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.
(I) RISE AND FALL
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.
Continue reading Finding Oscar
Book Review: Declaring His Genius, Oscar Wilde In North America, by Roy Morris, Jr.
BY JOHN COOPER
Those of us, like Mrs Cheveley, who are fond of calling things by their proper name, would struggle to categorize Declaring His Genius, by Roy Morris, Jr.
Let us start with what it is not. It is not profound enough to be a serious biography of an American Wilde—and, to be fair, it might never have been published if it were. Besides, one would not expect such an approach of a book that asserts that ‘Wilde may well have been a genius—at self promotion, if nothing else’ [my emphasis], which makes one wonder whether the author is convinced enough of Wilde as a thinker or writer to produce a critical study.
But neither is the book what it purports to be, which is an account of Wilde’s time in America—at least not exclusively. This is because the Wilde story Morris gives us is full of holes. By this I am not referring to the wealth of factual errors throughout the text which need only be problematic for the Wilde historian. As such there is no need to dwell on them here, beyond noting that the Introduction signals a disregard for integrity by adhering to remarks that sound ‘like something Wilde would have said’, explaining that the book ‘depends to a certain extent on anecdote, word of mouth, and local legend.’
—[See web site for list of scholarly errata]—
By holes I mean the opportunistic detours the book takes from a rounded theme of Wilde’s American tour which Morris fills with square pegs. The result is a flawed schema that places its protagonist amid an anthology of sometimes tangential, but often downright irrelevant, populist history.
Continue reading Identity Crisis | Book Review: Declaring His Genius
Oscar Wilde In America | An Online Resource
By John Cooper
This is the blog of the non-commercial archive devoted to Oscar Wilde and his time in America, online at:
The web site includes:
- Oscar Wilde’s 1882 Lecture Tour of North America
- A Detailed Analysis of American Quotations
- The Sarony Photographs of Oscar Wilde
- Oscar Wilde’s New York Arrival
and much more…
A main focus of the web site is to verified the itinerary of the 1882 Lecture Tour, the detail of which presents considerable challenges and is necessarily an evolving project. Please provide any information you can to verify tour dates, venues, subjects or other details. I intend the site to be definitive and use only primary sources, and of course all contributions will be credited on the site.