seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Oscar Wilde, Poet & Playwright

oscar-wildeOscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, Irish poet and playwright, dies in Paris, France on November 30, 1900. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, the early 1890s see him become one of the most popular playwrights in London. He is best remembered for his epigrams and plays, his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the circumstances of his criminal conviction for “gross indecency,” imprisonment, and early death at age 46.

Wilde is born on October 16, 1854 at 21 Westland Row, Dublin (now home of the Oscar Wilde Centre, Trinity College), the second of three children born to Anglo-Irish Sir William Wilde and Jane Wilde, two years behind his brother William. His parents are successful Anglo-Irish intellectuals in Dublin. He learns to speak fluent French and German. At university, he reads Greats. He demonstrates himself to be an exceptional classicist, first at Trinity College Dublin, then at Magdalen College, Oxford. He becomes associated with the emerging philosophy of aestheticism, led by two of his tutors, Walter Pater and John Ruskin. After university, he moves to London into fashionable cultural and social circles.

As a spokesman for aestheticism, Wilde tries his hand at various literary activities: he publishes a book of poems, lectures in the United States and Canada on the new “English Renaissance in Art” and interior decoration, and then returns to London where he works prolifically as a journalist. Known for his biting wit, flamboyant dress and glittering conversational skill, he becomes one of the best-known personalities of his day.

At the turn of the 1890s, Wilde refines his ideas about the supremacy of art in a series of dialogues and essays, and incorporates themes of decadence, duplicity, and beauty into what would be his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). The opportunity to construct aesthetic details precisely, and combine them with larger social themes, draw him to write drama. He writes Salome (1891) in French while in Paris but it is refused a licence for England due to an absolute prohibition on the portrayal of Biblical subjects on the English stage. Unperturbed, he produces four society comedies in the early 1890s, which make him one of the most successful playwrights of late-Victorian London.

At the height of his fame and success, while The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) is still being performed in London, Wilde has John Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry prosecuted for criminal libel. The Marquess is the father of Wilde’s lover, Lord Alfred Douglas. The libel trial unearths evidence that causes him to drop his charges and leads to his own arrest and trial for gross indecency with men. After two more trials he is convicted and sentenced to two years of hard labour, the maximum penalty, and is jailed from 1895 to 1897. During his last year in prison, he writes De Profundis, published posthumously in 1905, a long letter which discusses his spiritual journey through his trials, forming a dark counterpoint to his earlier philosophy of pleasure. On his release, he leaves immediately for France, never to return to Ireland or Britain. There he writes his last work, The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), a long poem commemorating the harsh rhythms of prison life.

By November 25, 1900 Wilde has developed meningitis, then called “cerebral meningitis”. On November 29, he is conditionally baptised into the Catholic Church by Fr. Cuthbert Dunne, a Passionist priest from Dublin. He dies of meningitis on November 30, 1900. Different opinions are given as to the cause of the disease. Richard Ellmann claims it is syphilitic. Merlin Holland, Wilde’s grandson, believes this to be a misconception, noting that Wilde’s meningitis followed a surgical intervention, perhaps a mastoidectomy. Wilde’s physicians, Dr. Paul Cleiss and A’Court Tucker, report that the condition stems from an old suppuration of the right ear treated for several years and makes no allusion to syphilis.

Wilde is initially buried in the Cimetière parisien de Bagneux outside Paris. In 1909 his remains are disinterred and transferred to Père Lachaise Cemetery, inside the city. In 2011, the tomb is cleaned of the many lipstick marks left there by admirers and a glass barrier is installed to prevent further marks or damage.

In 2017, Wilde is among an estimated 50,000 men who are pardoned for homosexual acts that are no longer considered offences under the Policing and Crime Act 2017. The Act is known informally as the Alan Turing law.

In 2014 Wilde is one of the inaugural honorees in the Rainbow Honor Walk, a walk of fame in San Francisco’s Castro District noting LGBTQ people who have “made significant contributions in their fields.”


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Death of Jane Francesca Agnes, Lady Wilde

jane-wildeJane Francesca Agnes, Lady Wilde, Irish poet who writes under the pen name “Speranza” and supporter of the nationalist movement, dies at her home, 146 Oakley Street, Chelsea, London, of bronchitis on February 3, 1896.

Jane is the last of the four children of Charles Elgee, a Wexford solicitor, and his wife Sarah. Her great-grandfather is an Italian who had come to Wexford in the 18th century. She has a special interest in Irish folktales, which she helps to gather. She marries Sir William Wilde on November 12, 1851, and they have three children, William Charles Kingsbury Wilde (1852–1899), Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde (1854–1900), and Isola Francesca Emily Wilde (1857–1867).

Jane, who is the niece of Charles Maturin, writes for the Young Ireland movement of the 1840s, publishing poems in The Nation under the pseudonym of “Speranza.” Her works include pro-Irish independence and anti-British writing. She is sometimes known as “Speranza of the Nation.” Charles Gavan Duffy is the editor when “Speranza” writes commentary calling for armed revolution in Ireland. The authorities at Dublin Castle shut down the paper and bring the editor to court. Duffy refuses to name who has written the offending article. “Speranza” reputedly stands up in court and claims responsibility for the article. The confession is ignored by the authorities. But in any event the newspaper is permanently shut down by the authorities.

She is an early advocate of women’s rights, and campaigns for better education for women. She invites the suffragist Millicent Fawcett to her home to speak on female liberty. She praises the passing of the Married Women’s Property Act of 1883, preventing women from having to enter marriage “as a bond slave, disenfranchised of all rights over her fortune.”

William Wilde is knighted in January 1864, but the family celebrations are short-lived, for in the same year Sir William and Lady Wilde are at the centre of a sensational Dublin court case regarding a young woman called Mary Travers, the daughter of a colleague of Sir William’s, who claims that he had seduced her and who then brings an action against Lady Wilde for libel. Mary Travers wins the case and costs of £2,000 are awarded against Lady Wilde. Then, in 1867, their daughter Isola dies of fever at the age of nine. In 1871 the two illegitimate daughters of Sir William are burned to death and in 1876 Sir William himself dies. The family discovers that he is virtually bankrupt.

Lady Wilde leaves Dublin for London in 1879, where she joins her two sons, Willie, a journalist, and Oscar, who is making a name for himself in literary circles. She lives with her older son in poverty, supplementing their meagre income by writing for fashionable magazines and producing books based on the researches of her late husband into Irish folklore.

Lady Wilde contracts bronchitis in January 1896 and, dying, asks for permission to see Oscar, who is in prison. Her request is refused. It is claimed that her “fetch” appears in Oscar’s prison cell as she dies at her home, 146 Oakley Street, Chelsea, on February 3, 1896. Willie Wilde, her older son, is penniless, so Oscar pays for her funeral, which is held on February 5, at Kensal Green Cemetery in London. A headstone proved too expensive and she is buried anonymously in common ground. A monument to her, in the form of a Celtic cross, is erected at Kensal Green Cemetery by the Oscar Wilde Society in 1999.