Finding Oscar

'Oscar Wilde`s Homeland' by Lysenko Igor

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.

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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.

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Literate and Illiterate

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Los Angeles Herald, May 23, 1883

Three Times Tried

The above appraisal is from a recent edition of the U.S. version of Antiques Roadshow, and features a manuscript sonnet by Oscar Wilde which has recently come to light.

It is not, however, a new poem; it is one from the Wilde canon which he retitled as Ideal Love and presented with a dedication to an acquaintance named Christian Gauss, a young American journalist.

It reads:

The sin was mine; I did not understand.
So now is music prisoned in her cave,
Save where some ebbing desultory wave
Frets with its restless whirls this meagre strand.
And in the withered hollow of this land
Hath Summer dug herself so deep a grave,
That hardly can the silver [1] willow crave
One little [1] blossom from keen Winter’s hand.

But who is this who cometh by the shore?
(Nay, love, look up and wonder!) Who is this
Who cometh in dyed garments from the South?
It is thy new-found Lord, and he shall kiss
The yet unravished roses of thy mouth,
And I shall weep and worship, as before.

As the poem has homoerotic overtones it is of interest for that reason alone as a curiosity. However, I wonder if curiosity can be stretched to significance?

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Guido Ferranti by ?

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A rediscovered letter by Oscar Wilde informs his relationship with anonymity

Wilde’s college exploits, his aesthetic entry into London society, the self-publicity of his American tour, and his rise to fame have all been well documented; and the story often distills to the crucial moment of his fall from grace, a short period in 1895 when fame turned to infamy.

But there is a more enduring, more subtle, and underlying theme that began with Wilde’s desire to be known: it was a journey through his art and life towards an imperative for anonymity.

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RBS

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When it comes to measuring time, sixty is an odd and yet benign number. Seconds, minutes and hours seem to pass indistinguishable from one another. But when the number is used to mark the passage of years—three score can give one quite a jolt. So when the occasion crept up on me last week, I was need of rejuvenation.

An outing to the theatre would be the tonic methought. But with the next Wilde play not until later this month, I would need to find another balm for my now furrowed brow.

What then if not Oscar; why not something pre-Oscar?

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I Can Wait

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Oscar Wilde’s After-Dinner Rebuke to his Press Critics

Yesterday was December 27th, the date on which Oscar Wilde set sail from New York to conclude his 12-months stay in America.

So as the year ends, it seems appropriate to examine how Oscar might have reflected on his lecture tour, no doubt weighing the risk he had taken with his literary reputation for the sake of financial gain. In particular, to what extent the  ridicule of the press affected his personal appraisal of the tour.

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Useful Editions

bow-streetLiterary Metaphor at the Oscar Wilde Festival in Galway.

Focused though I am on Oscar Wilde In America, I like to keep an eye on the bigger picture. However, I know that to see the brushstrokes up close it is sometimes necessary to depart from topical and geographical constraints and visit the works themselves.

So last weekend I attended the Oscar Wilde Festival in Galway, Ireland, where I discovered part of the canvas rendered in two books with contrasting techniques.

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