The World's Leading Oscar Wilde Blog—Features, News, and Analysis.
Author: 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. In 2012 Cooper rediscovered Wilde's essay The Philosophy Of Dress that forms the centerpiece to his book Oscar Wilde On Dress (2013).
On St. Patrick’s Day 1882, during his lecture tour of north America, Oscar Wilde happened to be in St. Paul, Minnesota.
He had lectured the previous evening at the Opera House on The Decorative Arts, and, on the following evening, he returned to the same venue to attended a St.Patrick’s Day gathering. St. Paul was a city with a large Irish population and the event was one of several held that day to observe the occasion.
Despite inclement weather, the Opera House was full for a series of addresses on an Irish theme interspersed with vocal and instrumental selections. Towards the end of proceedings, Wilde was called upon to say a few impromptu words.
You have probably seen both of these photographs on separate occasions over the years, and, if you’re like me, thought you had been looking at the same one—perhaps because Oscar looks about same in each.
But when they are viewed together it becomes clear they are not the same photograph. Everyone has moved slightly, Oscar perhaps the least. It is clear these are different pictures.
The photo on the left can be found in Ellmann (1987)—and, as far as I can see, nowhere else. The one on the right is only slightly more common, and can be found occasionally online, but rarely, if ever, in books.
One could be forgiven for thinking that an article entitled Oscar Wilde in Sharon Springs is about Oscar Wilde in Sharon Springs, meaning his lecture there on August 11, 1882—not an unreasonable assumption.
But latterly such a conclusion would be only half right, because earlier this year the spirit of Oscar Wilde materialized once more in the small Catskills’ town.
I refer to the local Klinkhart Hall Arts Center’s celebratory event ‘The Oscar Wilde Memorial Lecture’.
So proud is this artistic community of its Wildean connection that the occasion has been added to their annual Poetry Festival—the brainchild of Paul Muldoon, the award-winning Irish professor of poetry—to which distinguished writers are invited to read, talk about their work, and conduct poetry workshops.
And so the privilege fell to me to recapture Wilde’s visit to Sharon Springs by being invited to present the inaugural lecture.
Sarony photograph #19 must have been a favorite of Wilde’s as it is almost certainly the one he was referring to when, in March 1882, he wrote to his tour promoter, Richard D’Oyly Carte, to suggest that a lithograph of himself would help business. He said: “The photograph of me with head looking over my shoulder would be the best – just the head and fur collar.”
It is not surprising, therefore, that one occasionally sees this photograph signed by Wilde as a gift for friends, and two such examples can be seen in the footnotes.
However, a third example, featured above, is of more interest because it is inscribed: “pour mon ami, Carroll Beckwith” which, even for most Wilde scholars, invites two questions: who was Carroll Beckwith, and why is Wilde’s inscription in French?
While Beardsley’s brief career was cut short aged 25 by his death from tuberculosis, he made an impact as a brilliant and daring innovator who often caused controversy by using satirical imagery to push gender and sexual boundaries.
On view at the Grolier Club in New York City from September 8 through November 12, 2022 is ‘Aubrey Beardsley, 150 Years Young’—an exhibition drawn from materials in the Mark Samuels Lasner Collection in the UD Library, Museums and Press.
The exhibition highlights the rebellious quality of his art and writing, celebrating the eternally young Beardsley, and exploring the meteoric rise of the 19th-century British artist, who became a monumental figure in book and magazine illustration, graphic arts and poster design, and the history of gender and sexuality.
The exhibition is assembled by a long-time Grolier Club member, Mark Samuels Lasner, and reflects both his own interests and expertise and those of his partner, Margaret D. Stetz, the Mae and Robert Carter Professor of Women’s Studies and Professor of Humanities at the University of Delaware.
Together they have curated this exhibition, and you can preview Margaret’s excellently assembled labels for project in an online version here: Grolier Club Online.
For those visiting the Exhibition Gallery in person the hours are Monday to Saturday, 10 AM—5 PM, and there will also be a printed catalogue coming later this Fall.
At the risk of being oxymoronic, Margaret Stetz is a most energetic decadent. Earlier this year we enjoyed her masked but still ‘in-person conversation’ on The Decadent Aubrey Beardsley at the Rosenbach in Philadelphia; and she also gave a talk in London at the recent conference AB 150: The Artist Resurgent organized by the Decadence Research Centre at Goldsmiths in association with the Aubrey Beardsley Society and Birkbeck Centre for Nineteenth-Century Studies. There have probably been myriad other events in between.
Also speaking at the conference was another Oscar Wilde Society stalwart: Anne Anderson of Exeter University, who, in turn, will be giving her own impressions of the Beardsley style in ‘Aubrey Beardsley: Enfant Terrible of the 1890s’ as part of three-part series of online lectures in September and October entitled: The Wilde Years: 1870-1900.
And to complete a female triumvirate of expertise, no review of contributors to the Beardsley oeuvre would be complete without reference to the canonical and comprehensive Aubrey Beardsley: A Catalogue Raisonné, a two volume set by Linda Gertner Zatlin, representing the first complete presentation of the provocative, modernist, graphic works of Beardsley. It is an essential work for both serious scholars and occasional researchers.
