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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Conference: Legacy of Oscar Wilde

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Review of the conference: Who Owns The Legacy of Oscar Wilde?

Wilde Conference at Drew University, June 1-2, 2012
A REVIEW
by John Cooper 

So it was to Drew University (Madison, NJ) hopeful of enlightenment as to the nominal question posed by the conference.

To the question of who owns the legacy of an author in the public domain the answer is usually nobody. However, this conference was a reminder, should it be needed, that in the sphere of Wilde studies nobody often translates into anybody willing to marry the subject, for better or worse, to their own vision of Wilde. This is not surprising given Wilde’s dualities of nationality, gender and style, and over the years writers have enjoyed an open season and taken careful aim at their subject, giving us some quite specific visions of Oscar.

At least in a forum such as the subject becomes a moving target. So we had varied questions, not only of the Irish Wilde and the gay Wilde, as might be expected, but also an array of topics ranging from thesis to the practical; subjects from Wilde’s reputation as a classicist to the ownership of his work and imagery.

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