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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Making (Up) Oscar Wilde

Making Oscar Wilde” by Michèle Mendelssohn
Oxford University Press (2018)

Reviewed by: John Cooper

One of the most noteworthy contributions to the recent surge in Wildean material has been Michèle Mendelssohn’s treatise Making Oscar Wilde (2018).

As the title suggests, it is an attempt to establish a premise for the shaping of Wilde’s persona—the latest in a history of such perspectives which has included disquisitions via his Irish roots, his American experience, his men, his women, his friends, his enemies, his wit, his letters, his published works, his unpublished works, his recorded life, his unrecorded life, and, for good measure, his afterlife.

Now Making Oscar Wilde takes a potentially useful and probably unique view through the prism of Wilde’s racial profile. On surface reading the work has much to commend it—but to discover whether it works as a construction we will have to disassemble it.

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Time: The Present

I live in terror of not being misunderstood

If Oscar Wilde really did live in terror of not being misunderstood—as he wrote in The Critic as Artist in 1891, he need not have worried. At least not so far as his plays are concerned, because there are parts of the texts now so arcane that they are almost bound to be misunderstood—if they are understood at all.

Take Wilde’s most famous play The Importance of Being Earnest. 

As many appreciate, Earnest still resonates today in everything from the fact that sugar is no longer fashionable to the facade of human shallowness.

But we should not allow the play’s continuing relevance to distract us from its many period, regional or topical allusions, many of which had an esoteric meaning when Wilde wrote them, but which are now elusive—especially for young or non-British audiences.

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On This Day

O’Flahertie Will Get You Nowhere

I recall learning the word polyonymous from this Word-a-Day web site—it means having many names. It resonates because I always suspected Oscar of being a confirmed and secret polyonymist, freely dispensing with at least three of his five birth names which he considered too much ballast for the heights he soared, and then changing his name altogether when he came back down to earth.

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Finding Oscar

John Cooper expands on comments he made as a member of a panel discussion at the Oscar Wilde Festival in Galway, Ireland, in 2014, in which he appraised Wilde’s legacy and his personal response to it.


Finding Oscar Wilde during his lecture tour of America in 1882 presented few difficulties. Throughout the year he made hundreds of appearances in public and thousands in the press. But his transatlantic sojourn was not merely prolific, it was a surprisingly formative time that saw Wildean firsts in all aspects of his career. Professionally, he nurtured the art of public speaking, began lecturing, and conducted his first press interviews. In his personal life he entered a new sphere of poets, writers, and statesmen; and he embarked upon a lifelong pattern of occasionally earning, but of always spending, large sums of money. Creatively, he became increasingly familiar with formulating his thought into thesis, while socially he was gathering material and honing epigrams for use in his early essays, short stories, and dramatic dialogues. Perhaps most surprisingly, it was in America that he staged the first ever production of a Wilde play.1 And lastingly, it was in New York City that the predominant image we have of him was formed with a series of photographs taken by Napoleon Sarony. After America, one might say, Oscar had become famous for more than just being famous.


Not surprisingly, given this degree of exposure and experience, contemporary opinion was that America had made a greater impression on Wilde than vice-versa. Supporting this view is the fact that his audiences, although they had attended his lectures, came to see rather than to hear him; and even though he was often personally liked, he was more often publicly ridiculed. Wilde’s maligned persona was so widespread that the ability to locate him in the abstract sense, even for those who had not seen him, also presented few difficulties. In sum: the breadth of his presence made Wilde familiar in person, and the stereotype of his character provided the measure of him as a personality.

We now see that Wilde cannot be so easily pigeon-holed.

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King’s Ransome

Philadelphia Library Acquires Rare Typescript of “De Profundis”

On a balmy Sunday lunchtime last Spring I found myself in the refreshment area of the prestigious New York Antiquarian Book Fair. The ambience and the food were very pleasant, which should have been a portent of the standards I was about to discover, had I not been obliviously more concerned with fitting in,

My café table had an inlaid chessboard and what alerted to me to how I fitted in was made clear in an early gambit. The kindly stranger opposite made the first move. “Are you a dealer or a collector?” he asked, with an air of inevitability that suggested a third alternative did not exist. As I was such a third alternative I decided to counter with the department store maneuver: “I’m just browsing.” It was a defense designed to replace the probability of being actually neither with the possibility of vaguely being either.

However, it soon became apparent to me, if not to my new friend, that even the self-imposed rank of ‘browser‘ wildly overstated my standing as a potential customer.

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Richard Le Gallienne

Richard Le Gallienne (Alfred Ellis)

Richard Le Gallienne is the subject of an exhibition in his home town of Liverpool to mark the 150th anniversary of his birth. The event is being curated by two stalwart supporters of late-Victorian authors and artists, Mark Samuels Lasner and Margaret D. Stetz—authors and artists themselves.

In conjunction with the exhibition, Liverpool Central Library will bring together these and other scholars and collectors from the UK and the US for a one-day symposium about the city as a literary and cultural centre at the end of the 19th century.

Speakers at the symposium will address topics such as Liverpool and the late-Victorian lecture circuit; the actress Dame Ellen Terry and her theatrical tours in Liverpool; Robert Louis Stevenson’s connections to Liverpool; the career of Sir William Watson as a poet from Liverpool; J. M. Whistler’s links to Frederick Leyland and to Speke Hall; Gerard Manley Hopkins’s years as a priest in Liverpool; bibliomania and the book-collecting culture of late-Victorian Liverpool.

A signature focus of the exhibition, however, is the connection between Oscar Wilde and the Liverpool-born writer, Richard Le Gallienne—a relationship that began with their exchanging books of poetry, Wilde inscribing his: “To Richard le Gallienne, poet and lover, from Oscar Wilde / a summer day in June ’88.”

Much has been made by Neil McKenna of this early liaison. Indeed, the pair continued to exchange poetry and, along with it, much sentiment. One such was a poem given by Le Gallienne to Wilde as a ‘love token’, as he put it. However, the case for reorientation is that Le Gallienne was thrice married and wrote erotic poetry about women too, such as this homage to the olfactory appeal of their undergarments, as the euphemist might describe it.

Le Gallienne visited United States several times, eventually becoming a resident, and while the focus on him will no doubt enhance an appreciation of the relationship between Wilde and his acolyte, few will realize how close Le Gallienne came, on one such visit,  to undermining it [1]:

To coin a phrase, to lose one book may be regarded as a misfortune, however, a more informed observer of Le Gallienne’s habits would simply conclude the likely carelessness of his being absinthe minded.

I prefer the more prosaic view that by seemingly carrying Wilde’s Poems around with him for thirty-odd years Poor Richard had eventually fallen under the thrall of its contents:

I did but touch the honey of romance —
And must I lose a soul’s inheritance?
Helas!, Oscar Wilde, 1881.

The exhibition runs through the end of October.

[1] The Publishers Weekly, Volume 101. F. Leypoldt, 1922.