Thursday, 7 January 2016

The Trial of Oscar Wilde: Free audiobook

I've edited another Wilde-related project for the free audiobook website, Librivox.org. This one is The Trial of Oscar Wilde, compiled by Charles Grolleau from the shorthand reports of Wilde's two trials.
This is a dramatic reading, meaning that each part is read by a different volunteer, 23 in total. Here's the blurb I wrote for Librivox:
In 1895 Oscar Wilde was convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to two years' hard labor. This account of his two trials was compiled from the original shorthand court reports by an anonymous author. While a more complete account of the trial was published several years later, it omitted the more 'sensational' exchanges. This shorter version was clearly intended for a more prurient reader. In it we hear Wilde's famous defence of "the love that dare not speak its name", and see the evidence mount as a succession of attractive young men step into the witness box to tell their tales.
Click here to listen to the audiobook.

Click here to read the original text.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

A Map of Oscar Wilde's American Tour

I created a detailed map of Oscar Wilde's American lecture tour, to make it easier to visualise his journey. The tour is broken up into six legs, which you can toggle on and off to focus in on a specific part of the trip. And if you click on the place names, you can read relevant quotations from Wilde and snippets from contemporary newspapers.

Click here to view the map in a new tab.


Discover more about Oscar Wilde's American lecture tour, and my comic about it, at oscarwildecomics.com

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Sample page #7

Here's the final sample page for Oscar Wilde Conquers America (page 1page 2page 3page 4, page 5, page 6). Click it for full size.


Oscar and Lillie take a stroll down the south bank of the Thames, just to the east of the Palace of Westminster. Wilde is penniless, but feels compelled to buy his companion a huge bouquet of lilies. It was often rumoured of Wilde that he made a show of parading down Piccadilly with a single lily in his hand, before laying the flower on Lillie Langtry's doorstep. When quizzed about this pilgrimage, which he was said to perform daily, Wilde replied that "it's not whether I did it or not that's important, but whether people believed I did it".

The boy who cries out "Lor'! How rich you are!" is taken from a story recollected by Charles Ricketts, a graphic artist who designed the covers for several of Wilde's books. In 1932 Ricketts, writing under a pseudonym (more than 30 years after Wilde's death, it remained dangerous to admit an association with the fallen playwright), recounted that "Wilde had gone to Convent Garden to purchase some Jersey lilies to give to Mrs. Langtry and was waiting for a hansom when a street arab, fascinated by the orange flowers, exclaimed 'How rich you are!'" [1]. The irony, of course, is that at that time Wilde was anything but.

Wilde escorts Langtry to her home and tries to steal a goodbye kiss. We don't know for sure whether Wilde's obsession with Langtry amounted to anything more than the infatuation of a young poet for a beautiful muse, but there are suggestions in Wilde's poetry that he may have desired consummation. Richard Ellman [2] points to the poem 'Roses and Rue', which Wilde dedicated 'to L. L.'. In this poem, a young man stoops to kiss a woman who responds only with laughter and then runs away when rain begins to fall. As the woman waves goodbye to the youth, she cries out "You have wasted your life". When Ellman recounts the scene, which he plainly believed to be based on a true incident, he adds the line "You have only yourself to blame that you are not famous".

In Roses and Rue, this comment cuts the youth to the quick ("Ah, that was the knife!"). Here, it is the inciting incident that sets Oscar off on a journey to prove himself to Lillie, a woman who so courts fame that, though married, she has become mistress to the Prince of Wales. If Oscar wants to win Lillie's heart, he will need fame. Fortunately, an invitation to tour America is in the post. With it will come international superstardom, as Wilde emerges as the first celebrity famous for being famous.

[1] Ricketts, C. (1932). Recollections of Oscar Wilde. London: Nonesuch. p29
[2] Ellmann, R. (1987). Oscar Wilde. London: Hamish Hamilton. p108

Discover more about Oscar Wilde's American lecture tour, and my comic about it, at oscarwildecomics.com

Monday, 23 March 2015

Oscar Wilde's Impressions of America: Audiobook

After Oscar Wilde completed his 1882 tour of America, he toured the UK and Ireland with a lecture on his transatlantic adventure. In the early 1880s, very few Britons were familiar with life on the other side of the pond. The British were entertained by Wilde's curious take on their American cousins, and the lecture was a popular success.

The text of the lecture was published with an introduction by Stuart Mason in 1906, and you can read it for free here. However, because Wilde toured before the days of radio or even wax cylinder recording, no audio version of the lecture exists. That's why I decided to record Impressions of America for Librivox.

You can listen to my recording of Wilde's lecture below, or visit the catalogue page for the Short Nonfiction Collection, Vol. 037 on Librivox.

Download the MP3


Discover more about Oscar Wilde's American lecture tour, and my comic about it, at oscarwildecomics.com

Monday, 27 October 2014

Free audiobook of the first Oscar Wilde biography by Robert Sherard



Robert Harborough Sherard was Oscar Wilde's friend of 16 years and first biographer.

In 1902, just two years after Wilde died in a French hotel, Sherard published the first of his five books about the Lord of Language: Oscar Wilde: The Story of an Unhappy Friendship. He followed it up in 1906 with The Life of Oscar Wilde, and in 1917 with The Real Oscar Wilde. Shorter works followed: Oscar Wilde Twice Defended in 1934 and Bernard Shaw, Frank Harris and Oscar Wilde in 1937.

In January of 2014, all Sherard's writings entered the public domain in the UK (the earlier works were already in the public domain in the US). This means my fellow Brits can now download the biographies for free (and legally)!

It also means that I could record Sherard's first biography for Librivox, the free public domain audiobook people. So I did!

The audiobook was released today: go download it here.

