The State of the Sunflowers

strike-me-sunflowerOscar Wilde’s Reception in Kansas and the Sunflower Soirée.

I recently gave a talk on the subject of Oscar Wilde and the sunflower to the good people of the Maryland Agriculture Resource Council at their Sunflower Soirée, a yearly festival devoted to the Helianthus annuus. Literally, an annual event.

Between you and me, it was a wonderful occasion; but as there was a gloomy weather forecast I choose to focus on the portent to a poignant moment.

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Wilde Fire

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SAY IT AIN’T SO, ST. JOE.

What a shame. The venue where Oscar Wilde lectured in St. Joseph, Missouri in April 1882, was destroyed by fire on Monday this week.

No longer a theater, it may have been just another empty converted office building symbolic of a Midwest hollowed out by recession, but it was still there. Unlike so many of the Wilde’s lecture venues which were lost to fire in gaslit days, surely, one thought, this building had survived that fate.

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But no, and here’s what makes the loss a little more personal.

Just a day earlier I had been discussing which city from Wilde’s lecture tour that I would most like to visit. No kidding. I said St Joseph, Missouri. One reason was that  both Wilde’s hotel and lecture theater were extant, and very few cities that can boast that—although there is one fewer now.

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A Moment of Gravity

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You will recall that in my recent review of Wilde and Niagara I cited the entry that Oscar Wilde’s had made in the guestbook of his hotel on the Canadian side at Niagara Falls.

Well, having visited the area myself, I now have an illustration of his inscription (above) and, to reiterate, this is what it says:

the roar of these waters is like the roar when the “mighty wave democracy breaks against the shores where kings lie couched at ease.”

When Oscar wrote this he was doing several things at once.

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St. Patrick’s Day 1882

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“A PRIDE I CANNOT PROPERLY ACKNOWLEDGE”


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.

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Oscar Wilde In New York

Original Oscar Wilde-Related Guided Walking Tours In New York City.

outsidekatefieldbusinessYou may be interested to know, or to be reminded, that I still conduct my guided walking tour which you can see showcased at its new web site Oscar Wilde In New York.

The tour, which visits various Wildean haunts including houses where he lived, and clubs that he visited, has been conducted intermittently since 2002.

The next tour will given for the The Municipal Art Society of New York—details of which can be found here.

The Modern Messiah

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A cartoon printed in the satirical magazine The Wasp to mark Oscar Wilde’s arrival in San Francisco.

When Wilde arrived in San Francisco he was greeted by thousands of people curious to see him.

This cartoon, entitled “The Modern Messiah,” which appeared in The Wasp on the eve of Oscar Wilde’s third lecture in San Francisco [1],  shows such a crowd, but in satirical style.

Heavily featured are sunflowers, one of the floral emblems of the aesthetic movement; another, calla lilies, known to decorate Wilde’s table at dinners in America, serve as the donkey’s ears. Also depicted in the scene are caricatured personalties resonant of Wilde’s visit, some of whom were thought responsible for bringing Wilde to San Francisco, and therefore supportive of him.

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Cowboys and Indians

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Lecturing in the midwest, Oscar Wilde meets pioneers and native Americans.

This is Boyd’s Theatre and Opera House in Omaha, Nebraska, as it was when Oscar Wilde lectured there.

If the surroundings look a little unmade (and Oscar complained about the muddy streets) it was to be expected—in 1882 the midwest of America was still a place of frontier development, something that the people of St. Paul ironically accepted:

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By the time Wilde arrived in Omaha in March 1882, the geography of his American adventure had started to take shape.

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