Wildeana 4


I could make these posts a lot more often since there’s seldom a week goes by when Oscar Wilde’s work or something from his life isn’t making the news somewhere. I forget now how I came across the Robert Hichens book but the Beardsley-derived cover design is the best I’ve seen for this title. The Green Carnation was first published in 1894 and is the notorious roman à clef whose lead characters, Esmé Amarinth and Lord Reginald Hastings, are based on Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas. Hichens paints the pair as very obvious inverts with none of the “is he or isn’t he?” subtlety that Wilde managed to sustain in public. For a scandalised London the book seemed to confirm what was already suspected about Wilde and Bosie’s relationship.

The cover art is credited to one John Parsons, an illustrator whose other work, if there is any, eludes the world’s search engines. This edition was published in 1949 by Unicorn Press and it’s something I’m tempted to buy as a companion for my Unicorn Press edition of Dorian Gray.

The following links are to recent articles spotted whilst looking for other things:

Oscar Wilde, Classics Scholar. A review of The Women of Homer by Oscar Wilde, edited by Thomas Wright and Donald Mead.
• A new Broadway production of The Importance of Being Earnest has actor Brian Bedford playing Lady Bracknell.
Buyers go Wilde for Oscar as short note to his friend sells for €1,500.
Outsmarted: What Oscar Wilde could teach us about art criticism.

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

Salome’s Last Dance


More Wildeana. It’s taken me over two decades to watch this film, and while I can’t really say it was worth the wait it was more entertaining than I expected. Salome’s Last Dance was directed in 1988 by Ken Russell and is his own typically mannered adaptation of the Wilde play. It appeared around the same time as his adaptation of another Victorian work, Bram Stoker’s The Lair of the White Worm, and it was the latter film which caused me to lose my patience with Russell’s excesses and so ignore this one. In Salome’s Last Dance we have Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas visiting Alfred Taylor’s London brothel one night in 1892 where Taylor and company stage a performance of Wilde’s banned play.


Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations appear in the title sequence.

If you’re a Wilde enthusiast there are at least two ways you may take this; you can be appalled by Russell’s “translation” of Wilde’s words (Salomé was written in French then translated for English publication in 1894; there’s no reason to re-translate a version the author approved), a translation which is really more of an adaptation, with much of the poetic monologue removed and the tone lowered for a general audience—Wilde’s “Iokannen” is vulgarised to “John the Baptist” throughout. Or you can try and enjoy what is at least a complete performance of the play, even though it more often resembles Carry On Salomé than anything one might have expected Sarah Bernhardt to perform. Injecting a Symbolist drama with slapstick and grotesquery is probably inevitable given the director (Russell is also co-writer and he plays—badly—the role of the Cappadocian). I found it impossible to decide whether Russell was sending up the play because he found it too pompous or whether he felt that an audience wouldn’t sit still for it otherwise. Whatever his intention, the premise is intriguing enough to inspire speculation as to how it might have been treated by other hands.

Continue reading “Salome’s Last Dance”



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

The Poet and the Pope

oscar.jpgIrony never rests in the world of religion these days. I suspect Oscar would be pleased by this attention, he had an audience with Pius IX when he was a young man and wrote a poem, Urbs Sacra Aeterna, to celebrate the occasion. As noted earlier, a recent Out.com article explored rumours that the Vatican may be more friendly with Dorothy than is usually supposed.

Vatican comes out of the closet and embraces Oscar
Although Oscar Wilde had a gay relationship, the Vatican is championing his razor-sharp moral maxims, not his lifestyle.

Richard Owen
Friday, January 5th, 2007
The Times

Oscar Wilde, poet, playwright, gay icon and deathbed convert to Catholicism, has been paid a rare tribute by the Vatican. His aphorisms are quoted in a collection of maxims and witticisms for Christians that has been published by one of the Pope’s closest aides.

Wilde (1854-1900) had long been regarded with distaste by the Vatican — a dissolute and disgraced homosexual who was sentenced for acts of gross indecency over his relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas.

The book, compiled by Father Leonardo Sapienza, head of protocol at the Vatican, includes such Wildean gems as “I can resist everything except temptation” and “The only way to get rid of a temptation is yield to it” — hardly orthodox Catholic teaching.

Father Sapienza said that he had devoted the lion’s share of Provocations: Aphorisms for an Anti-conformist Christianity to Wilde because he was a “writer who lived perilously and somewhat scandalously but who has left us some razor-sharp maxims with a moral”. The book also includes contributions from the Colombian philosopher Nicolás Gómez Dávila.

Father Sapienza said that Wilde had been a great writer of powerful force and dazzling intelligence who was now chiefly remembered not for his promiscuity but for plays such as The Importance of Being Earnest and An Ideal Husband as well as moral tales such as The Picture of Dorian Gray, in which a vain young man pays a terrible price for selling his soul to gain eternal youth.

Father Sapienza said that he wanted to “stimulate a reawakening in certain Catholic circles”. Christianity was intended to be a radical cure, not a humdrum remedy for the common cold: “Our role is to be a thorn in the flesh, to move people’s consciences and to tackle what today is the No 1 enemy of religion — indifference.”

“What a surprise!” La Repubblica’s said. “A homosexual icon has been accepted by the Vatican.” Orazio La Rocca, a Vatican watcher, described the book as a bombshell.

Pope Benedict XVI is a stern opponent of gay marriage and has reinforced Catholic teaching that homosexuality is a disorder. On the other hand he has belied his reputation as a hardliner since his election, reserving most of his fire for apathy and relativism in an attempt to revive Christian faith in Europe.

Wilde, who was married and had two children, was arrested and tried in 1895 over his relationship with Lord Douglas (known as Bosie), son of the Marquess of Queensberry, who had accused Wilde of sodomy. The writer sued Queensberry but lost and was sentenced to two years’ hard labour.

He displayed a long fascination with Catholicism, once remarking: “I am not a Catholic — I am simply a violent Papist.” He was born in Dublin to a Protestant family but fell under the spell of Catholicism at Oxford. He even made a journey for an audience with the Pope, but declared: “To go over to Rome would be to sacrifice and give up my two great Gods: Money and Ambition.” The way for Wilde’s rehabilitation was paved six years ago by a Jesuit theologian, Father Antonio Spadaro. On the centenary of Wilde’s death, he raised eyebrows by praising the “understanding of God’s love” that had followed Wilde’s imprisonment in Reading.

Father Spadaro said that at the end of his life Wilde had seen into the depths of his own soul and in his last works, such as De Profundis, had made “an implicit journey of faith”. He said that Wilde had come to see that God was capable of “breaking hearts of stone and entering into them with mercy and forgiveness”.

The wit and wisdom of Wilde

• Those who see any difference between soul and body have neither.
• I am not in favour of long engagements. They give people the opportunity of finding out each other’s character before marriage.
• One’s real life is often the life that one does not lead. I see an intimate connection between the life of Christ and the life of the artist. Christ’s place indeed is with the poets.
• I can resist everything except temptation.
• We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.
• It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution.
• The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.
• There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.
• Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.
• Nothing makes one so vain as being told that one is a sinner.
• In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.
• What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
• Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.
• What a pity that in life we only get our lessons when they are of no use to us.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Gay for god
The Picture of Dorian Gray I & II