Three Times Tried

The above appraisal is from a recent edition of the U.S. version of Antiques Roadshow, and features a manuscript sonnet by Oscar Wilde which has recently come to light.

While it is a newly discovered manuscript, it is not a newly discovered poem. It is one from the Wilde canon which he retitled as Ideal Love and presented with a dedication to an acquaintance named Christian Gauss, a young American journalist.

It reads:

The sin was mine; I did not understand.
So now is music prisoned in her cave,
Save where some ebbing desultory wave
Frets with its restless whirls this meagre strand.
And in the withered hollow of this land
Hath Summer dug herself so deep a grave,
That hardly can the silver willow crave
One little blossom from keen Winter’s hand.

But who is this who cometh by the shore?
(Nay, love, look up and wonder!) Who is this
Who cometh in dyed garments from the South?
It is thy new-found Lord, and he shall kiss
The yet unravished roses of thy mouth,
And I shall weep and worship, as before. [1]

As the poem has homoerotic overtones it is of interest for that reason alone as a curiosity. However, I wonder if curiosity can be stretched to significance?

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Guido Ferranti by ?

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A rediscovered letter by Oscar Wilde informs his relationship with anonymity

Wilde’s college exploits, his aesthetic entry into London society, the self-publicity of his American tour, and his rise to fame have all been well documented; and the story often distills to the crucial moment of his fall from grace, a short period in 1895 when fame turned to infamy.

But there is a more enduring, more subtle, and underlying theme that began with Wilde’s desire to be known: it was a journey through his art and life towards an imperative for anonymity.

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I Can Wait

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

Rewritten in 2019 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

Useful Editions

bow-streetLiterary Metaphor at the Oscar Wilde Festival in Galway.

Focused though I am on Oscar Wilde In America, I like to keep an eye on the bigger picture. However, I know that to see the brushstrokes up close it is sometimes necessary to depart from topical and geographical constraints and visit the works themselves.

So last weekend I attended the Oscar Wilde Festival in Galway, Ireland, where I discovered part of the canvas rendered in two books with contrasting techniques.

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Doubtful as Men

How the effeminate Oscar Wilde was likened to women in 1882.

effeteDuring his lecture tour of America in 1882, Oscar Wilde was often described as effeminate.

It has often been thought that Oscar was acting the part of the effeminate; certainly, he was playing up to it: his dress and manner coinciding with the “namby-pamby” image of Bunthorne from Gilbert & Sullivan’s Patience that preceded him.

But, given our knowledge that Wilde continued to display the same effeminate sensitivities throughout his life, how much of his 1882 pose was an act?

Perhaps it is the case that rather than his being landed with an effeminate role, Wilde gravitated towards it.

Indeed, he portrayed his role so convincingly that, as we shall discover, the ever-anticipatory Wilde was conceptualized as female.


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More on Boys’ Names

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The source of Oscar Wilde’s pun on Ernest/Earnest

In an earlier article I tried to show that in John Gambril Nicholson’s verse Of Boys’ Names (Wilde’s putative source of the Ernest/Earnest pun) there are other boys’ names with Wildean parallels.

Research now leads me to a further connection.

In a back issue of The Book Collector (Summer, 1978), there is chapter about Nicholson’s 1892 Love in Earnest: Sonnets, Ballades, and Lyrics (the anthology  that includes the poem in question).

Continue reading More on Boys’ Names

Frankel and Earnest (and other boys’ names)

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Nicholas Frankel’s scholarly edition of The Annotated Importance of Being Earnest

I am fascinated by the editorial introduction and inter-leaf annotations in Nicholas Frankel’s new scholarly edition of The Annotated Importance of Being Earnest [1]. The publisher, Harvard University Press, tells us that Frankel’s running commentary, “ties the play closely to Wilde’s personal life and sexual identity, illuminating literary, biographical, and historical allusions.”

Quite right. The book include not only insights into Wilde’s meaning, but also information about the chronology of Wilde’s textual changes, some of which were made four years after the play was first staged. All this is quite revelatory for those who, like me, appreciate the research that must have gone into it. Or, put another way, it’s the kind of thing you’ll like if you like that kind of thing.

However, this article is not a book review. I have something revelatory of my own.

Continue reading Frankel and Earnest (and other boys’ names)

“Oscar” the Opera | The Art Of Darkness

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Oscar, the opera in Philadelphia

The last time Oscar Wilde visited Philadelphia it was to promote an opera. That was during a lecture tour of America in 1882 when a required part of his raison d’être was to be the poster-boy for Gilbert & Sullivan’s latest offering Patience—a comic opera whose purpose was to ridicule the adherents of the Aesthetic Movement. Not that it mattered to Oscar Wilde that he was the movement’s leading representative and the person most closely identified with the ridicule. He always knew he would outlive the mob mentality, and it is an ironic measure of the wisdom of Wilde’s indifference that he has triumphantly returned to Philadelphia as the subject of an opera himself. The question now is: if Oscar the man was indifferent to Patience, would he have had any patience for Oscar the opera?

Continue reading “Oscar” the Opera | The Art Of Darkness

NBC reports change in English law

I was consulted—in an extremely minor way—for this piece on NBC.

Bravo to MSNBC and UK politician David Lammy who takes up Oscar’s courtroom justification.