First English

SALOME | A TRAGEDY IN ONE ACT
TRANSLATED FROM THE FRENCH OF OSCAR WILDE
FIRST ENGLISH EDITION, one of 500 copies
[Author’s collection]

EARLY PRESS TRANSLATIONS OF OSCAR WILDE’S SALOMÉ

Wilde’s play Salomé was published in the 1890s in two languages, and the bane of each was a lordly limitation.

First was the original work that Wilde wrote in French—albeit with a little help from his friends. Rehearsals in 1892 for a London production based on the French draft were unexpectedly derailed by the Lord Chamberlain who deemed the drama too decadent to be staged. One presumes that incestuous and homoerotic desire, murder and necrophilia were a tad more taboo in those days—and the autocratic aristocrat refused to grant it a license for the theatre. Undeterred, Wilde proceeded into print and the play appeared in book form as Salomé: Drame en un acte — or what is now referred to simply as the original French edition (1893).

Next was the troublesome task of translating the text into English. This time the noble impediment was altogether more predictable because it was Wilde’s paramour and translator of the play himself Lord Alfred Douglas—or Bosie to his friends if he had any friends left after characteristic bouts of squabbling and fraught correspondence about his lingua franca with all concerned.

“Schoolboy” Translator

Romance Linguistics

It is owing to the discord with the 23 year-old Douglas that his work on the translation has often been maligned in mainstream commentary. Such a conviction conveniently overlooks the fact that Wilde’s conversational French was artistically and sometimes grammatically, unsatisfactory in composition. It might be a more reasonable view to accept that literary style is notoriously difficult to capture harmoniously in translation at the best of times—never mind the complication of converting repetitive symbolist subtleties in the gendered Gallic into the neutered syntax of stodgy old Anglo-Saxon. Little wonder that Wilde, who had received native assistance with the finer points of French argot, did not translate his own work himself, and never repeated the experiment.

In any event, the task was clearly a tall order for his willful lily-like lordship and consequently authorial corrections and editorial diplomacy were requisite to Wilde’s French play eventually being Anglicized about a year later as Salome: Tragedy in One Act, or the First English edition (1894).

So we have the French and the English editions, and these twin pillars of publication have provided an orthodoxy accepted by all studies of Salome to date, namely that the Douglas translation of 1894 marked the first time the English-reading world had been privy to Wilde’s controversial French play.

So far so good; but not so fast.

What if a hitherto unheralded full synopsis of the play and a partial translation in English was already in the public domain long before Bosie got his hands on Oscar’s feminine nouns?

Moreover, would it not be a noteworthy addition to the bibliography of Salome if such an English translation not only existed prior to Douglas’ ‘First English’, but also that it appeared in print on the very day after the French edition was published?

“Mais non!” I hear scholars protest, “c’est pas possible?”

Continue reading First English

Rediscovered

Restored by John Cooper © 2020

A Rediscovered Photograph of Oscar Wilde

In my last article I alluded to how that erstwhile sinner, Oscar Wilde, had achieved the exalted air of sainthood. Unfortunately, for collectors of Wildean memories, with that classification comes the cliché that a good man is hard to find.

And nowhere is that maxim manifested more in Oscar Wilde’s case than in the promised land of lost pictures. On the artifact scale of hardness-to-find, the rarest commodities are gold dust, hen’s teeth, and, finally, previously unseen photographs of Oscar Wilde.

At least that was the case until earlier this year when this late in Wilde’s long posthumous existence (what the American Indian appropriately dubbed the happy hunting ground), unearthed a little-known, and even less seen, image of Oscar. That photo has now ascended to the canonical next life as Sarony 3A. For Wildeans, that one discovery alone would be normally be rapture enough. However, now another rare photograph has appeared from the digital clouds.

It is worthy of investigation.

Continue reading Rediscovered

Philadelphia Freedom


The Digital Collection of Oscar Wilde Documents at The Philadelphia Free Library

Readers will recall my visit to the New York Antiquarian Book Fair a couple of years ago where I was offered a very rare Oscar Wilde document.

It was a typescript of the (originally) unpublished portions of Wilde’s passive-aggressive prison masterpiece De Profundis.

It was prepared by Wilde’s literary executor, Robert Ross, for use in the 1913 trial when Lord Alfred Douglas (Oscar’s lover Bosie) sued a young Arthur Ransome for having the temerity to imply that a person he didn’t name just might have had a hand in Wilde’s downfall.

Not My Type

I politely declined to purchase the typescript, thinking it belonged much more appropriately within the hands (and budgetary means) of a public institution where visitors could see it.

Now, thanks to the power of the digital medium, everybody can see it.

Continue reading Philadelphia Freedom

Vyvyan Holland

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Declaring nothing apropos (except astonishment) I send from America footage I recently discovered of Oscar Wilde’s son Vyvyan Holland.

It is in the form of a TV interview alongside Brian Reade, curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum, during a segment on the CBS TV arts program Camera Three about a V&A Aubrey Beardsley exhibition which had transferred to New York’s (then-named) Gallery of Modern Art.

The rare TV showing was a opportunity for Vyvyan to rival his more media savvy wife, Dorothy, who had made her latest appearance on American TV earlier in the month discussing fashion on the ABC show Girl Talk.

It provides a chance to see Vyvyan’s unassuming manner as he reveals personal experiences such as shooting moose and witnessing a bedridden bearded Beardsley.

Continue reading Vyvyan Holland

Salomé

In a recent post I ranted somewhat about the use of primary sources.

Well sources don’t come any more primary than the recent discoveries of Wildeana that were made at the Free Library of Philadelphia prior to the Oscar Wilde season early this year.

Continue reading Salomé