Moral Equivalence

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If I am to find Wildean relevance in topical US culture, there is a latter-day Nellie the Elephant in the room. And before proceeding, I should explain that twisted metaphor for the uninitiated.

I refer to the UK children’s novelty song of that name, and in particular to the eponymous pachyderm who was celebrated in the oft-repeated chorus for going off with a trumpety-trump, trump, trump, TRUMP! Apparently, it’s a sound elephants make.

And like any other annoying refrain stuck in one’s head, it’s a word currently hard to ignore. So reluctantly I must  face it—the capitalized version that is—before we send in the clowns and say goodbye to the circus that is becoming politics in America.

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On This Day

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O’Flahertie Will Get You Nowhere

I recall learning the word polyonymous from this Word-a-Day web site—it means having many names. It resonates because I always suspected Oscar of being a confirmed and secret polyonymist, freely dispensing with at least three of his five birth names which he considered too much ballast for the heights he soared, and then changing his name altogether when he came back down to earth.

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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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Missionary Proposition

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A previously unpublished autograph letter by Oscar Wilde appeared at auction last week in North Carolina.

The item is a note sent by Wilde to Anne Lynch Botta, the 19th century doyenne of New York literary society, in which he expresses regret at not being able to attend a reception owing to his impending departure for Canada.

Aided by the letter’s evident authenticity and the fact that the consignor is a direct family descendant, it sold at auction for $5,500.

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November 30

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The excerpt below is from Current Literature—a journal of the Current Literature Publishing Co. (New York) which published monthly periodicals from 1888 to 1912.

This account is from an article in the October 1905 edition entitled “How Oscar Wilde Died” which was given to deny claims in a earlier issue that Oscar was still alive. Its source was the Paris correspondent of the Berliner Tageblatt.


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Wilde Fire

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SAY IT AIN’T SO, ST. JOE.

What a shame. The venue where Oscar Wilde lectured in St. Joseph, Missouri in April 1882, was destroyed by fire on Monday this week.

No longer a theater, it may have been just another empty converted office building symbolic of a Midwest hollowed out by recession, but it was still there. Unlike so many of the Wilde’s lecture venues which were lost to fire in gaslit days, surely, one thought, this building had survived that fate.

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But no, and here’s what makes the loss a little more personal.

Just a day earlier I had been discussing which city from Wilde’s lecture tour that I would most like to visit. No kidding. I said St Joseph, Missouri. One reason was that  both Wilde’s hotel and lecture theater were extant, and very few cities that can boast that—although there is one fewer now.

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The 16th Green

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Today is the birthday of a famous Irishman and, lest I insult your knowledge, I should quickly add that I do not refer to our boy above. Wildeans, of course, need no reminding that Oscar celebrates his birthday on October 16th.

Consider instead a curiosity about the date in Irish lore.

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