Indecent Postures | Wilde Plays 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.


© John Cooper, 2015.

[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.

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.


  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…”




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