The Barbarians

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It is undeniable that the new technological connected world has brought to the collapse the past idea of relation, politics, education, art and somehow given voice and shape to a very long gallery of people who would have barely seen the light before: scarcely educated, rude, arrogant, tasteless, they flood the world with their superficial, trivial, sometimes violent but incredibly effective messages. As barbarians they implacably destroy our certainties and nothing seems it can be done but walking hopelessly among those ruins of the past. The point is: are these barbarians ruthless destroyers or maybe is this only the way we perceive and fear change ? After all, whatever cannot be fully understood is often seen as a threat. Am I just growing old and losing touch with the new? Maybe, we should just modulate the way we look at things rather than feeling continuously under attack.

bar2This is what suggests Alessandro Baricco, Italian novelist and essayist, for whom the barbarians represent innovation rather than violence and destruction. In his ” The Barbarians: an essay on the mutation of culture“, Baricco remarks that the beginners of a new era have always been considered barbarians by their contemporaries, because they smashed past tradition. What they had in common was a good degree of that foolishness so dear to Steve Jobs: the clear perception of change. In the past Diderot and D’Alembert must have seemed barbarians at the eyes of the intellectual elite of the ancient regime, let alone the revolutionary music of Mozart and Romantic poetry, of course, which in fell swoop destroyed all the canons of classicism.The use of simple, unelaborated language, common themes, blank verse, for the purist of the age was a barbaric act on classic form. Actually, I myself have often  thought while reading Wordsworth‘s “Daffodils”, for example: “uhm , so puerile” and quite annoying all that flood of synonyms of the word “happy” (bliss, joy, jocund…)  as  if that were the only way to communicate the reader how happy he felt, but rather, resulting in my mind as a sort of Pharrell William walking in that wood singing and dancing wildly “because I’m happy“. And pray, don’t be offended by the word “puerile”, I borrowed it from Shelley‘s comment on the poem. All these people had to vandalize past canons to let their genius explode.

bar-3You wouldn’t believe it, but even Beethoven was considered a barbarian for his age. The critic of the Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review used the following words to review his most celebrated ninth symphony in 1825: Elegance, purity and measures, which were the principles of our art, have gradually surrendered to the new style, frivolous and affected, that these days of superficial talent  have adopted. Brains that, for education and habit, cannot think of anything else but clothes, fashion, gossip, reading novels and moral dissipation, are struggling to experience the more elaborate and less febrile pleasures of science and art. Beethoven writes for those brains, and in this he seems to have some success, if I have to believe the praise that, on all sides, I bloom for his latest work.” And even the American reviews did not spare negative comments:”…very much like Yankee Doodle,” sniffed a Providence, R.I. newspaper in 1868 and “Unspeakable cheapness,” declared Boston’s Musical Record in 1899. Hence; Beethoven was only endowed with a superficial talent for them and treated like a pop musician.

bar6Baricco says that nowadays modern Barbarians are people like Larry Page and Sergey Brin who were only twenty when they invented Google and had never read Flaubert,of course; Steve Jobs, creator of the Apple world and that touch technology which is so typically childlike;  or Jimmy Wales the founder of Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that has formalized the primacy of speed over accuracy. These people sincerely did not reject all the past, yet, at the time of designing the future rather than using the tools of tradition, they employed new standards with the side effect of destroying to the root, entire estates of knowledge and sensitivity that lie in a shared heritage of civilization.

So far, then, I understand that this sense discomfort that pervades me depends only on my inability of accepting the mutation of this age, as, put it in this way, the barbarians seem to be absolutely necessary for the evolution of our civilization to the same degree they accomplish the precious function of fuelling with young blood  and energy the world of ideas. But then, Baricco introduces a new category and everything becomes more clear to me. The presence of the barbarians has a physiological consequence: the growth of the numbers of the barbarized. This phenomenon has always occurred, but in an age of mass communication where everything happens so rapidly, the barbarized may eventually prevail and change the course of events, before the revolutions of the barbarians might be effectively rooted in society. Furthemore, differently from other ages, the barbarized are no longer hidden and victim of the contempt of the refined, but they are fiercely visible on tv, social media etc., some of them has even pursued a career in politics. Hence, is this what the new world is going to be like? A world in the hand of the barbarized?

