One could be forgiven for thinking that an article entitled Oscar Wilde in Sharon Springs is about Oscar Wilde in Sharon Springs, meaning his lecture there on August 11, 1882—not an unreasonable assumption.
But latterly such an conclusion would be only half right, because earlier this year the spirit of Oscar Wilde materialized once more in the small Catskills’ town.
I refer to the local Klinkhart Hall Arts Center’s celebratory event ‘The Oscar Wilde Memorial Lecture’.
So proud is this artistic community of its Wildean connection that the occasion has been added to their annual Poetry Festival—the brainchild of Paul Muldoon, the award-winning Irish professor of poetry—to which distinguished writers are invited to read, talk about their work, and conduct poetry workshops.
And so the privilege fell to me to recapture Wilde’s visit to Sharon Springs by being invited to present the inaugural lecture.
—a time to draw your attention to a few AB things to see—
While Beardsley’s brief career was cut short aged 25 by his death from tuberculosis, he made an impact as a brilliant and daring innovator who often caused controversy by using satirical imagery to push gender and sexual boundaries.
On view at the Grolier Club in New York City from September 8 through November 12, 2022 is ‘Aubrey Beardsley, 150 Years Young’—an exhibition drawn from materials in the Mark Samuels Lasner Collection in the UD Library, Museums and Press.
The exhibition highlights the rebellious quality of his art and writing, celebrating the eternally young Beardsley, and exploring the meteoric rise of the 19th-century British artist, who became a monumental figure in book and magazine illustration, graphic arts and poster design, and the history of gender and sexuality.
The exhibition is assembled by a long-time Grolier Club member, Mark Samuels Lasner, and reflects both his own interests and expertise and those of his partner, Margaret D. Stetz, the Mae and Robert Carter Professor of Women’s Studies and Professor of Humanities at the University of Delaware.
Together they have curated this exhibition, and you can preview Margaret’s excellently assembled labels for project in an online version here: Grolier Club Online.
For those visiting the Exhibition Gallery in person the hours are Monday to Saturday, 10 AM—5 PM, and there will also be a printed catalogue coming later this Fall.
At the risk of being oxymoronic, Margaret Stetz is a most energetic decadent. Earlier this year we enjoyed her masked but still ‘in-person conversation’ on The Decadent Aubrey Beardsley at the Rosenbach in Philadelphia; and she also gave a talk in London at the recent conference AB 150: The Artist Resurgent organized by the Decadence Research Centre at Goldsmiths in association with the Aubrey Beardsley Society and Birkbeck Centre for Nineteenth-Century Studies. There have probably been myriad other events in between.
Also speaking at the conference was another Oscar Wilde Society stalwart: Anne Anderson of Exeter University, who, in turn, will be giving her own impressions of the Beardsley style in ‘Aubrey Beardsley: Enfant Terrible of the 1890s’ as part of three-part series of online lectures in September and October entitled: The Wilde Years: 1870-1900.
And to complete a female triumvirate of expertise, no review of contributors to the Beardsley oeuvre would be complete without reference to the canonical and comprehensive Aubrey Beardsley: A Catalogue Raisonné, a two volume set by Linda Gertner Zatlin, representing the first complete presentation of the provocative, modernist, graphic works of Beardsley. It is an essential work for both serious scholars and occasional researchers.
You may recall a post I made a few years ago about a CBS-TV arts show called ‘Camera Three’ which aired at 11:00 AM EST on Sunday, March 12, 1967.
It took the form of an interview with Brian Reade, then curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and contained reference to the V&A’s Aubrey Beardsley exhibition which had transferred to New York’s (then-named) Gallery of Modern Art.
During that segment there occurred a rare TV appearance by Oscar Wilde’s son, Vyvyan Holland. Not long after my article appeared the clip disappeared from the Internet because the owner had closed their YouTube channel. However, I have found it again.
Take a look below: filmed just seven months before Vyvyan Holland died in October of that year, it provides a chance to see his unassuming manner as he reveals personal experiences such as shooting moose and witnessing the bedridden (and bearded) Beardsley.
The part containing Vyvyan Holland begins around minute number 20.
But never before I have replicated Oscar’s tour so closely as I shall on August 11, 2022, when, 140 years to the day that Oscar Wilde gave a talk in Sharon Springs, NY, as part of a Summer vacation in the Catskills, I shall be doing precisely the same. Or, more formally, I shall be delivering the Klinkhart Hall Arts Center’s inaugural Oscar Wilde Memorial Lecture.
The event is allied to the Arts Center’s wider Poetry Festival, an annual tradition established by Festival founder Paul Muldoon, the award-winning Irish poet and professor of poetry, at which distinguished poets are invited to read, talk about their work, and conduct poetry workshops, all free to the public.
COMPLEMENTARY ARTICLES IN THE CURRENT ISSUE OF THE WILDEAN
—A Publication of the Oscar Wilde Society—
During the less furtive period of his post-prison exile, many young men passed fleetingly through Oscar Wilde’s life, most of whom are either lost to posterity or little more than unidentified footnotes. But two such acquaintances have recently gained in renown, being recognized as adding interest, and even significance, to the Wilde story.
