Indecent Postures | Wilde Plays Cricket

cricket

The summer game is upon us with the reminder that in Oscar Wilde’s earliest surviving letter, as well as in his final poem, there is mention of cricket.

In 1868, Oscar Wilde proudly wrote to his Mother that his school had beaten the visiting 27th Regiment at cricket by 70 runs [1]. Thirty years later, at the other end of his writing career, the initial description Wilde gives us of Charles Thomas Wooldrige, the tragic dedicatee of The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), is that a cricket cap was on his head.

What, you may ask, do these bookends portend? Well, precisely nothing. Or so I thought.

The consensus is that, apart from dominoes outside French cafes, Oscar famously had a dislike of outdoor games. Football, he is reported to have said, was all very well for rough girls, but hardly suitable for delicate boys [2]; and, as for cricket, he didn’t play as it requires one to assume such indecent postures. [3]

cricket-Oscar Wilde

As the photograph on this page demonstrates, Oscar remained decidedly unprepared when it came to participating in cricket, content to be holding what appears to be a mascot dog (that refuses to look straight at the camera long enough for the exposure). Indeed, there is no evidence of his having played the game at all.

Until now, that is.

The evidence is in this newspaper article [4] which tells us Oscar was persuaded into a game of cricket aboard the steamship Britannic on his way to America for the second time in 1883.

Moreover he appears to have been no mean player, as he was pleased to recount that he had hit a six! For those unfamiliar with the old game, this is the equivalent of hitting one out of the park, or, in Oscar’s case, overboard.

The_Times_Sun__Aug_12__1883_


[1] Complete Letters, 3

[2] Dominoes and football from Hesketh Pearson, His Life and Wit, 147

[3] Robert Harborough Sherard, The Life of Oscar Wilde (1906), 104.

[4] The Times (Philadelphia), August 12, 1883, 1.

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John Cooper

John Cooper is a researcher, author, blogger and documentary historian. As a long-standing member of the Oscar Wilde Society in London, a founding member of the Oscar Wilde Society of America, and a former manager of the Victorian Society In America, he has spent 30 years in the study of Oscar Wilde, having lectured on Wilde, and contributing to TV, film, and academic journals including The Wildean and Oscholars. Online he is the designer, author and editor of this noncommercial archive Oscar Wilde in America, blogger, and moderator of the Oscar Wilde Internet discussion groups at Yahoo and Google. For the last 14 years he has specialized in new and unique research into Oscar Wilde in New York, where he conducts guided walking tours based on the visits of Oscar Wilde. In 2012 John rediscovered Oscar Wilde's essay The Philosophy Of Dress that forms the centerpiece to his recent book Oscar Wilde On Dress (2013).

4 thoughts on “Indecent Postures | Wilde Plays Cricket”

  1. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing. I submit it was the uniform (or hat) that might have been his greatest deterrent.

    Like

  2. John,

    Do you remember Wilde’s entry in an autograph book in 1877 (Peter Vernier covered it in The Wildean Number 13 in July 1998)? It was a two page spread with questions to answer amongst which was:

    Q. 33. What is your favourite game?

    And Wilde had written:

    Snipe and Lawn Tennis

    !!

    Peter does point out that Wilde had a “…relish for field sports as a young man…”

    Cheers,

    Geoff

    Like

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