 

Mr Poe welcomes “the Betrothed Lovers” in the U.S.A.

bethrodedbethroted-5When Manzoni ‘s “The Betrothed Lovers” (I Promessi Sposi) landed in America in 1834, the book had already  become a hit in Europe. With more than 80 reprints in Italy and in Europe, “the Betrothed” had caught not only the attention of publishers and printers but also the praises of many illustrious writers of the time such as Mary Shelley, Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, who had the fortune to know Italian and appreciate the book in the original language. The problem of the language employed by Manzoni  was no minor matter, as translators found it very difficult to interpret (as Italian students nowadays). That was one of the reasons why in England, for example, “The Betrothed” received bad reviews at first. For instance, on the «Foreign Quarterly Review» in November 1827  the reviewer smashed the novel with few words: «an indifferent novel written by a highly respectable dramatist» and  points out «the unnecessary and tedious minuteness of the historical notices with which it is interspersed». Certainly,  if “the genius of an author  is […] intimately associated with the genius and the very sounds of his language”, as Andrews Norton, another (bad) translator of “The Betrothed” remarked, it would be impossible to judge the necessary from the unnecessary and hence, the fortune of a book  would be entirely in the hands of translators.

bethroded4The Betrothed” was published in America on “The Metropolitan: a Miscellany of Literature and Science” in weekly installments in 1834 and translated by George William Featherstonhaugh (1780-1866), polygraph and English geologist who had emigrated to the United States. He also found the novel «exceedingly difficult to translate» and added that translating «such a work of pre-eminent merit […] is like attempting to paint the fragrance of violets and roses». However, Featherstonhaugh decided to handle the text in full, as he found impossible to clearly separate the dullest passages from “comic thoughts, and the finest touches of humor“. Even if there were no visible mistakes,  the style was too refined: vocabulary and syntax were actually Italian or Latin, therefore; far from current English. Such a choice would have been unpardonable for a fervent supporter of the “living and true language” as Manzoni was. In fact, Edgar Allan Poe , who had been commissioned the review of the novel, commented:

«We regret to say that the translation has many faults. We lament it the more, because they are obviously faults of haste. The translator, we fear, was hungry; a misfortune with which we know how to sympathize. The style is, for the most part, Italian, in English words, but Italian still. This is a great fault. In some instances it would be unpardonable. In this instance, perhaps, it is more than compensated by a kindred excellence. In a work like this, abounding in the untranslatable phrases of popular dialogue, it gives a quaint raciness which is not unacceptable.» 

Despite the many faults of Featherstonhaugh‘s translation, Poe was impressed by Manzoni ‘s masterpiece and his warm enthusiasm can be seen from the very beginning of his review:

«This work comes to us as the harbinger of glad tidings to the reading world. Here is a book, equal in matter to any two of Cooper’s novels, and executed at least as well, which we receive at the moderate price of forty-two cents!»

Even if he could not regard the novel “original” in the very sense of the word as ” the writer is obviously familiar with English literature, and seems to have taken at least one hint from Sir Walter Scott” Poe praises the perfection of the machinery of the story, which makes impossible and unworthy any attempt of summarizing it:

«Well! here is something that will stick by the ribs; a work of which we would try to give a sort of outline, but that it cannot be abridged. The machinery of the story is not intricate, but each part is necessary to the rest. To leave anything out is to tell nothing.»

bethroded2Unlike other critics of the time, Poe was not fooled by the writer’s Catholic attitude: “Manzoni was as much alive, as Luther himself, to the Church abuses of That.” But what particularly impressed Poe was  the author’s expressive power, which he wanted to give proof of, quoting entirely the episode of Cecilia’s mother and commenting: “There is a power in this to which we do not scruple to give great praise.” Of course, the description of the Plague in Milan in 1628, and the details of the “uncoffined bodies naked for the most part, some badly wrapped in dirty rags, heaped up and folded together like a knot of serpents,” and the “Monalti “  the men who,” having had the plague, were considered exempt from future danger, and were employed to bury the dead“, belonged much more to his taste and it seems to have strongly inspired his Mask of the Red Death and King Pest.

That was the beginning of Manzoni‘s fortune in America. The very same year another translation appeared in New York, but with a different title and more faulty than the previous one :” Lucia, the Betrothed” published by George Dearborn and translated by Andrews Norton. The blend of gloomy atmospheres and moral message succeed in touching many hearts. One of them, Charles Sumner, future American politician,was particularly struck by a scene where Fra Cristoforo asks the pardon of the brother of the man he had murdered and said: «The Pope should remit Manzoni ten thousands years trough purgatory in consideration of Fra Cristoforo and the Cardinal Borromeo. When I read the asking of pardon by Cristoforo, though I was in a public “vettura”, and albeit unused  to the melting mood, I yet found the spontaneous tear, the truest testimony to the power of the writer». Power which eventually managed to win over the ineptitude of his translators.

