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Oscar Wilde [1854-1900]

A Paper Doll Set by David Claudon

All pictures are ©2004 David Claudon

Click on thumbnails to enlarge pictures.

The Aesthetic Movement

   

In January 1882, in an effort to make money, Oscar Wilde went on a year lecture tour of America. He lectured on ideas from the Aesthetic movement--speaking on The English Renaissance, The House Beautiful, and The Decorative Arts. Much of his lectures dealt with how to integrate beauty into one environment, dress, and furnishings.

A few of the ubiquitous symbols of the Aesthetic Movement, often mocked by the critics, were the sunflower, the annunciation lily, and blue and white chinaware. Many of his detractors laughed at Wilde's languid posing and foppish clothing

Wilde is reported to have stated in college, "I find it harder and harder every day to live up to my blue china."

 

 

Oscar Wilde on his American tour

   

Lillie Langtry--the Jersey Lily, considered one of the most beautiful women of her generation--was for a time a close friend of the Aesthetic Oscar, as was Sarah Bernhardt. Langtry, sometime mistress of the Duke of Wales, was helped in a theatrical career by Oscar. The Divine Sarah was Oscar's choice to play Salome in his play by the same name. His friendship with the two could not stand the strain of his later social banishment.

Wilde was reported to have thrown an armful of lilies at Sarah's feet when she arrived from France.

  Lillie Langtry and Sarah Bernhardt
 

 

   

The irony of Wilde's play title, An Ideal Husband, was evident by his life.

In 1884, Wilde married Constance Lloyd, who he described as "a grave, slight, violet-eyed little Artemis, with great coils of heavy brown hair to make her flower-like head droop like a flower, and wonderful ivory hands which draw music from the piano so sweet the birds stop singing to listen to her." Their marriage produced two sons. One of the characters in The Green Carnation, a roman à clef about Wilde and Bosie, stated of his wife, "she wore large hats."

Consensus seems to be that Constance Wilde knew nothing about her husband's "other life."

  Constance Wilde
    Wilde at the beginning designed much of his wife's clothing, which was revolutionary for the period since it involved loose fitting dresses without heavy restrictive corsets and multi-petticoats. The dress on the left is based on one shown in McKenna's book.  
 

 

   

During the mid-1880s, Wilde began an exploration into sexual extravagence that seems more in tune with the hedonism of the American 1970s. In his book, The Portrait of Dorian Gray, he wrote:

The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful.

 

   

In 1886 Wilde met Robbie Ross, probably at Oxford. Ross was 17 and claimed later that he seduced Wilde. Ross remained throughout Wilde's life his most faithful friend and confidant.

Wilde shocked his contemporaries by refusing to hide his pattern of pursuing young men--often below his social class--and "feasting with panthers"--rent boys who were readily available in spite of (or perhaps because of) the moral climate of the straight-laced Victorian Period.

 

  Robbie Ross & Friend .
   

John Gray and Wilde met in 1889. Perhaps because Gray was indifferent to Wilde, Wilde launched a campaign to win Gray's affection. The resulting relationship became part of the basis for Wilde's novel, The Portrait of Dorian Gray. John even signed his name "Dorian" in a letter to Wilde.

The book scandalized repressed Victorians and was denounced as decadent. A few years later the book would be used against Wilde in his trial. Coming close on the heels of the Cleveland scandal, the book and its publicity almost ruined Wilde's reputation.

 

 
   

Oscar was 36 when he met the person who was to lead to his downfall in 1891. Lord Alfred Douglas was then 21. Called Bosie by his family, Douglas was temperamental, capricious, and willful. The two became lovers.

When Bosie's father, the Marquis of Queensberry, learned of his son's relationship with the notorious Wilde, he attempted to call the author out for a duel by calling him a sodomite. Wilde, spurred on by Bosie, sued him for libel. The trial turned into a Victorian witch trial leading to Wilde's imprisonment for two years of hard labor, which virtually destroyed his career and his health.

During the trial Wilde spoke out for "the love that dare not speak it's name."

 

  Oscar Wilde & Bosie
   

Wilde wrote Salome in 1892. Sarah Bernhart was scheduled to play the part in London, but before the production could be finished, it was closed down by the censor because of a law which prohibited Biblical stories to be represented onstage. It was published with illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley and staged after Wilde's death in France and Germany with great success.

A picture of someone looking like Wilde in drag is reported to be a German actress who did Strauss' opera based on Wilde's play.

 

 
   
   

 

"Suffering is one very long moment." De Profundis

Upon his release from prison, Wilde went into exile on the European continent. Oscar at right is taken from one of his final photographs, taken in Rome. Two final important works were published after his release from jail: The Ballad of Reading Gaol and De Profundis, a letter to Bosie written in jail but not published until after his death.

Most of Oscar's friends deserted him during his final years. Finally settling in Paris, France, he died in 1900. On his deathbed he converted to Catholicism.

 

 
   

Supposedly before he died, Oscar stated, "My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go."

Recently some doctors have suggested he died of a severe ear infection and not syphillis which had been suggested by his biographer Ellmann.

 

As his executor, Robbie Ross paid off the numerous bills outstanding. It was through his efforts that the Memorial by Jacob Epstein in the Paris cemetery, Père Lachaise, was created. Today the monument is covered with lipstick kisses, creating problems for Wilde's grandson.

Oscar Wilde's epitaph is a quote from "The Ballad of Reading Gaol":

And alien tears will fill for him
Pity's long broken urn,
For his mourners will be outcast men,
And outcasts always mourn.

 

 

Click on the picture for Wilde's most popular play.

 

   

This website created by David Claudon, October 22, 2004. Last update September 20, 2006 .

 

[ Home ] [ Rich East ] [ The Cleopatra Costume ] [ Commedia dell'Arte ] [ Cyrano ]
[ Dressing for Shakespeare ][ The Iliad ][ Decorating Forties Style ]
[ Decorating for a Fifties Christmas ] [ To Kill a Mockingbird ]
[
A Rainbow Honor Roll ] [ Miniatures ]
[ Paper Dolls ] [ Santa Collection ] [ Clarence ]
[ St. Bernardine's Church ]