Friday, 27 September 2013

Oscar Wilde ♥ Walt Whitman. Twice.

Oscar Wilde and Walt Whitman did it. Well, maybe.

This past week, the internet got very excited by the prospect that the grand old man of American letters and the young apostle of aestheticism hooked up in a New Jersey attic. Mallory Ortberg learnt about the meeting, which was arranged by publisher J.M. Stoddart, and allowed her imagination to run wild.

Source: Sam Krause

And why not? Stoddart left the pair alone for several hours at Whitman's request. None of us know for sure what happened behind the closed doors to Whitman's den on January 18th 1882, and there's certainly no harm in a little speculation.

When writing about the encounter in my comic book script about Wilde's American lecture tour, I tried to fill in the gaps myself, and came to the conclusion that the pair probably, at the very least, shared a kiss. After all, Wilde later claimed that the kiss of Walt Whitman was still on his lips. It might have been a metaphorical kiss. Or it might not. Nobody knows!

But one thing that Ortberg didn't mention about Wilde and Whitman's meeting is that it wasn't a one-off. On May 10th, after a visit to the Wild West and the silver-rush town of Leadville, Colorado, Wilde returned to New Jersey to call on his hero again. We know very little about this second meeting. But what we do know made me squeal with delight when I first read about it. Wilde came dressed as a cowboy. Yeehaw!

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

Friday, 13 September 2013

A Wilde Library

This week, someone on YouTube asked me to make a video about my DVD collection. I've never really understood the point of those videos. But a blog about books is a different matter altogether!

At the time of Oscar Wilde's conviction in 1895, his personal library consisted of around 2000 volumes. My own library isn't quite that large, but Wilde would certainly be envious of the number of books I own about him. I keep them stacked on my mantelpiece for easy access.


Researching Wilde for my comic about his American tour has been time-consuming but relatively simple, because so much has already been written. The only real difficulty is knowing where to start. I would suggest that any serious study has to begin with Richard Ellman's Oscar Wilde. It was, I think, the second Wilde biography I read (the first was Hesketh Pearson's The Life of Oscar Wilde, a battered hand-me-down from an old girlfriend). As you can see, I now own two copies of Ellman; my first paperback fell to pieces. Other sources often reference the first edition, so a hardback Ellman is useful for making sure you're looking at the correct page.

I have also doubled up on Thomas Wright's Oscar's Books (published as Built of Books: How Reading Defined the Life of Oscar Wilde in the US), after the spine broke on my first copy. This had less to do with the quality of the binding than the content of the book, which rewards re-reading and jumping back and forth from chapter to chapter. I would recommend Oscar's Books as the best way to get inside Oscar's magpie brain.


Of course, I am most interested in Wilde's activities in 1882, so Lewis and Smith's Oscar Wilde Discovers America: 1882, was required reading. I keep it sandwiched between two excellent recent books on Wilde's American adventure, Roy Morris Jr.'s Declaring his Genius: Oscar Wilde in North America, and Matthew Hoffer and Gary Scharnhorst's Oscar Wilde in America: The Interviews.

I have read Kevin O'Brien's Oscar Wilde in Canada: An Apostle for the Arts, and would love a copy of my own, but they seem to be rarer than hens' teeth. If you have one to sell, get in touch! [Edit: I just found a copy in CT for $8.50 - huzzah!]

You might wonder if I have read Louis Edward's 2003 novel, Oscar Wilde Discovers America. I have not, but I am desperately looking forward to it. If I were to read it now, it is unlikely I could help but be influenced by it. It's on my wishlist.


On the right I keep all my biographies of members of Wilde's circle. Out earlier this year, Linda Stratmann's The Marquess of Queensberry: Wilde's Nemesis has succeeded in convincing me that the 'Scarlet Marquess' wasn't an irredeemable git. Like many I had assumed he was 100% evil, but Stratmann shows how his unsavoury personality was formed. Incidentally, you will notice that I keep books about Bosie a safe distance from those about Robbie Ross. One can never be too careful.


On the left is my 'in-tray'. It's mostly filled up with library books: I recently moved to a new city and the library here had lots of great finds, not least Alan Sinfield's The Wilde Century, a very readable discussion of Wilde's effeminacy and sexuality from a historical perspective. As you can see, I recently began reading Gyles Brandreth's Oscar Wilde Mysteries. Halfway through The Candlelight Murders (published as A Death of No Importance in the US) so far, and enjoying it immensely.

One tome is conspicuously missing: an edition of Wilde's letters. I have read the letters and last year I monopolised a library copy for about six months, but I have yet to get my own. Have you seen how much it costs?! Anyway, until I buy it, the weightiest volume on my mantelpiece has to be the 1882-1883 volume of Punch I picked up at G. David in Cambridge. A great reference if you want to get a feel for the middle-class zeitgeist of the early eighties, and it only set me back three quid! My kind of book.

What's your favourite book about Wilde, his circle, or the fin de siecle ? Or, if you're just getting into Wilde, let me know if you'd like a recommendation. Comments are open!

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