The White Man’s Burden

wm1When Theodore Roosevelt read  Rudyard Kipling ‘s poem: “The White Man’s Burden: The United States and The Philippine Islands”, was so very favourably impressed that he copied the poem and sent it to his friend Senator Henry Cabot Lodge with the following comment : “rather poor poetry, but good sense from the expansion point of view“. The publication of the poem in McClure’s Magazine in February 1899  coincided with the beginning of the Philippine-American War and U.S. Senate ratification of the treaty that placed Puerto Rico, Guam, Cuba, and the Philippines under American control. In his poem Kipling invited the U.S: to take up the “burden” of the empire, as Britain and other European nations had done. Kipling thought that the white man had the duty to help the less fortunate peoples of the empire and the goodness of their civilizing mission would have crushed any resented opposition even if, choosing the word “burden” to define this glorious accomplishment, Kipling somehow underlined that it was not such a simple task. More than one hundred years after the publication of this poem, just reading through the pages of any newspaper, we know there must have been something underrated in that optimistic vision.

wm2The fact is that the “civilising mission” consisted not only in expanding a more modern economic and social system – certainly more for the sake of the civilizers rather than the  civilized – but imposing those values and habits typical of western cultures without caring much of the sensibility of the “captives” that Kipling defined in the poem “half devil and half child”. In these last two expressions there is all the blindness and hypocrisy of an age. The natives were seen as devils, that is “sullen”, dark , evil; therefore, they needed to be redeemed. At this point we should remember the role of the Church in promoting the idea of the expansion of the empire as fundamental for the spreading of the Christian faith. Since the discovery of America, economic and religious issues had always gone hand in hand, in fact. However, that childish trait should have made easier the “salvation” of those poor souls, because of their “natural” naivety and gullibility. Needless to say that such representation earned Kipling bitter accusations of racism.

wm3Certainly in those words there was nothing new, but a prejudice which had been commonly shared for ages; therefore, the civilizing mission of the white man was deliberately indifferent of those values expressed by the cultures of the subdued peoples of the empire, which were considered inferior. Even Robinson Crusoe, after all, was a prototype of this vision. He feeds Friday, teaches him British good manner and even if they are alone on a desert island the master and servant relationship is preserved: Robinson wants to be called “Master” and names his companion “Friday”, rather than giving him a proper name; therefore, he does not seem to consider him a person, he just wants him to remember the day Robinson/ the Master saved him and then he proceeds with his own private civilizing mission. Had he been interested, he would have made the effort to ask his name, but maybe it sounded too democratic for the time.

Sikh officers of the British 15th Punjab Infantry regiment, shortly after the Indian Mutiny, 1858But is it really possible to cohabit just fixing the rules of a master/servant relationship based on an alleged superiority, without caring about the nature of that servant? There is a great risk, in fact. It could happen that  the Fridays in the world one day might rebel, just because of the carelessness of a Robinson for whom a little detail may be meaningless, while it is, actually, so meaningful for them, just like a trivial cartridge, for instance. We are talking about the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857. The British had issued the Sepoys, the native Indian soldiers of the Bengal Army, with new gunpowder cartridges. To load their rifles, the soldiers had to bite the cartridge first, but this simple action was considered an insult to both Hindus and Muslims, as they believed that the cartridges they were supplied with were greased with lard (pork fat) which was regarded as unclean by Muslims and tallow (cow fat) which angered the Hindus, as cows were equal to goddess to them. The Sepoys’ British officers regarded these claims unimportant, and suggested to grease a batch of the new cartridges with beeswax or mutton fat.  For the Sepoys this was evidence that the original cartridges were indeed greased with lard and tallow. Hence, a meaningless cartridge became the cause of a meaningful uprising that in all Indian History books is regarded as India’s first War of Independence.

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My lover, Lord Alfred Douglas.

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Lord Alfred Douglas, nicknamed Bosie, was a young aristocrat and poet, the youngest son of the Marquess of Queensberry. He looked like an angel: fragile, with a very pale complexion, blonde hair and blue eyes, but often appearances can be deceptive and this case was no exception. The story of his relationship with Wilde began in 1892. Bosies’s  cousin, Lionel Johnson, had lent him a  copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray“, and after reading it  fourteen times in a row” he wished to be introduced to the author and so at the end of June 1891 Lionel Johnson accompanied his cousin in Tite Street and introduced him to Oscar Wilde. At the end of June 1892 Douglas needed Oscar’s help, because he was being blackmailed. Oscar, thanks to his lawyer George Lewis, solved all and since then they started to date and by the end of December 1893 they had become inseparable. The rumors about their lives ran all over London. The writer had little desire to hide that relationship and Bosie was even more eager to show it, as he wanted everyone to know that he was Oscar Wilde’ s “favorite”. In a letter to his friend Robert Ross Oscar writes:”My dearest Bobbie, Bosie has insisted on stopping here for sandwiches. He is quite like a narcissus – so white and gold (……..)Bosie is so tired: he lies like a hyacinth on the sofa, and I worship him”. Oscar was even introduced to Bosie’s mother, Lady Bracknell, and he made her one of the characters of his most popular comedy: “The Importance of Being Earnest“.

