Your Slim Gilt Sole

Here are Oscar and Bosie in May 1893 at the studio of photographers Gillman & Co. of Oxford, whose establishment was at 107 St Aldate’s Street. That location today, to set a tone of bathos, is a Ladbrokes Off Track Betting Shop.

This well known picture captures the boys relaxed and smoking, distant even—apparently between arguments. But upon inspection you’ll see that, in keeping with their lives, all was not as it seems.

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The Last Four

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The Sarony Photographs

It has long been assumed that all of the 1882 photographs of Oscar Wilde by Napoleon Sarony were taken during the same visit to his studio. Indeed, in all of Wilde studies there does not appear to be any record of an assertion to the contrary.

However, there is a convincing case to be made that the LAST FOUR photographs were taken at a later date.

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Same Difference

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Here’s an idle curiosity.

When Oscar Wilde had this photograph taken by Napoleon Sarony in 1882, not only was he standing against the same wall that Sarah Bernhardt had stood against—but he was standing in EXACTLY the same spot.

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Philadelphia Freedom


The Digital Collection of Oscar Wilde Documents at The Philadelphia Free Library

Readers will recall my visit to the New York Antiquarian Book Fair a couple of years ago where I was offered a very rare Oscar Wilde document.

It was a typescript of the (originally) unpublished portions of Wilde’s passive-aggressive prison masterpiece De Profundis.

It was prepared by Wilde’s literary executor, Robert Ross, for use in the 1913 trial when Lord Alfred Douglas (Oscar’s lover Bosie) sued a young Arthur Ransome for having the temerity to imply that a person he didn’t name just might have had a hand in Wilde’s downfall.

Not My Type

I politely declined to purchase the typescript, thinking it belonged much more appropriately within the hands (and budgetary means) of a public institution where visitors could see it.

Now, thanks to the power of the digital medium, everybody can see it.

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The Wilde West

My recent article about Stephen Fry as the young Oscar featured a video of Oscar Wilde as a character in a short-lived TV Western series.

Surprisingly, it was not the first time this had happened.

Back in the 1950s in the series Have Gun, Will Travel (1957–1963) Oscar again fell foul of local baddies in an episode entitled The Ballad of Oscar Wilde.

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Young Fry

Stephen Fry as a Younger Oscar Wilde (in America)

Stephen Fry is known for playing Oscar Wilde in the 1997 movie Wilde.

The opening to that film shows Oscar arriving in town on horseback for his lecture in Leadville, Colorado, but the scene gives a false impression. Not because he actually arrived in Leadville by train; no, nothing so pedantic.

The point is that the 1997 film is not even about Wilde’s time in America. Its arc is the period of Oscar’s relationship with Alfred Douglas in Europe ten years later. So why do they show Leadville? The producer once told me that the real-life incident in Leadville, when the encaged Wilde descends into a mineshaft, was included by the screenwriter to symbolize Wilde’s descent in life. One may consider this as another aspect of the film that doesn’t quite fit, but that’s another story.

Instead, let us move forward to the past; because if it is Stephen Fry playing the youthful Wilde in America you want, did you know he had already done just that before he made the film Wilde?

You can discover—and watch—his earlier embodiment of Wilde below.

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Anatomy of a Cartoon


The Story of Oscar Wilde’s Infamous Curtain Call

Take a close 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 referring 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 anticipated.

Conversely, others saw no ill-manners in Wilde’s appearance. Indeed, the audience on the night was thoroughly amused, and one report 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 it all begins with this cartoon. In it Wilde’s curtain call is immediately recognizable: the smoking, the speech, and Lady Windermere’s fan. 

So as we have had journalism and biography, let us now revisit the circumstances through the prism of caricature.

Continue reading Anatomy of a Cartoon