Oscar Wilde Goes to California

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Oscar Wilde’s long and eventful journey to California in 1882.

Those who have been following my verification of Oscar Wilde’s lecture tour of North America in 1882 will know that we have reached California.

Oscar Wilde’s journey to California was a significant event in itself as it constituted his longest period of continuous traveling—4 days and 4 nights—incorporating some 1867 miles and over 200 station stops. It was, as might be imagined with Oscar Wilde on board, a journey that was not without several incidents and experiences. Trace Wilde’s Journey to California, discover the route, and learn about his adventures and life on board the train.

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Oscar Wilde’s Arrival in America

ariadne2On December 24, 1881, Oscar Wilde sailed for America from Liverpool aboard the S.S. Arizona bound for New York. The reasons for his much-heralded visit seemed clear enough: to promote Gilbert & Sullivan’s latest operetta, Patience, while conducting a series of lectures on subjects of his own choosing.

The ship arrived late on January 2, 1882, and lay at quarantine overnight. On the morning of January 3, the Arizona pulled into its dock, and passengers headed for the customs shed at Castle Garden, which was the point of entry for visitors to NewYork and a major receiving station for immigrants prior to the opening of Ellis Island some ten years later.

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Not A Joy Forever

A cartoon depicting Oscar Wilde at the end of his visit to America in 1882 in contrasting poses.

Oscar Wilde’s American visits resulted in mixed fortunes: he failed to make any literary advance, and although his tour met with a mixed reception critically, it was a great commercial success. We can see these fortunes reflected in the Judge cartoon.

On the left, recognizing the commercial success of his lecture tour, Oscar is shown surrounded by lilies and sunflowers (the floral emblems of the aesthetic movement), and showered with gold. On the right we see him somewhat shabbier, and with his bags packed at Castle Garden, the receiving station at New York: under his arm is Vera, the play Wilde brought with him and for which he struggled to find interest. The play was eventually staged in New York in August 1883 but was a withdrawn after a week.

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