wi.3However, Bosie was not that “angel” he apparently seemed to be,  but rather,  he was usually described by his closest friends as spoiled, reckless, insolent and extravagant. He used to spend money on boys and gambling and expected Wilde to contribute to his expenses. It was Bosie who introduced Oscar to the circles of young  male prostitutes, rent boys who were readily available in spite of (or perhaps because of) the moral climate of the straight-laced Victorian Period. Wilde did nothing but follow him dispensing money, gold or silver cigarette cases and other gifts. He once said that attending these young guys was like feasting with panthers. Alfred Taylor (son of a manufacturer), Sidney Mavor (future priest), Maurice Schwabe and Freddy Atkins, Edward Shelley for a short time and Alfred Wood, a boy of seventeen, who blackmailed him obtaining 30 pounds, were some of those “panthers” who crowded Wilde’s chamber.

wi.5Since 1893 Wilde preferred to stay in a hotel to avoid scandals in order to meet freely and secretly his young lovers, but Douglas, instead, was not interested in hiding at all: he always entered from the main entrance. His friends were concerned and disappointed mainly because Bosie’s imprudent behavior exposed Oscar to very serious risks: it openly violated the “Criminal Law amendment Actof 1885 , an amendment which made “gross indecency” a crime in the United Kingdom. His friend Pierre Louys visited Wilde in the hotel with his wife Constance, who tearfully pleaded her husband to come home, but it was a failure.

wi.2Wilde’s first serious risk was the case of Philip Danney, a sixteen year old son of a colonel who on Saturday went to bed with Douglas, with Wilde on Sunday  and on Monday with a girl at Douglas’s expense. When the young man then returned to school, he was not able to produced a justification for the school days he had missed, the whole thing was discovered. His father went immediately to the police, but on the advice of his lawyer, as the guy seemed unwilling to make the name of Wilde, he realized that it was better not to act, even because his son risked to be imprisoned. After a furious fight with Oscar, Alfred Douglas left for Cairo, while Wilde hid in Paris and somehow he regained a certain serenity and he also went to applaud  the poet Paul Verlaine, who had recently been released from prison after his troubled vicissitudes with Rimbaud. At that time he also found his creativity back, as he wrote among other things The Canterville Ghost“, but the sudden return of Douglas ended his desire to write. Once again everything was as it used to be.

wi.12Alfred’s father, the Marquess of Queensberry, had tried in vain to convince his son to end the relationship, furthermore he was disappointed as Bosie had left Oxford without achieving a degree and he could not see any prospect of his taking up a proper career. He threatened to “disown [Alfred] and stop all money supplies” and to “make a public scandal ” if he continued his relationship with Wilde. Alfred ‘s answer was  “I detest you” on a postcard. It was clear that he would take Wilde’s side in a fight between him and his father. Queensberry also planned to throw rotten vegetables at Wilde during the premiere of The Importance of Being Earnest, but, forewarned of this, the playwright was able to deny him access to the theatre.Queensberry, now exacerbated, publicly insulted Wilde by leaving, at the latter’s club, a visiting card on which he had written: “For Oscar Wilde posing as a somdomite“–a misspelling of “sodomite.”

wi.11Against the advice of his closest friends, Wilde was convinced by Bosie to sue the Marquess for libel in a private prosecution. It was the wrong choice.  Queensberry was arrested, but he not only avoided conviction demonstrating in court that the charge was not true, but Wilde found himself involved in a new trial with the accusation of “gross indecency”. Witnesses, private letters, it had not been difficult to find evidence. Three days after the beginning of the trial, on April 29, Wilde wrote from prison a moving letter to Bosie, who had gone to Paris in the meanwhile. On 25 May 1895  Wilde was sentenced to two years and three months of hard labour, first at Pentonville, then Wandsworth, then in the famous Reading Gaol

