We are approaching the end of Summer so I have returned to the Blog, and will continue posting in the near future. Please remember to join the conversation by having your say in the ‘Leave a Reply‘ section at the bottom of each post.
In the meantime, I have not been idle in my Oscaring. Web standards are constantly changing, so I have taken the opportunity to upgrade my documentary archive at Oscar Wilde In America:
The archive is based on 30 years of private study and countless hours in libraries and online since 2002—and I am personally responsible for all original research, writing, editing, and web design.
It importantly contains for the first time, an accurate verification of the dates, venues, and lecture titles of Oscar Wilde’s lecture tour of North America in 1882, although these pages are not yet complete nor upgraded.
The site has been used by scholars, institutions, and the media around the world and is the largest online resource on the life and times of Oscar Wilde in America. The entire project was created without funding, and is freely provided and noncommercial.
Typographical errata are welcome to email@example.com
John Cooper, September 2018.
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
Contemporaneous. Documented. Reliable.
Personal testimony in chronicles and memoirs has forever been the basis of recorded history. Like the legal status of eye witness testimony, accounts created during living memory have an immediacy that often frees them of taint or nuance. Not all of it is reliable, of course, so researchers should evaluate the source, the subject and the period before the facts. And we shall get to that.
But first we need to address the inadmissible hearsay of second-hand material which is often less well defined, and less reliable.
Take Columbus, for instance. And before you think this a characteristic segue into Ellmann getting the date wrong for Oscar Wilde’s lecture in Columbus, Ohio, it isn’t—although he did.
I mean that yesterday was Columbus Day here in the United States, and on the subject of unreliability I am reminded of Washington Irving‘s supposed history of Christopher Columbus’ first visit to the Americas. For it was Irving who popularized the myth that Columbus set sail thinking he would fall off the edge of the world, when, in reality, the intrepid Italian knew all along about the earth’s curvature—he just miscalculated the circumference. Read Darin Hayton’s salutary article on Irving’s fabrication.
Almost as damaging as intentionally false history is unintentionally false biography. Because all too often new biography is simply an echo chamber of old biography, in which successive viewpoints grow increasingly redundant and incoherent.
Such historiography may have been acceptable, or at least accepted, in the days when collective knowledge was indistinguishable from reflective guesswork. But in an age of digital access to archival newspapers, journals, records, and books, there is no longer any excuse for apocryphal scholarship, and nowhere is this discipline more acutely needed than in the study of Oscar Wilde.
Continue reading Primary Sources