Monday, 27 October 2014

Free audiobook of the first Oscar Wilde biography by Robert Sherard



Robert Harborough Sherard was Oscar Wilde's friend of 16 years and first biographer.

In 1902, just two years after Wilde died in a French hotel, Sherard published the first of his five books about the Lord of Language: Oscar Wilde: The Story of an Unhappy Friendship. He followed it up in 1906 with The Life of Oscar Wilde, and in 1917 with The Real Oscar Wilde. Shorter works followed: Oscar Wilde Twice Defended in 1934 and Bernard Shaw, Frank Harris and Oscar Wilde in 1937.

In January of 2014, all Sherard's writings entered the public domain in the UK (the earlier works were already in the public domain in the US). This means my fellow Brits can now download the biographies for free (and legally)!

It also means that I could record Sherard's first biography for Librivox, the free public domain audiobook people. So I did!

The audiobook was released today: go download it here.

And, yes, I am already recording the second of Sherard's Wilde bios...

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

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Sample page #6

The 16th October 2014 is Oscar Wilde's 160th birthday, and what better day to post the sixth (and sadly the penultimate) sample page (page 1page 2page 3page 4, page 5) from my comics project on Oscar Wilde's American lecture tour (click it for full size).

Since the last page, Oscar and Lillie Langtry have strolled from the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly to the brand new Savoy Theatre. There they see that the fabulously popular Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, Patience, has transferred from its previous venue, the Opera Comique.

Original fa├žade of the Savoy Theatre, 1881, from Wikipedia
The Savoy opened in October 1881 and Patience was the first show put on by its builder, owner, and manager, Richard D'Oyly Carte. The theatre was the first public building in the world to be lit entirely by electricity, so Langtry is quite right to be enthusiastic!

The walk from the RA to the Savoy only takes 19 minutes (according to Google Maps), but I have taken the liberty of shortening the distance. Also of compressing the summer into the time it takes to turn a page: Wilde and Langtry have just come from the RA's Summer Exhibition, which ends in August. But Patience didn't open at the Savoy until October 10th.

The Savoy was long the home of Gilbert and Sullivan, but in 1931 it was to host the first UK performance of Oscar Wilde's play Salome (the only performances given during his lifetime were in Paris).

Wilde would have been less keen to sit through another performance of Patience. The operetta was a light spoof of aestheticism, the creed of "art for art's sake" that Wilde was widely perceived to lead.

The original interior of the Savoy, photographed in 1920
Wilde had already seen the production, and was probably not eager to repeat the experience. However, he later forced himself to endure a performance in the Standard Theatre in Manhattan on January 5th 1882. He was there on business rather than for pleasure. As a new arrival to America's shores, he had to advertise his presence, and what better way than to upstage the very play that sought to lampoon the Apostle of Aestheticism?

As Oscar took a seat in a rear box, the audience turned en masse to get a good look at the curiosity from across the Atlantic. The New-York Tribune reported the next day that "numberless opera glasses turned toward the poet, but he appeared entirely unconscious of the scrutiny". But of course, appearances can be deceptive.

The main point I wanted to get across in this page is that Oscar is, at this point in the story, practically penniless. Danica has done a great job of conveying that, and I especially love how she's rendered Wilde's face in that final panel: Oscar has avoided what could have been an embarrassing admission of penury, deflected Langtry's request with a quip, and adopted a mask of superiority. Although he would normally indulge Langtry's every whim, he poses as bored, and suggests the riverside walk that he would ordinarily do anything to avoid.

It was Oscar's money troubles that on October 1st 1881 led him to accept D'Oyly Carte's invitation to tour America as a walking-talking advertisement for Patience, with a hastily penned telegram that read "Yes, if offer good."

The offer was good, and Oscar was soon on his way to conquering America.


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