wi8The prison regime was tough: the poet had serious health problems and by the way, falling awkwardly because of a collapse, he got himself a wound in his right ear that probably would cost him his life five years later, because the infection degenerated and turned into meningitis. Meanwhile, Wilde had vainly hoped for solidarity and support from his beloved Bosie, who instead had turned away from him proving coldness and callousness; the boy  even told him, during his illness, that when (he) was not on (his) pedestal (he) was not interesting.”Hurt and disgusted by the attitude of his lover, Wilde wrote from jail a very long letter entitledDe Profundis, in which he expressed his sorrow and his contempt for the vanity and the inconsistency of Lord Alfred, repudiating him formally. Wilde was not authorized to send it, so when he was released, he gave the manuscript to his friend Robert Ross, with the  instructions to send a copy to Bosie, who however denied for life to have received it.The letter was published only in 1905, five years after the poet’s death.
wi.10The prison experience had affected him deeply, since then he cultivated the dream of escaping from the world that had sentenced him and refused his way of being. He moved to France and lived in Paris for four months trying to rebuild his life and trying to forget the man who had brought him to ruin. But love is stronger than reason. He got back in touch with Douglas and  they decided to spend the winter together in Naples.The two lovers lived on Posillipo hill, at Villa Giudice. Although Wilde was traveling as Sebastian Melmoth, his arrival in the city became public soon, the news was even reported by the newspaper Il Mattino” in an article by Matilde Serao.
wi.9When they were in Capri, at the Quisisana, as soon as they sat down to dine, the owner invited them to go somewhere else as some fellow countrymen, who had recognized the poet, did not  tolerate to be in his proximity. The incident did not remain confined in the island and the two were again on everyone’s lips and the scandal forced the relatives of both to find a remedy. The British Embassy was involved and the two were deprived of their income. Wilde was thus dispossessed of his small income granted by his ex-wife, while Bosie’s funds were cut by his mother. Bosie‘s mother paid the bills of the couple, and forced him to go back home, while Wilde went to Taormina with the little money received from the mother of his lover. In February 1898 he left for Paris.

wi.6The relationship with Lord Douglas was now finished. Bosie had finally abandoned Wilde, probably for fear of being disowned by the family. In 1902, Douglas married Olive Eleanor Custance, heiress and poet. They had a son, Raymond, who suffered from a severe form of schizophrenia and died in a nursing home in 1964. The marriage ended soon in a legal separation, but there was no divorce. In the last years of his life, Douglas lived mainly thanks to his maternal inheritance. His father, in fact, had squandered much of his fortune. After the outbreak of the Second World War, he left London and took refuge with a couple of friends in Lancing, West Sussex, where he died of heart failure in 1945.

 

The Twin Globe

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glo8In the heart of the Villa Borghese park, hidden among the trees and surrounded by a lavish vegetation, you may find one of the most unexpected sights, for sure: the Globe theatre. Yes, that Globe: a full-scale reproduction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, copied from the original designs, and almost identical to the one that now stands on London’s South Bank. Rome’s version of the Globe was built over the course of three months and inaugurated in 2003 to celebrate the centenary of Villa Borghese. The theatre is designed in a circular shape with a stage that juts out into the middle of the audience, and an open roof (that’s why the theatre is open in the summer and early autumn seasons). It’s built of oak and has a capacity of 1250, including the standing space in front of the stage, which are, of course the cheapest places.The entire project was financed by the Silvano Toti foundation – the late Silvano Toti was a builder and patron of the arts.

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20150924_104215Gigi Proietti, one of the most outstanding Italian actors, has been the artistic director of the Silvano Toti Globe Theatre since 2003, but he has never acted in any of the plays. Of course, Elizabethan comedies and tragedies are mostly represented, in fact the special architectural features and the essentiality of the scenes allow a cathartic relationship with the works of the English Renaissance drama. I can say that for sure, as,  only few days ago I went to the Globe with some of my students and colleagues to see the morning representation of Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors” directed by Chris Pickels.

