The chairman of the Oscar Wilde Society, Don Mead, has notified the membership of changes to the committee. Here is his letter of 13 November 2023:
Dear Fellow Wildean –
I have had the honour of being, for many years (since 2002) the Chairman of a renowned literary society. The Oscar Wilde Society has the highest possible reputation and I am privileged to be part of it.
As I am approaching my 95th birthday, the time has come for me to tell you that with the agreement of the Committee I shall retire as Chairman at the end of the year. I will continue my involvement with the work of the Society in a non-executive capacity as Vice-President and as a Consultant Editor of The Wildean.
My successor as Chairman from 1st January 2024 is Vanessa Heron. She will step down from her current position as Hon. Secretary but continue to edit Intentions.
Elizabeth Murphy will take over as Hon Secretary and continue to be Data Protection Officer. Robert Whelan will continue to be Deputy Chairman.
Vanessa joined the OWS in 1993 and has served at various times as Hon Treasurer and as Hon Secretary – as she is now. She was appointed Editor of Intentions in 2016. She is well known to many of you from OWS events and through her involvement with the Society’s Facebook pages and Twitter/ X.
Society members who attended the Oscar Wilde West End Walk on 22 April will remember the beauty of the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, where we drank champagne in the Oscar Wilde Room. You can see it in the video on our YouTube page.
The Haymarket saw the first performances of A Woman of No Importance in 1893 and An Ideal Husband in 1895.
Next January, the Haymarket will be continuing its long Oscar Wilde tradition by presenting a stunning production of The Picture of Dorian Gray starring Sarah Snook (Succession). This modern reworking of Oscar Wilde’s brilliant story is adapted and directed by Sydney Theatre Company’s Artistic Director, Kip Williams. Through the explosive interplay of video, an intricately choreographed collection of on-stage cameras bring to life a dizzying 26 characters.
The production will begin previews from 23 January 2024. The play will be produced by the Michael Cassel Group, Adam Kenwright and Theatre Royal Haymarket. Watch this space for booking details!
We carried the following review of this production in Oscariana 82, June 2022, when it was in Adelaide.
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Adapted and directed by Kit Williams Performed at the Adelaide Festival – 13-20 March 2022
With dazzling stagecraft and an extraordinary solo performance by Eryn Jean Norvill, this screenshot of Dorian is a Wilde ride.
‘The first duty of life is to assume a pose,’ Oscar Wilde declared, ‘what the second duty is no one yet has found out.’ As his biographer Richard Ellmann noted: ‘Wilde had been much concerned with images. He had painted self-portrait after self-portrait.’ He was referring to Oscar’s early (soon abandoned!) experimentation with beards, his curled hair and foppish costumes – all of Wilde’s visual ripostes to the punitive drabness and prudery of Victorian England.
Then, as now, to be outlandish is a statement, an assertion ‒ even a declaration of war to one’s enemies ‒ and Oscar Wilde’s novella The Picture of Dorian Gray, published in 1890, proposed such a challenge. It was also a critique of the aestheticist ideas that he enthusiastically upheld, and a queer message through the flames that would haunt him later at his trial.
In Wilde’s story – moral fable, satire, and Gothic horror yarn, all in one ‒ Dorian Gray, the beautiful young man, painted by Basil Hallward and lured into a life of hedonistic excess by Lord Henry Wotton, makes a pact to exchange his soul for perpetual youth and beauty. In a reversal of the usual state of things, his portrait will age and perish but he never will. It doesn’t end well, but Wilde, as moralist, wants to have a few words each way. Summing up his novella he said: ‘All excess, as well as all renunciation, brings its own punishment.’
In Kip Williams’ thrillingly imaginative and visually gorgeous adaptation for the Sydney Theatre Company, Wilde’s spellbinding narrative is both conscientiously maintained and given a currency and shrewd commentary which transforms and renews the original.
