An Oscar’s Ghost Outtake

As I was going through some of what I wrote for Oscar’s Ghost as I research my follow up book (coming soon) I came across a bit that ended up on the cutting room floor. As it doesn’t fit into the next book either, I thought I’d share the snippet with you. It talks about some events that occurred in 1912 in the period after Lord Alfred Douglas read Arthur Ransome’s book on Oscar Wilde, discovered that De Profundis had been a letter to him, decided to sue, and received the unpublished parts of De Profundis as part of the discovery for his libel case. This segment came after that but before the trial itself.

Both the First Stone (Crosland’s attack on De Profundis) and Crosland’s Sonnets were published in time for Christmas, 1912. They were the first two books by a new publishing firm, John Richmond. The masculine name was a cover for a wealthy American socialite, Irene Osgood, recently and acrimoniously divorced from Robert Sherard, her third husband.

Osgood had rented offices over a Rolls-Royce showroom off Regent Street and created her own publishing house with one goal in mind– to disprove Sherard’s claim that he had been the real author of her books. Osgood had met Sherard in 1892 when she was married to a Colorado coal baron who had started a publishing firm “Cleveland Press” in order to put his wife’s books on the market. The Cleveland Press published one of Sherard’s anonymous novels. (He wrote fourteen novels in his lifetime, mostly mysteries, and mostly flops.) Sherard and Osgood may have had an affair at this time, and Sherard would later claim that he was the co-author of Osgood’s first, and most famous book, The Shadow of Desire. The sensual autobiographical novel was published in 1893.

The Osgood marriage did not last, and Irene received a highly favorable settlement in her divorce. (He divorced her claiming desertion.) Her second husband, an English squire named Charles Pigott Harvey, died in 1904 leaving Osgood two-thirds of his estate which provided her with a small fortune of £12,000 a year and all of the independence and power that came with it.

Sherard, meanwhile, had been on a downward trajectory. After a successful expose, The White Slaves of England, published in 1897, his drinking made him unreliable. He was fired by The Bookman and The Author, was separated from his wife Marthe in 1901, and was living in the back of a dingy grocer’s shop. His fortunes improved somewhat in 1902 with the publication of the first Oscar Wilde biography, Oscar Wilde the Story of an Unhappy Friendship. A well-regarded book of memoirs, Twenty Years in Paris, followed in 1905.

After reading Twenty Years in Paris, Osgood got back in touch with Sherard. She hired him as her “literary secretary” and gave him £100 to divorce his wife. In 1906, he helped her revise her first book in nine years, To A Nun Confess’d. They married two years later in Paris. In the fighting surrounding their bitter divorce three years later, in spite of the fact that he was living off £250 a month in alimony from Osgood, Sherard would file a suit claiming that he authored all of his wife works from 1906 to 1910. He became misty-eyed on the stand over her attempts to gain custody of “the only friend he had” a cat named Gainsborough. The spectacular divorce was covered in the press with headlines like “Writer Sues Wife for MSS. And A Cat.”i

Sherard made the bold declaration that “Everything published by my wife under the name of Irene Osgood during the last five years, except the novel To a Nun Confess’d had been written by me. I, Robert Sherard, am Irene Osgood.”ii

It is worth noting that the one title for which Sherard did not take credit, To A Nun Confess’d, was the story of an unhappily married woman who writes confessional letters to a Catholic sister about her “struggle between love and honor.” The main character has fallen passionately in love with an Irish aesthetic playwright and poet by the name of “Mr. Savage,” a character clearly based on Oscar Wilde.iii

In order to refute Sherard’s claims, Osgood sought the help of Charles Sisley, who had published both To A Nun Confess’d and Servitude. She asked him if he had ever seen an original manuscript of Servitude in her own writing. He had not, but they discussed the idea of launching a publishing company so she could put out new works and prove she had the ability to write. She liked the idea and created a male persona to act as publisher to avoid any accusations of “vanity publishing.” Her next step was to find what Sisley called a “tame manager.” She found it in the person of T.W.H. Crosland. One of Osgood’s first acts as publisher was to put out a list of forthcoming John Richmond Limited books. In this, and every list the company every put out, Servitude was listed, although there is no evidence it was ever put out.

The next John Richmond project was a short-lived version of The Academy, called The Antidote. The magazine reunited the Crossland/Douglas editorial team. It was a modest production, sixteen pages, and existed primarily to make John Richmond seem like an established publisher. The Antidote ran no ads except for John Richmond’s forthcoming (or supposedly forthcoming) titles. It had a regular column of pithy sayings written by Irene Osgood, many containing barbed references to her ex-husband, for example, this reference to Sherard’s suit in 1911, in which he had cried on the stand, “A tearless woman scares the gods, a weeping man makes them laugh.” The Antidote carried on the Douglas-era Academy’s proud tradition of attacking everybody. Articles of interest include an unsigned article ridiculing Frank Harris for being a flatterer, a moralistic article by Crosland that attacked Arthur Symons, poet laureate John Masefield and the Jews, and an unsigned scolding of The English Review for publishing phallic verse through which “the mind of English youth is debauched and corrupted.”

In this iteration, Crosland seems to have taken on most of the editorial duties, with the alternately raging and suicidal Douglas focusing only on the main editorials and contributing poetry while Crosland did everything else. In a letter to Siegfried Sassoon, Crosland called The Antidote “my paper.”iv

iNew York Times, March 23, 1911.

ii“Wrote his Wife’s Books,” New York Times, April 9, 1911.

iiiAdvertisement for To A Nun Confess’d from p273 of Sherard, Robert. After the Fault. London, Sistley’s LTD., 1906.

ivO’Brien, Kevin, “Irene Osgood, John Richmond Limited and the Wilde Circle,” Publishing History. 1987.

One comment

  1. Sherard truly was a vile person, although he did take in the destitute poet Ernest Dowson when the latter was dying of TB. His poor former wife Marthe died in the workhouse, where Dowson’s biographers came to interview her about the last days of his life.

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