Wednesday, August 28, 2013

109. Oscar Wilde in Philadelphia

On my return from Philadelphia, last July, I was pleased to see a parcel from Oxford University Press with a copy of volume V of The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, subtitled Plays 1, containing the texts of The Duchess of Padua, Salomé (the original French text) and Salome (the English version). The combined texts only occupy some 285 pages, whereas the editorial matter needs another 500.

The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, volume V
Oscar Wilde visited Philadelphia himself on his American tour in 1882. On 17 January 1882 (he arrived a day earlier) he lectured about 'The English Renaissance' at the Horticultural Hall in Fairmount Park, a building that was erected for the Centennial Exposition in 1875 and that lasted until 1954. In May Wilde returned there to speak about 'The House Beautiful' at the Association Hall (10 May). The 'Association' in question was the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), and its venue was located at 1430 Chestnut Street (at 15th Street) in a building that has since been demolished.

An announcement of the second lecture was printed on translucent paper. There is a copy in the Rosenbach Museum and Library. I did not see the flyer when I was there.

There is more about Wilde at the Rosenbach Museum and Library. An image in the new volume illustrates a floor plan for Salomé (the French original). Salomé, daughter of Herodias, dances for Herod, 'the Tetrarch'. Herod is so taken with her dance, that he promises her everything she wants, which turns out to be the head of John the Baptist, who is a captive (in a cistern) in the palace, and who is called Iokanaan. Salomé has fallen in love with him, he has refused her, and she demands his execution by asking for his head on a silver tray. Then, while she kisses the dead lips, Herod has her killed. 

The 'ground plan' in the Philadelphia collection is in several hands. The hand of Wilde is easily recognizable, see for example his 'o la lune', and other words that are written in ink.

'Plan de la scene' for Salomé [detail] (Rosenbach Museum and Library)
The editor of this volume, Joseph Donohue, states: 'Another hand, in pencil, has adjusted some of the features of the scene, moving the wall of the building and the staircase to opposite positions and the cistern to the centre of the stage. The hand is probably that of Charles Ricketts, who, at an early point, at W[ilde]'s request sketched a ground plan for a production of the play - perhaps for Paul Fort's proposed production in 1892 - to which the present sketch may well be related. Ricketts later appears to have used this sketch for his own London production. Earlier, he discussed in detail with W, at W. request, details of the design that might be used for a production of the play.' (p. [508]).

However, the words written in pencil do not show Ricketts's characteristic handwriting. Although the re-location of staircase and cistern are confirmed by Ricketts's own staging of the play in 1906, we must still doubt his involvement in this particular, early sketch of the scene.

The Rosenbach also possesses the third manuscript draft of Salomé, with 'interlinear interventions in the presumed hand of Pierre Louÿs, whose grammatical corrections Wilde accepted but whose other suggestions he steadfastly rejected' (p. 335).

The long, informative introduction frequently quotes Ricketts, who repeatedly wrote about the play.