Wednesday, January 30, 2013

79. Oscar Wilde between Paris and Brighton

The Java-Bode reported the one-time performance of Ibsen's Ghosts in London on 13 March 1891. It not only mentioned Shannon as a member of the Independent Theatre Society, but also noted that Oscar Wilde had come to see the play. This is interesting, as his chronology mentions that he was in Paris on 11 March and in Brighton on 16 March and what he did in between is unrecorded. 

Norman Page's An Oscar Wilde Chronology (1991) shows that on 3 March Wilde was to visit the French poet Stéphane Mallarmé, that he was very ill a few days later, that he called on Zola on the 11th of March, and the next date is 16 March, when Wilde wrote that he was staying at the Hotel Metropole in Brighton, still (or again) very ill. These dates are based on Wilde's correspondence, as are those in the online Wilde Chronology of the Oscholars.

The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde (2000) show that Wilde had been in Paris since 25 February 1891 (and possibly earlier) when he wrote to Mallarmé that he would be honoured to meet the author of L'Après-Midi d'un Faune. Apparently, Wilde suffered from the flu, as he had lost his voice, but a few days later he wrote to his son Cyril that he went out every morning for a drive in the Bois de Boulogne and that every evening he would sit outside at 'little tables' looking at the passing carriages. On 7 March he wrote to Coulson Kernahan, his editor at Ward, Lock and Co, that he had not corrected the proofs for The Picture of Dorian Gray earlier, because he had been 'very ill'. All these letters were written from the Hôtel de l'Athénée, 15 rue Scribe, in Paris.

15, rue Scribe, Paris
Wilde's next dated letter is of 16 March 1891, again to Kernahan: 'I am still very ill, but Brighton is doing me good', and he announced that he would return 'to town' (London) the next day. There was no word about the first performance of Ibsen's Ghosts that he had witnessed in between.

From the Dutch review we now know that he had been in the audience on 13 March 1891. The English papers (The Times, The Daily Telegraph, etc.) mentioned no names other than those of the actors and that of Jack T. Grein, as it would have been risky to connect any respectable individual in the audience with a performance that was considered a scandal. The papers condemned the play and asked the Lord Chamberlain to ban it. In the Dutch review Wilde's name was followed immediately by that of John Gray, see next week's blog.

Among other names that were mentioned by the Dutch eye-witness of the event are the owner of The Times, John Walter, the Earl of Pembroke, the Earl of Londesborough, Clement Scott (of The Daily Telegraph), and at least ten other critics. From the Republic of Letters he mentioned George Moore, Oscar Wilde, and John Gray. The House of Lords was represented by Justin Huntly McCarthy and C.P. Colnaghi, from the art world the names of Charles Shannon and the engraver Carl Henschel, the actors Madeleine Shirley, Emily Duncan, Adrienne Dairolles and members of the Playgoers Club were mentioned. The orchestra that mainly consisted of Dutch musicians, was led by the Dutch conductor  and composer Jan Mulder, and played a few pieces by Edvard Grieg. Mulder also performed at a concert at the Dutch Club and at the Savage Club. He would also be present at the October 1891 performance of The Independent Theatre Society, when Zola's Thérèse Raquin in a translation of Alexander Teixeira de Mattos was staged. George Moore had revised this translation.