And, yes, I am already recording the second of Sherard's Wilde bios...

Discover more about Oscar Wilde's American lecture tour, and my comic about it, at oscarwildecomics.com

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Sample page #6

The 16th October 2014 is Oscar Wilde's 160th birthday, and what better day to post the sixth (and sadly the penultimate) sample page (page 1page 2page 3page 4, page 5) from my comics project on Oscar Wilde's American lecture tour (click it for full size).

Since the last page, Oscar and Lillie Langtry have strolled from the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly to the brand new Savoy Theatre. There they see that the fabulously popular Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, Patience, has transferred from its previous venue, the Opera Comique.

Original fa├žade of the Savoy Theatre, 1881, from Wikipedia
The Savoy opened in October 1881 and Patience was the first show put on by its builder, owner, and manager, Richard D'Oyly Carte. The theatre was the first public building in the world to be lit entirely by electricity, so Langtry is quite right to be enthusiastic!

The walk from the RA to the Savoy only takes 19 minutes (according to Google Maps), but I have taken the liberty of shortening the distance. Also of compressing the summer into the time it takes to turn a page: Wilde and Langtry have just come from the RA's Summer Exhibition, which ends in August. But Patience didn't open at the Savoy until October 10th.

The Savoy was long the home of Gilbert and Sullivan, but in 1931 it was to host the first UK performance of Oscar Wilde's play Salome (the only performances given during his lifetime were in Paris).

Wilde would have been less keen to sit through another performance of Patience. The operetta was a light spoof of aestheticism, the creed of "art for art's sake" that Wilde was widely perceived to lead.

The original interior of the Savoy, photographed in 1920
Wilde had already seen the production, and was probably not eager to repeat the experience. However, he later forced himself to endure a performance in the Standard Theatre in Manhattan on January 5th 1882. He was there on business rather than for pleasure. As a new arrival to America's shores, he had to advertise his presence, and what better way than to upstage the very play that sought to lampoon the Apostle of Aestheticism?

As Oscar took a seat in a rear box, the audience turned en masse to get a good look at the curiosity from across the Atlantic. The New-York Tribune reported the next day that "numberless opera glasses turned toward the poet, but he appeared entirely unconscious of the scrutiny". But of course, appearances can be deceptive.

The main point I wanted to get across in this page is that Oscar is, at this point in the story, practically penniless. Danica has done a great job of conveying that, and I especially love how she's rendered Wilde's face in that final panel: Oscar has avoided what could have been an embarrassing admission of penury, deflected Langtry's request with a quip, and adopted a mask of superiority. Although he would normally indulge Langtry's every whim, he poses as bored, and suggests the riverside walk that he would ordinarily do anything to avoid.

It was Oscar's money troubles that on October 1st 1881 led him to accept D'Oyly Carte's invitation to tour America as a walking-talking advertisement for Patience, with a hastily penned telegram that read "Yes, if offer good."

The offer was good, and Oscar was soon on his way to conquering America.


Discover more about Oscar Wilde's American lecture tour, and my comic about it, at oscarwildecomics.com

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Sample page #5

The fifth sample page (page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4) from my comics project on Oscar Wilde's American lecture tour (click it for full size).

Oscar and Lillie Langtry exit the Royal Academy (click here for Google streetview) and stroll down Piccadilly arm in arm. The fact that the Royal Academy is on Piccadilly is a pleasant coincidence, as it allowed Danica to bring to life this (possibly metaphorical) refrain from the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, Patience:

Though the Philistines may jostle, you will rank as an apostle
in the high aesthetic band,
If you walk down Piccadilly with a poppy or a lily
in your medieval hand.

Patience was a satire of the youth culture du jour, Aestheticism. Wilde, who had positioned himself as a chief proponent of the creed of "art for art's sake", was lampooned in the operetta in the character of Bunthorne, the Fleshly poet.

George Grossmith as Bunthorne

Wilde was rumoured to present a single lily to Langtry every day, as a token of his love. But the act was seen very much as a performance, with Oscar mincing through London, the lone bloom grasped in his lavender-gloved hand. In America he was asked if there was any substance to this story. Wilde replied that his genius was not in having done it, but in making people believe that he had. Print the legend, indeed.

The line “Talent borrows, genius steals” is attributed to Wilde, but may have originated with another. Which I suppose, for a manifesto of plagiarism, is kind of the point. The aphorism would be reinterpreted in the next century by Picasso and Morrissey. The point I wanted to make is that even Wilde, the greatest wit of all time, was not some superhuman comeback-artist. Like the rest of us mere mortals, he comes up with the best put down only once it is too late. This is a Wilde whose powers are not yet at full strength.

In this page we also establish that Langtry is, at this point in their careers and arguably for the remainder of Wilde's life, the more famous of the two. Wilde's lust for recognition will be what sets him off on his all-advised tour of America. We also discover that Wilde is known mostly for his undergraduate antics. He is not yet the author of The Importance of Being Earnest, or The Picture of Dorian Gray, or even A House of Pomegranates. Instead, all Oscar has to his name is a book of self-published poems, an unproduced (and awful) play, and a few epigrams from his Oxford days.

The line that the two guttersnipes chortle over was attributed to Wilde when he was still a student at Magdalen. An avid collector of blue and white china, he was once overheard sighing that he could never live up to the contents of his display cabinet. This was the moment that Oscar Wilde as a public persona was born. Oscar was very happy to be the most frivolous man on campus, a university celebrity. But, four years later, it is easy to imagine that he might wish to escape from under the shadow of this single instance of undergraduate humour. Once an epigram has filtered down to the great unwashed, it is probably high time to disown it.


Discover more about Oscar Wilde's American lecture tour, and my comic about it, at oscarwildecomics.com