Blog-Post September 2023

Dear readers of my blog,

Following a long absence, I want to take up again my series of posts. It is always necessary for me to find both time and leisure to compose such a post. This time I was inspired once again to write a comment on John Cooper’s latest post at Oscar-Wilde-in-America before finding a point of departure for a post of my own in the itinerary of Wilde’s lecture tour in the USA and Canada.

While Asbury Park, New Jersey, is a resort I have only ever heard of through reading Sarfraz Manzoor’s memoir entitled Greetings from Bury Park (2007), which, in itself, is an echo of Bruce Springsteen’s first album entitled Greetings from Asbury Park (1973), I was in a for a great surprise to see that Oscar Wilde during his tour of the North American continent had also lectured in Asbury Park, at Coleman House (2), to be precise, on Thursday, 24 August 1882.

Prior to this excursion to the New Jersey coastline, Wilde’s tour manager, R. d’Oyly Carte had published the itinerary.

It was only later that a brief article on that day’s events was issued by the Camden Daily Courier on 2 September. The text, first transcribed from the screen in long-hand, then typed up on the keyboard, runs as follows:

“Oscar Wilde appeared in the Park last Thursday evening and recited his lecture on “The [House] Beautiful” at the Amusement Building of the Coleman House. He made himself scarce during the day, thereby evading the curiosity seekers and compelling those who desired to gaze upon his artistic countenance to pay the admission fee for the lecture.”

It is worth our while to provide a close reading of that piece of journalism. Reading this short report also helps to see that Wilde’s delivery of a lecture through the use of the verb “recite” is linked to the performance of a poet who recites verse.

Interestingly, Asbury Park which latter-day fans of Bruce Springsteen only know as a shadow of its former fashionable self as a resort and basically a run-down place with a working-class population is still very much en vogue in 1882, attracting a pop star of his time, the 27-seven-year-old Irishman and self-stylized professor of aesthetics who, another intriguing detail, is not only set to speak in “the Amusement Building” of the hotel where he lodges, he is also supposed to talk about the “Beautiful”, if not the “House Beautiful”.

Between the lines, it is more than suggested by the phrase “artistic countenance” that Wilde himself is a beautiful object in that he is going to be subjected to the gazes of those willing to pay the “admission fee”. Aware of the photographic images circulated all over North America, we should not neglect the wear and tear effect of being considered a “curiosity” ever since his arrival in January may have had on Wilde, so that, quite naturally, “he made himself scarce during the day”.

With his family legacies partly Irish and Italian, the singer-song-writer and bandleader Bruce Springsteen shares an aspect with Wilde I had not been aware of until I was obliged to take an interest in his music and writing as well as in his life and times. What they also share is their impact on a live audience. At the same time, Wilde was the quintessential solo performer, while Springsteen at most times of his career makes a point of sharing the stage with his band. Perhaps you might try and look for some more links between the two when either studying the itinerary of Wilde’s North American lecture tour, published in detail on John Cooper’s website Oscar-Wilde-in-America or by browsing the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen for stories where they might intersect. It goes without saying that there may be other American cities where both held their respective audiences in thrall.

The main difference, however, between the two is that Springsteen is going to turn 74 this month, while Wilde died at 46 and only had about a dozen years to churn out the bulk of his works. So if you find anything worth mentioning, do not hesitate to leave a comment or to pass on any ideas to those interested in Wilde.

All best wishes,

Jörg W. Rademacher

August/September 2023

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