When Wilde was working on the story he admitted in a letter that he was having trouble. ‘I am afraid it is rather like my own life – all conversation and no action. I can’t describe action: my people sit in chairs and chatter.’
In this production (one of four monologues in this year’s festival performed by women) the brilliant Eryn Jean Norvill presents, with a marvellous range of video and live feed inclusions, twenty-six characters ‒ many of whom sit in chairs and chatter with each other in real time.
From her first appearance on the huge vertical screen, Norvill captures us. Surrounded by a black-shrouded army of videographers, dressers and others (I counted thirteen at the final curtain) she changes costume, position, screen size and character for two captivating hours. Williams has created an extraordinary display of stage logistics but it is all, and only, to serve the live performer.
Norvill commands the stage as the narrator, as the photogenic Dorian Gray, the painter Hallward with sideburns, and the moustachioed Lord Harry. Her delivery is splendid and Williams’ text wisely highlights the cadences and pleasures of Wilde’s elegantly easy prose. Rarely do characterisations step into stereotype except for comedy – in the puppet show of Sybil Vane’s rendering of Juliet, for instance, and in the astonishing illusion of a dinner party scene where Norvill, as Lord Harry, sits beside a long table with four different video images of herself satirising every variety of upper class twittery.
There is much to admire about this production which, having lost time to the Covid closures, is surely still destined for further international festival performances. Designer Marg Horwell has created a sumptuous floral décor around Dorian, enhanced in the vibrant technicolour of David Bergman’s video, delectably lit by Nick Schlieper, and enveloped by composer and sound artist, Clemence Williams’ evocative, at times quirky, score.
As Dorian Gray descends further into the lower depths, it is not art for art’s sake, but glamour for celebrity’s sake. His puckish blonde locks become a pompadour of impudence, Horwell’s costumes shift from page boy whites to lurid Liberace-stylings, or maybe Hip-Hop imperial, with gaudy sequinned cloaks to match his dagger.
When he admires his lavish excess on his iPhone as if in a mirror, Photoshop helps us visualise the distortions of the portrait hidden behind the curtain in his apartment. It is a witty premise. While Wilde’s character exchanges his soul to preserve himself as a work of art, Williams’ reading is more damningly banal. His Dorian is seeking immortality on Tik Tok and Instagram.
The Picture of Dorian Gray is a depiction for our times while reminding us of the brilliance of its author. Kip Williams and Eryn Jean Norvill have created memorable art by holding up a video mirror to show just how far our vulgar narcissism has trashed it.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, adapted by Kip Williams for the Sydney Theatre Company, was performed at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Adelaide, South Australia, from 13 to 20 March 2022 as part of the Adelaide Festival; then at the Roslyn Packer Theatre in Sydney from 28 March to 14 May 2022. This review first appeared in The Australian, 15 March 2022, and is reproduced by kind permission.
The Oscar Wilde Society invites abstracts for a special session at the 2024 MLA Convention in Philadelphia, PA.
This panel will consider Oscar Wilde’s travels abroad from his early departure from Ireland to his travels in America with the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company to his final exile in Paris, and many meaningful tours and trips in between. As an Irishman living in London, Wilde’s identity was marked by outsider status even before there was controversy regarding his sexual identity. His own travel to Greece during his undergraduate career also nearly resulted in being kicked out of Oxford University. In establishing his career, he gave an American lecture tour, reportedly stating upon arrival that he had nothing to declare but his “genius.” After returning to Britain, Wilde continued traveling and writing about his experiences overseas as well as spinning stories about people—often travelers themselves—who shake convention with outsider perspectives.
Wilde’s scandals were marked by forcible travel to prison and ultimately in exile to Paris, where his grave rests today. As the first special session organized by the Oscar Wilde Society, which is based in London, the theme of tour and travel is particularly meaningful as we, like Wilde, will travel to Philadelphia to share our perspectives.
