The voice of Oscar Wilde


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

Wildeana 2


Further flotsam from the wilds (so to speak) of the web. The above portrait is a collage constructed by this Flickr user with pages from The Picture of Dorian Gray as the raw material. A remarkable work.


Wilde’s face in the collage portrait comes from one of the famous photographs taken by Napoleon Sarony on the writer’s visit to America in 1882. Another of Sarony’s photographs was used as the basis for this cigar advert which sought to exploit Wilde’s fashionable notoriety. Possibly the first and last time that cigars have ever been offered for sale as “aesthetic”.

Continue reading “Wildeana 2”

The Oscar Wilde Galop


When Oscar Wilde arrived in America to begin his lecture tour in 1882 the excursion provoked considerable comment on both sides of the Atlantic. Wilde was there in his capacity as an ambassador for Aestheticism, a position which had already made him a figure of fun in the pages of Punch magazine while the Aesthetes generally and Wilde in particular had been caricatured the year before by Gilbert & Sullivan in their opera, Patience. The Oscar Wilde Galop was one of a number of topical dance pieces which capitalised on Wilde’s arrival in America, the full score of which can be seen in the Levy Sheet Music Collection at Johns Hopkins University. No one seems to give the name of the composer of these works for some reason, but this piece and others like it can be found on a CD, To Oscar: A Collection of Aesthetic Melodies.

I suspect Oscar would have been flattered by his portrayal on the sheet music, it’s milder than the Punch cartoons and gives him a wasp waist he never possessed even in his youth. Wilde enjoyed his lecture tour, and was always happy to be the centre of attention, of course, but America (and others) paid the price for the ribbing later on, as in this exchange from The Picture of Dorian Gray:

“I am told, on excellent authority, that her father keeps an American dry-goods store,” said Sir Thomas Burdon, looking supercilious.

“My uncle has already suggested pork-packing Sir Thomas.”

“Dry-goods! What are American dry-goods?” asked the duchess, raising her large hands in wonder and accentuating the verb.

“American novels,” answered Lord Henry, helping himself to some quail.

The duchess looked puzzled.

“Don’t mind him, my dear,” whispered Lady Agatha. “He never means anything that he says.”

“When America was discovered,” said the Radical member—and he began to give some wearisome facts. Like all people who try to exhaust a subject, he exhausted his listeners. The duchess sighed and exercised her privilege of interruption. “I wish to goodness it never had been discovered at all!” she exclaimed. “Really, our girls have no chance nowadays. It is most unfair.”

“Perhaps, after all, America never has been discovered,” said Mr. Erskine; “I myself would say that it had merely been detected.”

“Oh! but I have seen specimens of the inhabitants,” answered the duchess vaguely. “I must confess that most of them are extremely pretty. And they dress well, too. They get all their dresses in Paris. I wish I could afford to do the same.”

“They say that when good Americans die they go to Paris,” chuckled Sir Thomas, who had a large wardrobe of Humour’s cast-off clothes.

“Really! And where do bad Americans go to when they die?” inquired the duchess.

“They go to America,” murmured Lord Henry.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The Oscar Wilde archive

Jugend Magazine revisited


It was just over a year ago that I was wishing there was some way to see whole issues of Jugend magazine, the German periodical launched in 1896 whose Art Nouveau style gave its name to the movement in Germany, Jugendstil. Yesterday’s search for Heinrich Vogeler artwork turned up that very thing, scanned editions of Jugend at the University of Heidelberg’s digital archive. Whole numbers from 1896 to 1925! I am aghast. As well as the scanned pages being very high quality you can download the bound collections as PDFs, each one totalling over 400 pages. Leafing through pages of old magazines in a foreign language doesn’t sound very stimulating if you can’t read German but Jugend was a very visual publication. Each issue is crammed with a variety of drawings in styles which range from black-and-white Art Nouveau motifs and quasi-Symbolist illustration to humorous drawings and cartoons. Each issue also featured a large drawing or painting on a fold-out spread.


Continue reading “Jugend Magazine revisited”

Heinrich Vogeler’s illustrated Wilde


The Fisherman and his Soul.

It’s always satisfying when a search intended to satisfy curiosity turns up more than you expect. The subject in this case was German artist Heinrich Vogeler (1872–1942) and the surprise was finding these illustrations for a German collection of Oscar Wilde stories lurking in the archives of the Visual Telling of Stories site. The stock of imagery there is substantial and wide-ranging but the search facility stopped working a while ago and has now been removed so you either have to hit things at random or hope for happy accidents such as this. Vogeler’s volume dates from 1911 and while his draughtsmanship isn’t as assured as some of his contemporaries there’s enough going on to make me want to see more of his illustration work.


The Young King.

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