The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1907).

I finished reading Neil McKenna’s excellent biography recently, The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde, a book which makes an ideal companion to Richard Ellmann’s 1987 life of Wilde. Whilst reading about the two trials I remembered that among five pages of digitised Wilde volumes at the Internet Archive there’s a 1906 book, The Trial of Oscar Wilde: From the Shorthand Reports whose contents are what you’d expect from the title. Browsing through the other files there revealed further items of note such as this edition of The Ballad of Reading Gaol published a year later and illustrated throughout by J Latimer Wilson. The page layout of text plus a narrow picture is uncommon, and from the date of publication it’s interesting to see that despite Wilde’s shattered reputation there was still money to be made printing his books.


The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1907).

Among the other volumes are two finely illustrated editions of his short stories. The edition of A House of Pomegranates below comes with drawings by Ben Kutcher, an artist about whom I know nothing other than his style is very similar to that of the great Harry Clarke. The introduction is a surprise, a serious appraisal of Wilde’s life by HL Mencken who admired the way the author stood against the prevailing morality of the day. There’s also an edition of The Happy Prince and Other Tales from 1920 illustrated by Charles Robinson.


The House of Pomegranates (1918).

These books are mainly of note for their decoration, however. Of more interest to Wilde enthusiasts is a first edition of Robert Hichens’ The Green Carnation from 1894. Hichens was a friend of Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas and, according to McKenna’s book, a fellow Uranian (ie: gay) who knew the pair well enough to be able to pen a scandalous roman à clef based on their relationship, helping to confirm for public opinion much that was suspected about Wilde’s outrageous lifestyle. Both Wilde and Douglas disowned Hichens and repudiated the novel but, coming a year before the Queensbury libel trial, it did neither of them any favours. Those curious to read the exploits of “Esmé Amarinth” and “Lord Reginald Hastings” may download a copy here.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The Oscar Wilde archive
The book covers archive
The illustrators archive

Uranian inspirations


left: Sicilian boy by Wilhelm von Gloeden (no date); right: Jugend cover by Hans Christiansen (1896).

My current reading is The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde (2003), a long and fascinating study by Neil McKenna which attempts to disentangle the true nature of Wilde’s sex life from the myths and evasions of his biography and biographers. Among the pictures in the book, McKenna shows a couple of the “Uranian” photographs by Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856–1931) which Wilde owned. Von Gloeden’s views of naked Sicilian boys were described as “Classical” in a barely-believable subterfuge familiar during the 19th century, and it’s understandable why Wilde, who’d been praising the attractions of Mediterranean youth for most of his adult life, would have found these pictures worthy of purchase. Wikimedia Commons has a substantial set of the photos, although it should be noted that provenance is often uncertain; there were other photographers active in Taormina at the time who catered to a similar market. One photo in particular stood out recently when I recognised it as the possible source for the figure on a Hans Christiansen cover for Jugend magazine of 1896. The cover above has appeared here before but this is the first time I made the photographic connection.


left: Jeune homme assis au bord de la mer by Jean Hippolyte Flandrin (1836); right: Cain by Wilhelm von Gloeden (c. 1902).

Gloeden, of course, was one of the first people to use the Flandrin pose, as I noted in the original post on that theme. I wonder if he knew he’d been copied in turn? That Jugend cover and its inspiration reminds me a little of Flandrin’s other depiction of Classical youth, his portrait of Polites, a painting which Oscar would no doubt have enjoyed.


Polites, Son of Priam, Observes the Movements of the Greeks by Jean Hippolyte Flandrin (1834).

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The recurrent pose archive
The Oscar Wilde archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Forbidden Colours
Jugend Magazine
Evolution of an icon