referred to Wilde’s “vulgar impertinence”. [1] These were, of course, the Victorians who could neither grasp irony nor face the change in attitudes that Wilde boldly anticipated.

Conversely, others saw no ill-manners in Wilde’s appearance. Indeed, the theatre audience on the night was thoroughly amused, and one report of it found his demeanor “very touching”. [2]

Whichever view one took, everyone agreed on one thing: that Wilde was different. And being different is a sure way in any era of achieving the second worst thing the world: i.e. being talked about. So the story of Wilde’s curtain call  was seized upon by the press at the time and has been well-documented by authors over the years. 

But my analysis begins with the cartoon. In it Wilde’s curtain call is immediately recognizable: the smoking, the speech, and Lady Windermere’s fan. So as we have already alluded to the record of journalism and biography, let us revisit the circumstances through the prism of caricature.

Continue reading Anatomy of a Cartoon

Deepo

Illustration: James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960).

Nobody ever alleged that my allegiance to alliteration was anything other than alluring, so allow me to allude to this little Oscar Wilde story about the Liberal, the Lord of Language, and the ladies Labouchère and Langtry.

Or perhaps it would be even more obscure, and thus more intriguing, to say it is about Henrietta Hodson, Hester & The Two Henrys, and The Home Depot.

Either way, we must first place the tale in context.

Continue reading Deepo

Cowboys and Indians

boyds1882a

Lecturing in the midwest, Oscar Wilde meets pioneers and native Americans

This is Boyd’s Theatre and Opera House in Omaha, Nebraska, as it was when Oscar Wilde lectured there.

If the surroundings look a little unmade (and Oscar complained about the muddy streets) it was to be expected—in 1882 the midwest of America was still a place of frontier development, something that the people of St. Paul ironically accepted:

text

By the time Wilde arrived in Omaha in March 1882, the geography of his American adventure had started to take shape.

Continue reading Cowboys and Indians

An Impromptu Lecture

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WILDE LETTER REVEALS IMPROMPTU ARRANGEMENTS

A previously unpublished autograph letter signed (ALS) by Oscar Wilde appeared a little while ago at auction in North Carolina. Aided by the letter’s evident authenticity and the fact that the consignor is a direct family descendant, it sold at auction for $5,500.

The item is a note sent by Wilde to Anne Lynch Botta, the 19th century doyenne of New York literary society, in which he expresses regret at not being able to attend a reception, owing to his impending departure for Canada.

We can use internal evidence from the letter to learn more about Wilde’s itinerary.

Continue reading An Impromptu Lecture

First English

SALOME | A TRAGEDY IN ONE ACT
TRANSLATED FROM THE FRENCH OF OSCAR WILDE
FIRST ENGLISH EDITION, one of 500 copies
[Author’s collection]

EARLY TRANSLATIONS OF OSCAR WILDE’S SALOMÉ

Wilde’s play Salomé was published in the 1890s in two languages, and the bane of each was a lordly limitation.

First was the original work that Wilde wrote in French—albeit with a little help from his friends. Rehearsals in 1892 for a London production based on the French draft were unexpectedly derailed by the Lord Chamberlain who deemed the drama too decadent to be staged. One presumes that incestuous and homoerotic desire, murder and necrophilia were a tad more taboo in those days—and the autocratic aristocrat refused to grant it a license for the theatre. Undeterred, Wilde proceeded into print and the play appeared in book form as Salomé: Drame en un acte — or what is now referred to simply as the original French edition (1893).

Next was the troublesome task of translating the text into English. This time the noble impediment was altogether more predictable because it was Wilde’s paramour and translator of the play himself Lord Alfred Douglas—or Bosie to his friends if he had any friends left after characteristic bouts of squabbling and fraught correspondence about his lingua franca with all concerned.

“Schoolboy” Translator

Romance Linguistics

Owing to the personal discord between various participants and the 23 year-old Douglas, his work on the translation has often been maligned in mainstream commentary. But such a conviction conveniently overlooks the fact that Wilde’s conversational French was grammatically unsatisfactory, and the composition artistically unsuited to an English version. Little wonder that Wilde, who had himself received native assistance with the finer points of the argot, did not translate his own work himself, and never repeated the experiment.

So it might be a more sympathetic view of then Douglas translation to accept that literary style is notoriously difficult to render harmoniously at the best of times—never mind the complications converting Wilde’s repetitive symbolist subtleties from the gendered Gallic into the neutered syntax of stodgy old Anglo-Saxon.

In any event, the task was clearly a tall order for his willful lily-like lordship and consequently authorial corrections and editorial diplomacy were requisite to Wilde’s French play eventually being Anglicized about a year later as Salome: Tragedy in One Act, or the First English edition (1894).

So we have the French and the English editions, and these twin pillars of publication have provided an orthodoxy accepted by all studies of Salome to date, namely that the Douglas translation of 1894 marked the first time the English-reading world had been privy to Wilde’s controversial French play.

So far so good; but not so fast.

What if a hitherto unheralded full synopsis of the play and a partial translation in English was already in the public domain long before Bosie got his hands on Oscar’s feminine nouns?

Moreover, would it not be a noteworthy addition to the bibliography of Salome if such an English translation not only existed prior to Douglas’ ‘First English’, but also that it appeared in print on the very day after the French edition was published?

“Mais non!” I hear scholars protest, “c’est pas possible?”

Continue reading First English

Wilde Fire

tootles1

In my latest post about Wilde in St. Joseph, I mentioned Tootles Opera House quite forgetting that I had blogged about its demise at the time.

Here it is that post again.


SAY IT AIN’T SO, ST. JOE.

What a shame. The venue where Oscar Wilde lectured in St. Joseph, Missouri in April 1882, was destroyed by fire on Monday this week.

No longer a theater, it may have been just another empty converted office building symbolic of a Midwest hollowed out by recession, but it was still there. Unlike so many of the Wilde’s lecture venues which were lost to fire in gaslit days, surely, one thought, this building had survived that fate.

Gutted

But no, and here’s what makes the loss a little more personal.

Just a day earlier I had been discussing which city from Wilde’s lecture tour that I would most like to visit. No kidding. I said St Joseph, Missouri. One reason was that  both Wilde’s hotel and lecture theater were extant, and very few cities that can boast that—although there is one fewer now.

There was also much history attached to the city, and I have already featured the story of Wilde’s hotel on this blog here: Oscar Wilde’s Pony Tale, and thankfully that building remains. But we must now bid farewell to Wilde’s lecture theater. Somewhere, the grand chandelier grows dim one last time.

Continue reading Wilde Fire

Pony Tale

Rare postmark of the short-lived Pony Express (1860-61)

Today is April 14, a date noted in history for the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the sinking of the Titanic. Not that Oscar Wilde had much to do with either event, although he once met the former President’s widow, Mary Lincoln, when she was living in retirement in New York City; and two of his friends died in the Titanic disaster.

But April 14 is also the 161st anniversary of the opening of the short-lived but historic Pony Express, and this, surprisingly, does give me an opportunity to talk a little about Oscar Wilde.

Continue reading Pony Tale