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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Wilde Fire

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In my latest post about Wilde in St. Joseph, I mentioned Tootles Opera House quite forgetting that I had blogged about its demise at the time.

Here it is that post again.


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.

Gutted

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.

There was also much history attached to the city, and I have already featured the story of Wilde’s hotel on this blog here: Oscar Wilde’s Pony Tale, and thankfully that building remains. But we must now bid farewell to Wilde’s lecture theater. Somewhere, the grand chandelier grows dim one last time.

Continue reading Wilde Fire

False Bottom

Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, January 21, 1882. The caption to the full page reads: Oscar Wilde, the Apostle of Aestheticism—From a Photograph by Sarony, and Sketches by a Staff Artist.

Here we see an illustration from Frank Leslie’s newspaper showing Oscar Wilde in a pose reminiscent of those taken by Napoleon Sarony.

Scholars were never quite sure whether the caption to this sketch which says “From a Photograph by Sarony” meant that the illustration was from Sarony (in the sense of an artist’s impression of similar poses) or was a direct copy of an actual photograph of this particular pose.

One view favored was the former: i.e. that the whole illustration was an invention. One reason for this (apart from the fact that no photograph was known to exist) was that the bottom of the coat did not quite look right—it was too skirt-like. And further, the illustration shows Wilde wearing dress shoes, while in the photographs the only shoes we see are Oscar’s patent pumps. Indeed, all of the Sarony photographs of Wilde standing in an outer garment, are three-quarter length.

However, with the re-emergence of Sarony 3A, we now know the latter is the case, and the photograph has taken its place among the list of known Sarony photographs of Oscar Wilde. We can now see that the illustration and photograph are identical.

Identical, that is, apart from that lingering anomaly of the full-length sketch vs. the three-quarter length photograph. The question is: do these feet belong to Oscar or the illustrator? In other words, has the photograph been cropped or does the sketch have a false bottom?

A little more research can clear this up and it is almost certainly true that the lower portion of the illustration is an invention of the artist.

Take a look at Wilde’s coat in Sarony number 8, below: as you will see, it does not have a fur border at the hem as depicted in the sketch.

Mounted Sarony number 8 showing the coat without a fur hem.

I Can Wait (Revisited)

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Oscar Wilde’s After-Dinner Rebuke to his Press Critics

Originally published in 2015, now as rewritten for the Oscar Wilde Society newsletter. For membership go to: oscarwildesociety.co.uk/membership/

It is pleasing to see that recent Wilde studies continue to highlight the emergent nature of Oscar’s American experience, during which time he nurtured the art of public speaking, conducted his first press interviews, staged his first play, had his iconic photographs taken, and stockpiled—to use an American word—material for his future epigrams and works.

But there is a crucial American beginning for Oscar that has been under-appreciated: I refer to his first brush with literary society. It occurred during an event at 149 Fifth Avenue in New York City, the then home of an organisation of journalists known as the Lotos Club.

Continue reading I Can Wait (Revisited)

Oscar’s Oyster Supper

An Oyster Supper, 1852-1853. Hand-colored lithograph by Elijah Chapman Kellogg . Oysters were a popular food in Connecticut during the 19th century..jpg

Eating oysters in Connecticut is a big thing; and when in Hartford, CT, there was only one place to go: Honiss’ Oyster House. In 1981 the New York Times ran an article about the famous old place, now long since gone:

It isn’t every restaurant in Connecticut that can claim – as the Honiss Oyster House Company does – to have served Mark Twain, Babe Ruth, Andre Previn and Steve Martin, or to have the very booth where Buffalo Bill Cody ate regularly when he was in town with his Wild West Show.

Honiss’s dimly-lit basement walls are crammed with photographs of customers past. There are more than a thousand pictures in all, dating to the 1880’s, when Thomas Honiss and Fred Atchinson purchased the then-40-year-old restaurant downstairs in the United States Hotel.

What the newspaper did not mention, and possibly because the restaurant also failed to realize it, is that Oscar Wilde also partook of Honiss’ famous oysters while residing at the United States Hotel in 1882.

Continue reading Oscar’s Oyster Supper

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.

Continue reading The Last Four

The State of the Sunflowers

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Oscar 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.

Continue reading The State of the Sunflowers

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.

Gutted

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.

Continue reading Wilde Fire

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.

Continue reading A Moment of Gravity

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.

Continue reading St. Patrick’s Day 1882