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When the old Bard wrote “All world is a stage“, he had not considered one little detail: in the world many languages are spoken. This edition of “The Comedy of Errors”, in fact, was the first English-speaking production at the beautiful Globe theatre in Rome, only, the public was not exactly made of native English speakers and the plot of this play not so easy to follow. The story of two pairs of twins  – masters and servants –  who not only had the same features but also the same names, Antophilus and Dromio, led to many misunderstandings not only on stage but also among the public. Tell me, who is he? Antipholus of Syracuse or Ephesus?Mah?? However, the language of art won eventually, so that everybody was able to enjoy the many very funny moments of the show. The Bard is always right, after all. 20150924_11225620150924_131812

I did love the company of actors, all of them. The Bedouin Shakespeare Company, is a touring company founded in 2012 by two enthusiastic young actors, Edward Andrews and Mark Brewer, with the patronage of the Royal Family of Abu Dhabi. Their main aim is to bring the universal themes and language of Shakespeare in the countries around the world, that’s why they were not at all uncomfortable with a non native English-speaking public. Their “Comedy of Errors”  premiered at the Silvano Toti Globe in Rome to fly out to the UAE and then finishing in London at the Arcola Theatre, November 1st. Therefore, you are still in time to enjoy a great show and don’t forget to visit the Globe, next time you come to Rome!!! 🙂

My husband, Oscar Wilde.

con1Whenever I think about Constance Lloyd  Wilde, and what she had to endure, all alone in an age when  it was important to be “earnest”, respectable and have the sense of decorum, I cannot help but wonder: what was her marriage like? When did she understand about her husband’s sexual behaviour? How did she feel? Let’s start from the beginning.

con4As far as we know, Constance first met Wilde at a party given by Lady Wilde for her two sons at Merrion Square in Dublin on 6 June 1881. Constance was a passionate reader of poetry and discovered soon that Wilde shared with her a deep admiration for Keats. On the following day, she wrote to her brother Otho:
“O. W. came yesterday at about 5.30 (by which time I was shaking with fright!) and stayed for half an hour, begged me to come and see his mother again soon…. I can’t help liking him, because when he’s talking to me alone he’s never a bit affected, and speaks naturally, excepting that he uses better language than most people.

The following months, she slowly grew attached to him, but her parents were not that impressed by Wilde’s extravagance and furthermore, the eccentricities of his parents were notorious.  Somebody asserts that Wilde was more interested in her family ‘s wealth than Constance herself, but some others, like Ann Clark Amor, believe that he just fell in love with her because:
“... she shared with Oscar a love of beauty and simplicity of form. Her high intelligence and deep knowledge of art and literature made her an ideal companion at theatres, art galleries and social gatherings, yet she combined this with a clinging trust in Oscar which was very endearing.”
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Certainly, she had her firm points of view. For example she disagreed with Wilde’s aesthetic view on the relationship between art and morality, in fact, she clearly explained in a letter to him that “... that there is no perfect art without perfect morality, whilst you say that they are distinct and separate things...”. On 26 November, Constance wrote to her brother, Otho, that she was engaged to Wilde “and perfectly and insanely happy”, and Wilde wrote to Lillie Langtry in December: “…I am going to be married to a beautiful girl called Constance Lloyd, a grave, slight, violet-eyed little Artemis “. On 29 May 1884, at 2:30 p.m., Wilde and Constance were married in St. James’s Church, Sussex Gardens, the witnesses including Lady Wilde and Oscar’s brother, Willie. Shortly after their marriage Wilde will write to her : “I feel incomplete without you” .
In the years before 1895, their relationship was based on their admiration of each other’s unique qualities, as Amor writes:
“He adored his shy young bride with her radiant beauty and slim form; he was proud of her, took infinite interest in her clothes (a rare quality in a husband) and loved going with her to choose more. He was her ideal mentor in matters of culture and taste, her professor in the art of love. He was the center of her universe, till death and no doubt beyond.
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The dinner parties at their Tite Street home attracted all the most important figures of the time. As a hostess, Constance was a success, though inevitably she was overshadowed by Oscar, as, indeed, almost everyone else was in his company. Constance’s pregnancies and births of Cyril and Vyvyan had an adverse effect on Wilde, for Constance was often unwell during this time, so they slowly become sexually estranged. His social relationships now tended to exclude Constance, who turned to her writing and participated actively in the Liberal politics of the day. It was about this time that the Wildes welcomed young Robbie Ross into their home. Robbie, a loyal friend to both throughout the rest of their lives, became Oscar’s lover. The situation had changed, and it didn’t go unnoticed  Oscar started to drop hints to various young men that his sexual preferences had changed, while Constance, with seeming innocence, welcomed them all as family friends. After all, she was just following the Victorian motto :”public virtues and hidden vices” .
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By 1892, a new lover was about to come on stage. Spoilt, selfish and immensely in love with what he believed was his own genius, Lord Alfred Douglas, better known as Bosie (the name derived from Lady Queensberry’s pet-name of “Boysie” for her third son) upset the Wildes’ life. Astonishingly, following Wilde’s break with his expensive, untalented young lover (Bosie’s translation from the French of Wilde’s Salome was so poor that it had to be rewritten by the embarrassed author), it was Constance who succumbed to Lord Alfred’s pleas. In February 1894, she invited him to return. Douglas incredibly wrote about her:
I was always on the best of terms with Mrs. Wilde. I liked her and she liked me. She told me, about a year after I first met her, that she liked me better than any of Oscar’s other friends“.
Wilde seems to contradict these words as he wrote to Douglas that their friendship had always distressed Constance. Still, whatever confusion existed in Constance’s mind before the trials concerning Douglas and Wilde, she was “wonderfully loyal,” Wilde told Robert Ross, adding: “She could not understand me, and I was bored to death with the married life”.
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Bosie was the cause of Wilde’s vertiginous downfall, in 1895, at the top of his fame:
It was Bosie who urged Wilde to prosecute Lord Queensberry for the infamous “posing Sodomite” card left, without an envelope, at Wilde’s club. It was Bosie’s careless gifts of suits, their pockets still filled with incriminating letters, that linked Wilde to the world of rent-boys into which his young lover had led him. It was Bosie who hurt Constance’s reputation most, by declaring her responsible for the failure of Wilde’s marriage.”
Harsh new rulings on homosexuality were introduced to England and Wilde was sentenced to two years of hard labours. After Wilde’s imprisonment, Constance changed her and her sons’ last name to Holland to estrange themselves from Wilde’s scandal and forced him to give up his parental rights. The couple never divorced. Constance visited Wilde in prison and paid his expenses when he left it. She planned, as he did, for a reunion, but when Bosie resurfaced, Constance accused Wilde only of being “weak as water” and refused to sent him money.

