Aubrey Beardsley and His World

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This US TV programme isn’t the greatest quality, and it’s blighted throughout with a large watermark, but it’s a revelatory piece both for Aubrey Beardsley enthusiasts and Oscar Wilde aficionados. Camera Three was a CBS arts show which presented Aubrey Beardsley and His World on 12th March, 1967, as a preview for the Beardsley exhibition which had just opened in New York. This was the same landmark exhibition that made such a splash the year before at the V&A in London, and V&A curator Brian Reade appears in the programme to discuss Beardsley’s importance with host James Macandrew. It’s good to see Reade again (he was also in a later BBC documentary) since his Beardsley monograph is a great favourite of mine; as is typical of the period, he looks and sounds very upper class but his scholarship is always authoritative.

Ordinarily this would be enough to satisfy me, even though the programme only runs for 27 minutes and doesn’t tell me anything about Aubrey that I didn’t know already. The great revelation comes near the end with the appearance of Vyvyan Holland, the younger son of Oscar Wilde. Holland not only admired Beardsley’s work but actually met him in 1895 shortly before the artist’s untimely death. Holland was 9 years old at the time, and was taken to visit Aubrey by his mother; he was 81 in 1967, and died himself later that year so we’re very fortunate that he was captured on tape at all. The programme also includes a short extract from Alla Nazimova’s 1923 film of Salomé, with costumes and decor all based on Beardsley’s drawings. Watch it here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
After Beardsley by Ryan Cho
Aubrey Beardsley’s Keynotes
Antony Little’s echoes of Aubrey
Aubrey in LIFE
Beardsley reviewed
Aubrey Beardsley in The Studio
Ads for The Yellow Book
Beardsley and His Work
Further echoes of Aubrey
A Wilde Night
Echoes of Aubrey
After Beardsley by Chris James
Illustrating Poe #1: Aubrey Beardsley
Beardsley’s Rape of the Lock
The Savoy magazine
Beardsley at the V&A
Merely fanciful or grotesque
Aubrey Beardsley’s musical afterlife
Aubrey by John Selwyn Gilbert
“Weirdsley Daubery”: Beardsley and Punch
Alla Nazimova’s Salomé

The voice of Oscar Wilde

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How to combine two recent {feuilleton} obsessions? Ask whether Oscar Wilde had his voice recorded on an Edison machine at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, 1900. It’s a tantalising question. We know from Wilde’s letters that he visited the Exposition several times; he talked with Rodin and admired a self-portrait by his old painter friend Charles Shannon in the British pavilion. Edison staff were prominent at the exposition and did us a favour by filming parts of it. Several of the Wilde biographies mention the rumoured recording, the details of which are recounted at Utterly Wilde:

According to H Montgomery Hyde’s 1975 biography of Oscar Wilde: “…It was during one of these visits to the Exhibition that Wilde was recognized in the American pavilion, where one of the stands was devoted to the inventions of Thomas Edison. One of these inventions was the ‘phonograph or speaking machine,’ and Wilde was asked to say something into the horn of the recording mechanism. He responded by reciting part VI of The Ballad Of Reading Gaol, which consists of the last three stanzas of the poem, and identifying it with his name at the end.” (More.)

The purported wax cylinder is lost but an acetate copy surfaced in the 1960s. Wilde’s son, Vyvyan Holland, identified his father’s voice then changed his mind later on. An analysis by the British Sound Archive threw further doubt on the recording so we’re left to make up our own minds which you can do for yourself here. It doesn’t sound to me like the voice one would expect from a man of Wilde’s physical size, but then I also never expected Aleister Crowley’s voice to be so highly-pitched. If anyone knows of more recent research or detail about the Wilde recording, please leave a comment.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The Oscar Wilde archive