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

Exposition Universelle films


The Exposition entrance at the Place de la Concorde.

Yes, films of the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900. This week I’ve been reading Philippe Jullian’s book about the Exposition (more about the admirable Monsieur Jullian later) and it was only when he mentioned early cinema screenings as one of the entertainments that I realised I hadn’t looked for films of the Exposition itself. YouTube has the goods, of course, and those goods are unavoidably primitive given the age of the prints and the infancy of the medium. Quality isn’t the point, however, what matters is the thrill of looking back 110 years to see these fleeting structures and their visitors. Most of the footage seems to have been filmed by the Edison Company and the filmmakers conveniently let us know that it was the month of August. According to Jullian, Paris was suffering from a heatwave at the time but you wouldn’t know it from the way everyone is dressed although most of the women (and some of the men) are carrying parasols. In addition to the period footage, there’s also the channel of a 3D animator who’s been creating computer models of the buildings. I’ve thought for some time that these vanished expositions could be resurrected using 3D modelling so it’s encouraging to find someone doing exactly that.

The films:
Thomas Edison’s L’ Exposition Universelle de 1900 à Paris | A compilation of the shorts with intertitles.
Panoramic view of the Place de la Concorde
Esplanade des Invalides
Panorama from the Moving Boardwalk
Eiffel Tower lift
The Palace of Electricity

Update: The Edison shorts and some other Exposition clips not listed above can also be found in the Edison film archive at the Library of Congress. You need to go to this page and use the search term “paris” to receive a list. They’re still low-res, unfortunately, but at least the files haven’t been put through YouTube’s compression filters.


The Palace of Electricity.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Exposition jewellery
Exposition Universelle catalogue
Exposition Universelle publications
Exposition cornucopia
Return to the Exposition Universelle
The Palais Lumineux
Louis Bonnier’s exposition dreams
Exposition Universelle, 1900
The Palais du Trocadéro