In the meantime Constance had started to feel unwell. In 1894, she wrote: ‘I am alright when I don’t walk.’ A year later, her walking had deteriorated. Constance sought help from two doctors. One of them was a “nerve doctor” from Heidelberg, Germany who believed in treating patients with baths and electricity. The second doctor was an Italian, Luigi Maria Bossi, who somehow thought that neurological and mental illness could be cured with gynecological operations. She was therefore operated for uterine fibroid in 1895 and 1898, the latter of which ultimately led to her death.It seems that Constance was wrongly diagnosed, as the symptoms nowadays would be associated to multiple sclerosis. A tragic end to a tragic life.

My father, Oscar Wilde.

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Vyvyan Holland Wilde

Unconventional, scandalous, witty, generous, brilliant, these are just a few adjectives that may suit a man of such genius and personality like Oscar Wilde, a man who knew both the triumph and adoration of people and the brutal disaster at the end of his life. Whenever I think about the swirl of events that characterized his life of man and artist, I can’t help but think about his children. What kind of father was Oscar Wilde? What did it mean growing under the shadow of such a giant of his times?

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Constance Wilde and Cyril

Oscar Wilde had two sons: Cyril (1885-1915) and Vyvyan (1886-1967). Many of my curiosities were satisfied by Vyvyan, who wrote : “Son of Oscar Wilde”. As far as we know, the boys had a marvelous early childhood. They grew up at the Wildes’ fashionable home in Tite Street, Chelsea. As their father was a popular playwright and their mother an attractive and cultured hostess, the litterati of London were often present in their home. People like John Singer Sargent, John Ruskin, Mark Twain, Robert Browning, Algernon Swinburne, and Ellen Terry were often seen at their house.  Wilde by all accounts was a wonderful father and he delighted in playing with the boys. The boys in turn absolutely adored him, “… he was a hero to us both. He was so tall and distinguished and, to our uncritical eyes, so handsome …. He was a real companion to us, and we always looked forward eagerly to his frequent visits to our nursery…. He would go down on all fours on the nursery floor, being in turn a lion, a wolf, a horse, caring nothing for his usually immaculate appearance.

os1The sense of style was not only their father’s issue. They seem to have been dressed very fashionably, apparently in matching outfits.We are not sure to what extent their father was involved in choosing their clothing, however, they wore Little Lord Fauntleroy suits, sailor suits and other outfits. The boys also wore berets and blouses with large collars and despite their father love for velvet suits, it seems that the boys were much less enamored of them. They much preferred their sailor suits.

