Friday, 16 August 2013

Oscar Wilde in the Catskills

It's the height of summer, the sun is shining, and I'm having fun working on the synopsis for my Oscar Wilde comic. One hundred thirty one years ago today, Wilde was touring the summer resorts of up-state New York and having slightly less fun than I am.

On the 11th of August, Wilde was at Hathorn Spring, only a few days into his short tour of upmarket hotels. He stopped to take two glasses of spring water, "somewhat to the disappointment of the fair sex, who seemed to think that he should have differed in some way—perhaps stood on his head or drank two at once".

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 11th August 1882

In Saratoga, shortly afterwards, he was mobbed by eager young women and their even more eager mothers. "To balk the pursuit utterly, I fled to the bar-room," Wilde later told a reporter. "Why didn’t I say, “What’ll you have, ladies?” Oh, it wouldn’t have done any good, and all the country would have said I had insulted the ladies at Saratoga." New Ulm Weekly, 4th October 1882.

His grumpy demeanour was possibly due to the sarcastic tone of most journalists. Audiences weren't much friendlier. The New York Times reported that the rich vacationers saw Wilde as a mountebank, but were unable to keep themselves from his lectures. ""I hear he has made over $25,000 in this country," one gentleman was heard to say. "Alas," sighed his companion, "I fear he will add the price of my ticket to his bank account."" New York Times, 17th August 1882.

At Long Branch there were walk outs. Those who remained, "snickered". Wilde requested the landlord keep order, and the guests complained that "they had paid for [the] hotel accommodations and had as a good a right to enjoy them as anybody". One forthright attendee suggested the "blasted Britisher" be subjected to an impromptu dip in the ocean. If this threat was carried out, no evidence of the dipping has survived. Lancaster Daily Intelligencer, 19th August 1882.

Another Oscar Wilde had a much more successful summer, at the Saratoga race track. On the 8th of August a five year-old chestnut gelding named Oscar Wilde won the fifth race of the day, and a purse of $250, when he overtook two other horses on the final stretch to pass the post with a two length advantage. Way to go, Oscar!

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 9th August 1882


Discover more about Oscar Wilde's American lecture tour, and our comic about it, at oscarwildecomics.com

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