In order to align with the MLA presidential theme is Celebration: Joy and Sorrow, we are particularly interested in papers that address travel as an occasion of joy and sorrow in Wilde’s
life and art, which may include such sorrows and joys as:
Wilde’s exile from London
Constance Wilde and the family’s move to Continental Europe
The reception of Wilde’s work overseas
Wilde’s forceable movement between prisons during his incarceration
Travel as theme and metaphor in Wilde’s work
Exoticism in “The Sphinx,” Salome, and other works
Wilde as Irish expatriate
Wilde’s travels to Greece
Wilde and Sex Tourism
Wilde’s lectures in America, particularly including Philadelphia
Wilde’s travels with and away from his family
The intersection of racial and LGBTQ+ identities surrounding Wilde’s travel
Wilde as a model for LGBTQ+ travel and tourism
Any other topic connecting Wilde, his work, his family, or his immediate circle to travel as an occasion of joy or sorrow, celebration or despair.
Please submit a 300-word abstract and a short bio by March 20th, 2023, to Sandra M. Leonard at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the MLA conference, click here.
The Oscar Wilde Society is publishing, for the first time, Constance Wilde’s Autograph Book. Edited by Devon Cox, this book includes photos of all the pages in the book, signed by more than 60 famous names of the period, along with biographical notes on each.
The book is exclusively available through the Society.
Wolfgang Maier-Sigrist has just published an annotated bibliography of the manuscripts of Oscar Wilde, on the Internet. This free resource is the result of three years’ work and is an amazingly extensive and detailed look at Oscar’s manuscripts. It will be of interest to writers, researchers and other Wildeans.
Oscar Wilde member Michael Seeney has a very extensive collection of material relating to Oscar Wilde and his contemporaries. Michael has very kindly offered to welcome members of the Society to his home in South-East London to see his many treasures at 1400 on Saturday 2 April 2022.
If you would like to come, please let us know by emailing events organiser Matthew MacLachlan on:
In view of the limit on numbers, preference will be given to those who have not had a chance to see the collection before, and only members will be able to attend.
Should demand be high enough, it might be possible to arrange for a second viewing during the afternoon.
There will be a charge of £5, payable by PayPal to email@example.com in the usual way, but please wait until Matthew confirms your place before paying, at which point details of the address and how to get there will be sent out.
The latest edition of the Oscar Wilde Society’s newsletter, Oscariana, has been emailed to all members. Edited by Aaron Eames, the newsletter covers upcoming events, performances, Wilde news and instalments of the cartoon series Bric-à-Bracknell, the Untold Tale of Lord Bracknell by Luca Debus.
Committee members and honorary patrons of the Oscar Wilde Society visited Oscar Wilde’s former home on Tite Street on 27 November 2021, as the guests of current occupant Jenny Elliott-Bennett. The committee members and honorary president Gyles Brandreth gave short readings, followed by a moving performance by honorary patron Neil Titley as Oscar, part of his one-man show ‘Work is the Curse of the Drinking Classes’.
The readings and Neil’s performance were given in a room that had been Oscar’s study, where he wrote some of his timeless works. The Oscar Wilde Society thanks Jenny, her mother and friends for their hospitality and a wonderful evening. A write-up of the event will appear in one of our forthcoming publications.
In the photo above, front row, from left: Gyles Brandreth, Ceri Thompson, Don Mead, Nadia Montasser, Libby Murphy, Sandra Tyler-Harrison. Back row, from left: Matthew MacLachlan, Veronika Binoeder, Jenny Elliott-Bennett, Vanessa Heron, Amanda Dudman, Lisa Tallis, Neil Titley. Not pictured: Darcy Sullivan (he took the picture).
Recordings of the readings and Neil’s performance are on our YouTube channel and are all in the Tite Street playlist.
This article in the New Yorker online discusses the many poses and identities of Oscar Wilde, and compares biographies by Richard Ellmann and Matthew Sturgis. The illustration is by Anja Slibar for the New Yorker.