Indecent Postures | Wilde Plays Cricket

cricket

The summer game is upon us with the reminder that in Oscar Wilde’s earliest surviving letter, as well as in his final poem, there is mention of cricket.

In 1868, Oscar Wilde proudly wrote to his Mother that his school had beaten the visiting 27th Regiment at cricket by 70 runs [1]. Thirty years later, at the other end of his writing career, the initial description Wilde gives us of Charles Thomas Wooldrige, the tragic dedicatee of The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), is that a cricket cap was on his head.

What, you may ask, do these bookends portend? Well, precisely nothing.

Or so I thought.

The consensus is that, apart from dominoes outside French cafes, Oscar famously had a dislike of outdoor games. Football, he is reported to have said, was all very well for rough girls, but hardly suitable for delicate boys [2]; and, as for cricket, he didn’t play as it requires one to assume such indecent postures. [3]

cricket-Oscar Wilde

As the photograph on this page demonstrates, Oscar remained decidedly unprepared when it came to participating in cricket, content to be holding what appears to be a mascot dog (that refuses to look straight at the camera long enough for the exposure). Indeed, there is no evidence of his having played the game at all.

Until now, that is.

The evidence is in this newspaper article [4] which tells us Oscar was persuaded into a game of cricket aboard the steamship Britannic on his way to America for the second time in 1883.

Moreover he appears to have been no mean player, as he was pleased to recount that he had hit a six! For those unfamiliar with the old game, this is the equivalent of hitting one out of the park, or, in Oscar’s case, overboard.

The_Times_Sun__Aug_12__1883_


[1] Complete Letters, 3

[2] Dominoes and football from Hesketh Pearson, His Life and Wit, 147

[3] Robert Harborough Sherard, The Life of Oscar Wilde (1906), 104.

[4] The Times (Philadelphia), August 12, 1883, 1.

Published by

John Cooper

John Cooper is a independent scholar who has spent 30 years in the study of Oscar Wilde. He is a long-standing member of the Oscar Wilde Society, a founding member of the Oscar Wilde Society of America, and a former manager of the Victorian Society In America. For the last 20 years Cooper has specialised in Wilde’s 1882 lecture tour becoming a consultant on Wilde’s American experience to biographers and the wider media. Cooper lectures on Wilde and has conducted new and unique research into Oscar Wilde visits to New York culminating in a guided walking tour. Online he is a popular blogger and the creator of the noncommercial archive 'Oscar Wilde in America’ which incorporates his work on the Sarony photographs, and a detailed documentary verification of Wilde’s American lecture tour. In 2012 Cooper rediscovered Wilde's essay The Philosophy Of Dress that forms the centerpiece to his book Oscar Wilde On Dress (2013).

5 thoughts on “Indecent Postures | Wilde Plays Cricket”

  1. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing. I submit it was the uniform (or hat) that might have been his greatest deterrent.

    Like

  2. John,

    Do you remember Wilde’s entry in an autograph book in 1877 (Peter Vernier covered it in The Wildean Number 13 in July 1998)? It was a two page spread with questions to answer amongst which was:

    Q. 33. What is your favourite game?

    And Wilde had written:

    Snipe and Lawn Tennis

    !!

    Peter does point out that Wilde had a “…relish for field sports as a young man…”

    Cheers,

    Geoff

    Like

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