Happy Birthday Oscar Wilde

Wilde poses in 1882 for photographer Napoleon Sarony. Courtesy of the George Eastman House.

Wilde poses in 1882 for photographer Napoleon Sarony. Courtesy of the George Eastman House.

Irish writer Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born October 16, 1854. The author of many short stories, plays such as The Importance of Being Ernest and The Duchess of Padua, and the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde was a popular writer during his lifetime, and continues to be so today. To celebrate the author’s birthday, we thought we’d take a look at his lecture tour of the United States and connection to the Village.

In 1882, before he became a famous author, Wilde was hired to conduct a lecture tour to promote Gilbert & Sullivan’s operetta, Patience. His topics were varied, but all promoted the Aesthetic Movement, the very theme the operetta satirized. His lectures were well received across the country, although the press was highly critical. For those looking for more details on Wilde’s American tour, check out the site Oscar Wilde in America, which contains information on Wilde’s lecture cities, topics, quotations, and more.

The former Oscar Wilde Bookshop at its last home on Christopher Street.

The former Oscar Wilde Bookshop at its last home on Christopher Street.

So what about the Village? Wilde stayed at 48 West 11th Street during his stay in New York City, perhaps when his first play ever staged, Vera; or the Nihilist opened at the Union Square Theater. The house was built in 1841 in the then-fashionable Greek Revival style, and thanks to its inclusion in the Greenwich Village Historic District in 1969 remains more or less intact and of the same appearance as when it was built as well as when Wilde stayed there.

48 West 11th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues. Oscar Wilde slept here.

Wilde also posed for Napolean Sarony, the most famous portrait photographer in the country, whose studio was located at 37 Union Square. He posed once at the start of his tour in 1882 and again in 1883.

Perhaps the most lasting tribute to the author in the Village is the now-closed Oscar Wilde Bookshop, which was opened by Craig Rodwell in 1967 and was believed to be the country’s first gay bookstore.  The shop was awarded a GVSHP Village Award in 2008. The store’s name referenced the writer’s homosexuality. Wilde was put on trial and convicted of sodomy and jailed for two years, an experience the author wrote about in the poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol. Of course, Greenwich Village is known as the birth place of the modern Gay Rights Movement, which you can learn more about on GVSHP’s website.

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Sheryl

Sheryl Woodruff was GVSHP’s Senior Director of Operations until December 2014.