First Blog after being online

Oscar Wilde in late 2018

Working on Wilde means to be willing to take on board some of his dos and don'ts, to be both overeducated and a hater of anything vulgar, to be both democratic and averse to the vulgarization of life. It doesn't mean that you share all his attitudes towards life and, above all, it doesn't mean to identify with all the rôles he played in life.

Looking ahead at 2019 also means to look back at the year 1894 when most of the things that would come to a head in 1895 for Oscar Wilde were already in the offing. As a biographer used to reading events with hindsight, I always thought the most important lesson to learn from someone like Wilde's life is to use foresight rather than hindsight. It is intriguing to see, for example, how James Joyce was able to avoid making the same mistakes Wilde had made by staying clear of both Ireland and England for most of his life - ridden as it was as Wilde's by scandals of the word.

On 3rd January 1895, for example, it was the first night of Wilde's play "An Ideal Husband" which he had written over the summer of 1894. So for the calendar of 2020, it will be interesting to find out a key sentence from either this play or his letter to quote for the first fortnight. Well, you should know that for the calendar of 2020 I am going to change strategy, using only quotations from the year itself to guide you through the "annus horribilis" of Wilde's life. He may have commented on Queen Victoria's birthday once in a while, certainly Wilde did celebrate her Diamond Jubilee when in exile in Dieppe just after his release from prison in May 1897.

On 14th February 1895, Wilde celebrated a special Valentine's Day with the first night of "The Importance of Being Earnest", the speech of which is often dramatised in biopics devoted to Wilde, since it is the high point of a career that the young student arriving in Oxford in the autumn of 1874 would not have expected. Certainly, Wilde, once assimilated so as no longer speaking his Dublin brogue, did not expect to be defamed by the Marquess of Queensberry's calling card which he found in his club on 28th February 1895. It had been lying there since the first night of his play, so Wilde assumed he had been publicly defamed. Whatever it was that made him believe this theory it was wholly wrong and triggered a series of events that would never stop before he had lost everything within a mere nine months of discovering that card.

Jörg W. Rademacher, Leer, East Frisia, 29th December 2018

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