You may recall a post I made a few years ago about a CBS-TV arts show called ‘Camera Three’ which aired at 11:00 AM EST on Sunday, March 12, 1967.
It took the form of an interview with Brian Reade, then curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and contained reference to the V&A’s Aubrey Beardsley exhibition which had transferred to New York’s (then-named) Gallery of Modern Art.
During that segment there occurred a rare TV appearance by Oscar Wilde’s son, Vyvyan Holland. Not long after my article appeared the clip disappeared from the Internet because the owner had closed their YouTube channel. However, I have found it again.
Take a look below: filmed just seven months before Vyvyan Holland died in October of that year, it provides a chance to see his unassuming manner as he reveals personal experiences such as shooting moose and witnessing the bedridden (and bearded) Beardsley.
The part containing Vyvyan Holland begins around minute number 20.
But never before I have replicated Oscar’s tour so closely as I shall on August 11, 2022, when, 140 years to the day that Oscar Wilde gave a talk in Sharon Springs, NY, as part of a Summer vacation in the Catskills, I shall be doing precisely the same. Or, more formally, I shall be delivering the Klinkhart Hall Arts Center’s inaugural Oscar Wilde Memorial Lecture.
The event is allied to the Arts Center’s wider Poetry Festival, an annual tradition established by Festival founder Paul Muldoon, the award-winning Irish poet and professor of poetry, at which distinguished poets are invited to read, talk about their work, and conduct poetry workshops, all free to the public.
COMPLEMENTARY ARTICLES IN THE CURRENT ISSUE OF THE WILDEAN
—A Publication of the Oscar Wilde Society—
During the less furtive period of his post-prison exile, many young men passed fleetingly through Oscar Wilde’s life, most of whom are either lost to posterity or little more than unidentified footnotes. But two such acquaintances have recently gained in renown, being recognized as adding interest, and even significance, to the Wilde story.
Both of these young men emerged from a short period during the Summer of 1899 when Wilde escaped the combined heat of Paris and an unpaid hotel bill, to spend time out of the city at a charming riverside hotel called L’Ecu on L’Île d’Amour at Chennevières-sur-Marne.
One of these young men, with a hitherto unheralded connection to Wilde, was Christian Frederick Gauss, a future dean at Princeton, who can now be seen to have been a potential love interest for Wilde and the dedicatee of one of his poems.
The other is the mysterious figure of Thomas Langrel Harris about whom Oscar wrote so bitterly during his last months in Paris, but whose biography as an ill-fated young artist and scoundrel was, until recently, unknown.
Oscar Wilde Society members who have recently received the July issue of The Wildean will have been fascinated by each of these young men as they are featured in two related articles: ‘Three Times Tried’ by the present author; and ‘Oscar Wilde’s Infamous Young Swindler’, by Patricia J. Fanning.
To learn more about the Oscar Wilde Society and to receive its scholarly journal The Wildean and other benefits, visit: https://oscarwildesociety.co.uk, or simply click below to join:
The Oscar Wilde Society, a literary society devoted to the congenial appreciation of Oscar Wilde, is a non-profit organization which aims to promote knowledge, appreciation and study of Wilde’s life, personality, and work.
During July 1899 while in retreat from a sweltering Paris, Oscar Wilde spent some time at a small hotel called L’Ecu on L’Île d’Amour (“the island of love”) at Chennevières-sur-Marne.
He described the place a “a lovely spot—and island with trees and a little inn” at which he lodged by the river. While there, Oscar found rest, rowing, and even some romance. But it wasn’t all plain sailing.
Wilde was very hard up and in fear of being hounded by the agent of his Paris hotel who wished to settle his unpaid bill. He sent a telegram to his publisher, Leonard Smithers, asking for a loan. He wrote to Frank Harris enquiring if he had any spare cash for a handout. And, to make matters worse, a scoundrel acquaintance stole money from him before abruptly leaving the resort. However, Oscar muddled through, and by the end of the month he was back in Paris moving out of a hotel he could not afford, and into one that he could—a much more humble abode where he lived and where eventually he died.
As we enter the dog days of this year, here in memory of Oscar’s last real holiday are a few period photographs and postcards of the surroundings of his little love island, to give you a sense of where, for one last short summer, he talked pleasingly to new friends and wrote pleadingly to old ones.
In February of 1900, Oscar Wilde wrote to his young friend and admirer, Louis Wilkinson, lamenting, ‘I am very sorry you are in correspondence with Langrel Harris [sic]. He is a most infamous young swindler, who selected me – of all ruined people – to swindle out of money. He is clever, but little more than a professional thief. He introduced himself to me, and induced me to make myself responsible for his hotel bills, left me to pay them, and stole money besides. What the French call “un sale individu”. Don’t write to him any more, or know him. But how did you know him? Please tell me by return.’1
In Merlin Holland and Rupert Hart-Davis’s magisterial 2000 edition of Wilde’s letters, a short note remarks – ‘This curiously named character [Langrel Harris] has eluded identification.’ In the past twenty years, however, the World Wide Web has grown ever larger and ever finer – and it has become possible to catch even such elusive figures – and recover something of their fugitive careers. And the career of Thomas Langrell Harris – as he was more properly called – was fugitive in more senses than one.