Both of these young men emerged from a short period during the Summer of 1899 when Wilde escaped the combined heat of Paris and an unpaid hotel bill, to spend time out of the city at a charming riverside hotel called L’Ecu on L’Île d’Amour at Chennevières-sur-Marne.
One of these young men, with a hitherto unheralded connection to Wilde, was Christian Frederick Gauss, a future dean at Princeton, who can now be seen to have been a potential love interest for Wilde and the dedicatee of one of his poems.
The other is the mysterious figure of Thomas Langrel Harris about whom Oscar wrote so bitterly during his last months in Paris, but whose biography as an ill-fated young artist and scoundrel was, until recently, unknown.
Oscar Wilde Society members who have recently received the July issue of The Wildean will have been fascinated by each of these young men featured in two related articles: ‘Three Times Tried’ by the present author; and ‘Oscar Wilde’s Infamous Young Swindler’, by Patricia J. Fanning.
To learn more about the Oscar Wilde Society and to receive its scholarly journal The Wildean and other benefits, visit: https://oscarwildesociety.co.uk, or simply click below to join:
The Oscar Wilde Society, a literary society devoted to the congenial appreciation of Oscar Wilde, is a non-profit organization which aims to promote knowledge, appreciation and study of Wilde’s life, personality, and work.
In February of 1900, Oscar Wilde wrote to his young friend and admirer, Louis Wilkinson, lamenting, ‘I am very sorry you are in correspondence with Langrel Harris [sic]. He is a most infamous young swindler, who selected me – of all ruined people – to swindle out of money. He is clever, but little more than a professional thief. He introduced himself to me, and induced me to make myself responsible for his hotel bills, left me to pay them, and stole money besides. What the French call “un sale individu”. Don’t write to him any more, or know him. But how did you know him? Please tell me by return.’1
In Merlin Holland and Rupert Hart-Davis’s magisterial 2000 edition of Wilde’s letters, a short note remarks – ‘This curiously named character [Langrel Harris] has eluded identification.’ In the past twenty years, however, the World Wide Web has grown ever larger and ever finer – and it has become possible to catch even such elusive figures – and recover something of their fugitive careers. And the career of Thomas Langrell Harris – as he was more properly called – was fugitive in more senses than one.
You will recall the rediscovered photograph of Oscar Wilde (similar to the one above) that I featured in this post — where it was effectively published for the first time in almost 130 years.
The photograph had originally appeared in the March 10, 1893 issue of the Westminster Budget, in an article entitled “Mr. Wilde’s Forbidden Play” about Oscar’s French work Salomé.
At the time of that earlier post I expressed the hope is that an original print might come to light, but one has not done so yet. However, what has emerged is another copy of the newspaper, this time with a better quality image—now shown above.
The woman Oscar Wilde met as a girl in 1882 who became the lover of his niece and had an affair with his own lover’s future wife.
Confused? Then to understand the full intrigue you should read my post A Scene at Long Beach and learn how the story began with Natalie Barney as a little girl. Then return to this article which features a rare interview with her in her 90th year.
Natalie Barney was a playwright, poet and novelist resident in Paris, during which time she served on committees “that commemorated both [Wilde’s] birth and death.”. As early as 1900, she was openly lesbian and published love poems to women under her own name, before going on to found a salon of decadent Modernists on the Left Bank for more than 60 years.
Within this clique Natalie Barney conducted many non-monogamous relationships, and at least two of her lovers had Wildean connections.
Take a closer look at the details of the above cartoon.
It is one of the Fancy Portrait series from the long established satirical journal Punch and it appeared in response to the opening night of Wilde’s play Lady Windermere’s Fan at the St. James’s Theatre on February 20, 1892.
It was an event worth memorializing, not least for the occasion of Oscar’s famous curtain call, two aspects of which have become the stuff of legend.
First, that Wilde took to the stage still smoking a cigarette—which some thought disrespectful. Second, that he gave an amusing speech of playful immodesty—which others thought condescending. Or, at least they did in those stuffy Victorian days. One irate newspaper correspondent referred to Wilde’s “vulgar impertinence”.  These were, of course, the Victorians who could neither grasp irony nor face the change in attitudes that Wilde boldly anticipated.
Conversely, others saw no ill-manners in Wilde’s appearance. Indeed, the theatre audience on the night was thoroughly amused, and one report of it found his demeanor “very touching”. 
Whichever view one took, everyone agreed on one thing: that Wilde was different. And being different is a sure way in any era of achieving the second worst thing the world: i.e. being talked about. So the story of Wilde’s curtain call was seized upon by the press at the time and has been well-documented by authors over the years.
But my analysis begins with the cartoon. In it Wilde’s curtain call is immediately recognizable: the smoking, the speech, and Lady Windermere’s fan. So as we have already alluded to the record of journalism and biography, let us revisit the circumstances through the prism of caricature.
Nobody ever alleged that my allegiance to alliteration was anything other than alluring, so allow me to allude to this little Oscar Wilde story about the Liberal, the Lord of Language, and the ladies Labouchère and Langtry.
Or perhaps it would be even more obscure, and thus more intriguing, to say it is about Henrietta Hodson, Hester & The Two Henrys, and The Home Depot.
Either way, we must first place the tale in context.