os2Wilde’s legal problems shattered the boys’ pampered life. When Constance, their mother decided that the boys could no longer stay at their school, they had not a clue of what had happened. She decided to send them to Switzerland with a French governess, where they stayed for 3 years. Once in Switzerland they were instructed that they had to forget their name Wilde and that they would now be called Holland. This was the name of their mother’s relations. Vyvyan was told that his name was now Vivian and the Oscar Beresford dropped. The boys were not told what had happened, but they were told in no uncertain terms that there would be serious repercussions if their old identity slipped out. Vivian recalls that even 2 years after their father’s disgrace that he still did not know just what his father had done. Somehow Cyril found out,  but he did not tell it to his little brother. Constance Wilde’s family wanted to eradicate all memory of his father and insisted that he was dead and that his literary work was not important. Vivian recalls that he was so miserable that he once lay down in the snow wanting to die. Constance did not hate her disgraced husband, but she needed to defend her children from the consequences of the public scandal. She wrote to Vivian shortly before her death, “Try not to feel harshly about your father; remember that he is your father and that he loves you. All his troubles arose from the hatred of a son for his father, and whatever he has done he has suffered bitterly for“.

os7The boys were sent off to an English-language boarding school in Heidelberg, Germany–Neuenheim Collage (1896). One day, the boys found some cricket flannels packed in their trunks still had the Wilde name tags. They remember being horrified to find evidence of their former names on their clothes. Even if they had no idea of what had occurred, they, actually, felt like little criminals. Vivian later wrote: “The thought that at any moment an indiscreet remark or a chance encounter … might betray us was a sword of Damocles constantly hanging over our heads.”  It was subsequently decided to separate the boys as an added security measure. Cyril stayed at the school in Germany, while Vivian was sent to a Catholic (Jesuit) school in Monaco. Therefore the  boys had been permanently separated from their father and lived far away from their mother in a foreign country. The situation worsened when their mother died in 1898. They were left in the charge of their mother’s family, who sought legal counsel to prevent Oscar Wilde from seeing his sons again.The family did not even tell them, when their father died.

The boys eventually returned to England after their mother’s death. Vivian was brought back from Monaco by a priest and he was taken in by his mother’s aunt. Cyril who was nearly 2 years older, 13 at the time, was allowed to leave his school at Heidelberg and come home on his own. The family decided to keep the boys split apart and chose two different schools for them. Vivian was sent to Stonyhurst College, Lancashire, a Jesuit public school, while Cyril  attended Radley School. With this separation they no longer spent much time together, but they kept in touch by writing.

os8Vivian was 12-years old when he entered the school and it seems it was a gifted scholar. Oscar Wilde died when he was only 14 and when the Rector of Stonyhurst summoned the boy and to inform him of the tragic occurrence, Vivian remembers saying: “But I thought he died long ago” and began crying. Only a few years later, at age 16  he read Robert Sherard‘s Oscar Wilde: The Story of an Unhappy Friendship (1902) and finally learned what had happened. He remembers being so “depressed” that he determined to read no further books about his father. He decided then to go into mourning. When his schoolmates asked why, he came up with a cover story. He told them that his father’s body was found on a South Sea island after he had long been lost at sea. The colorful narration made him “something of a hero” for a time. He left Stonyhurst in 1904.

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Vyvyan Holland Wilde

Vivian Holland studied law at Trinity Hall in the University of Cambridge from 1905, but tired of his studies, he left Cambridge in 1907. However, he resumed his study of law at the age of 22, and was called to the Bar of England and Wales by the Inner Temple in 1912. He then began to write poems and short stories and in 1913 married Violet Craigie. Unlike his brother, Cyril did not attend university and decided to make a career in the Army. After leaving Radley, he enrolled as a Gentleman Cadet at the Royal Military College. When World War I broke out , Vivian, who had no military background, entered service as a second lieutenant.With his linguistic talents he was assigned to the Interpreters Corps, but unfortunately no more interpreters were needed. Therefore, he was transferred to the Royal Field Artillery, where his brother was serving. Looking back, Vivian wrote, “He was not popular with his brother officers, who considered him pompous and intolerant. He would not join the small talk of the mess, mostly scandal or about sport. And they could not understand anyone who spent his ordinary leave in travelling about Europe and visiting art galleries instead of hunting, shooting, yachting, or fishing”. Cyril was killed during the second battle for Neuve Chapelle (1915). A sniper shot and killed Cyril. Vivian who was only a few miles away was shattered. He wrote: “The last link with Tite Street and the spacious days had snapped“. While still in France, Vivian learned that his wife, Violet, had been terribly burned in a fire. She died before he could get home (1918). Vivian had been wounded and mentioned in several dispatches for his bravery under fire. He was awarded the Order of the British Empire and discharged (1919).

After returning to England, Vivian began a career as a translator, author, and editor. He worked on a wide variety of books in several languages and translated and edited several of his father’s works into other languages.Vivian’s son Merlin is also a writer, but the family has kept the name Holland, never reverting to Wilde.