Just finished reading Richard Ellmann’s biography of Oscar Wilde published a couple of decades ago. Ellmann is renowned for providing very in-depth studies of authors including James Joyce and his biography of Wilde was sympathetic, thorough and incredibly textured.

Two words Ellmann kept using in the book were epigram and aphorism, words I had to look up to make sure I knew their exact meaning.

My interest in Wilde peaked last fall when I stayed at the Cadogan Hotel in London where Wilde was staying with his boyfriend Lord Alfred Douglas at the time of his arrest for indecency. I actually got to stay in Wilde’s suite where a replica purple smoking jacket hangs in the closet. It’s a lovely historic hotel with all these interesting nooks and crannies and staircases leading to other wings. This was also the hotel of actor Lillie Langtry, the mistress of King Edward VII. Both kept elaborate suites at the hotel, the king’s rooms were rich red and opulent while Langtry’s rooms were pale and romantic.

At the time Wilde was staying at Cadogan, he was hounded relentlessly for his relationship with Douglas and other young men. It was a notoriety that Wilde initially pursued.

In 1882 this week, Wilde arrived on his very successful speaking trip to America, landing in New York City. Asked if he had anything to declare, he replied: “Nothing but my genius.”

Ellman’s details of Wilde in his biography has a lively account of Wilde’s tour through America and all the stops he made as he lectured to first a puzzled then an enthusiastic audience.


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