Author: lauraleeauthor

I'm the author of the novel Angel and a dozen other books on topics ranging from Elvis Impersonation to the science behind annoying things. The San Francisco Chronicle said, "Lee's dry, humorous tone makes her a charming companion… She has a penchant for wordplay that is irresistible."

Pandemic Villanelle

I look across an empty space

The tables have been pushed away

I smile but you can’t see my face

Warning signs are everyplace

The children can’t come out to play

I look across an empty space

You turn away, just in case

How long must we survive and wait?

I smile but you can’t see my face

Such an empty form of grace,

The church where no one congregates

I look across an empty space

Ceremonies were replaced

The best laid plans have been undone

I smile but you can’t see my face

When will we finally embrace?

The future has refused to come

I look across an empty space

I smile, but you can’t see my face

Semi-Leagues Further

Well, I have finished a book I was working on for the past eight years or so. I am not sure yet how I am going to get it into the world, but I will keep you posted. One aspect of the research was that it involved a lot of sources in other languages, and I would often go to Google Translate to make sense of them, which provided me with a great deal of mirth if not quotable translation. So while the wait continues for the new book I have decided to pass the time by creating a little quiz. Each of the following is a famous English text, most are poems, but one or two are prose. I have translated them into another language using Google Translate and then back into English. Can you name them? Answers at the end.

1.

How do I like you? Let me count the ways.

I love you in depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when you feel invisible

For Human Conclusions and Appropriate Grace.

I love you to the everyday level

Need for great peace, sunshine and candlelight.

I love you freely, as people fight for what is right;

I truly love you, as they turn to Psalm.

2.

I deliberately went to the woods with the desire to live, bringing only the essential facts of life to the fore and seeing if I could learn what it had to teach. I didn’t want to live something that wasn’t life. Living is very important. I also didn’t want to practice resigning unless I needed to. I wanted to live deeply, suck out all the bone marrow of my life, and live like a Spartan, sturdy enough to rout everything that isn’t life.

3.

Everyone kills his loved one

Let everyone hear;

Some make him look bitter,

Someone with a comforting word,

The fearful man works with a kiss,

The warrior with the sword!

4.

Die, fall asleep;

Sleep, perhaps, will dream – yes, that’s the problem:

For in that death dream there may be dreams,

When we shuffle this death coil

Gotta give us a break – that’s respect

It turns such a long life into trouble.

5.

But Musi, you are not your lane.

To prove foresight can be ineffective:

The best Mice an ‘Men plan.

Aft gang

‘lea’e us naught but grief an’ pain,

For happiness worth it!

6.

You can write me in history

With your bitter and complicated lies,

You can trample me on the ground a lot

But still, like dust, I get up.

7.

Semi-leagues, semi-leagues

Semi-leagues furhter,

All in the valley of death

We went for six hundred.

“Forward, light brigade!

Charge for weapons!” he said.

In the valley of death

We went for six hundred.

8.

Because I could not stop dying –

He lovingly stopped me –

The car was held, but we:

And immortality.

9.

Oh, somewhere in this lovely earth the sun is shining,

Somewhere the band is playing, and somewhere the hearts are light;

And where men are laughing, and where children are screaming,

But there is no happiness in Mudville – the mighty Casey has begun to come forward.

10.

There was a time of good, a time of evil, a time of wisdom, a time of stupidity, a time of faith, a time of distrust, a season of Light, a season of Darkness, a spring of hope, a winter of despair, a winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing to go to, we all went straight to Heaven. , we were all moving in the other direction – In short, the times were like the present, so that the most noisy authorities demanded that they be taken only for a higher or worse level at a comparative level.

11.

I say this by sighing

Somewhere in age and age thus:

Two roads parted from a tree, and I –

I took less transported,

And it has made all the difference.

12.

Twas brillig, and sleek toes

Or girona and gymnastics wabe;

All the mimics were borogoves,

And mom is skillful

13.

Then this black bird makes my sad fantasy smile,

Judging by the serious and stern expression on his face,

“Although your coat of arms is shaved and shaved,” I said, “you are certainly not faint-hearted,

Terribly dark and ancient Raven, wandering from the Nightshore –

Tell me what your name is on the Pluto Night Coast! “

The Raven said “Never.”

14.

What is your name? He said, “My name is Love.”

Then the first straightforward turned himself to me

And he cried, “Go, for his name is Sword,

But I love, and I do not want to marry

Alone in a nice garden, until he came

Dark at night; I am True Love, I write

Hearts of boys and girls with mutual respect.”

Then sigh, saying to another, “Have your will,

I am a lover who does not want to say his name. “

15.

I saw the best insanity of my generation destroyed, hysterical bare hungers,

dragging themselves down the Negro streets at dawn, looking for an angry solution,

angel-headed hipsters burn in ancient celestial connection with a star dynamo in a night machine…

16.

Come live with me and love me,

And we will have all the fun to prove,

That valley, grove, hills, and fields,

Woods, or steep mountain yields.

17.

What happens to a postponed dream?

It dries

like a raisin in the sun?

Ή refresh like a wound—

And then run?

Does it smell like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar on top—

like a sweet syrup?

Maybe it just hangs

like a heavy load.

Or is it exploding?

18.

In Exadu did Kubla Khan

Outstanding entertainment setting:

Where Alph, the holy river, fled

With caves that cannot be measured by man

Under the sunless sea.

Then twice five miles of fertile land

The walls and towers were plastered all around;

And there are gardens that sparkle with lilies,

Where the incense tree flourishes;

And here are the ancient forests like the hills,

Increasing areas with green sun.

19.

Old age will graze age

You will stay, and you will be in another woe

Our friend, who is yours,

“Beauty is true, true beauty, – that’s all

You know the earth, and all you need to know. “

20.

Can I compare you to a summer day?

You are more charming and more angry:

Strong winds shake the sweet buds of May,

Summer rent is too short;

The eyes of heaven are overheated,

Often its golden color fades;

Fair trade will ever decline,

Untrimm’d random or natural changing trends;

But your eternal summer will not go away,

Don’t lose the fairgrounds you have to get;

You will not boast of death in his shadow.

As you grow up in the eternal line:

As long as men can breathe or see with their eyes

It lasts so long and it gives you life.

 

 

Answers:

1. “How Do I Love Thee” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning translated into Zulu and back

2. “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau translated into Japanese and back

3. “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” by Oscar Wilde translated into Hawaiian and back

4. “To Be or Not to Be” speech from Hamlet by William Shakespeare translated into Russian and back

5. “To a Mouse” by Robert Burns translated into Thai and back

6. “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou translated into Tajik and back

7. “The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Alfred Lord Tennyson translated into Ukranian and back

8. “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” by Emily Dickinson translated into Armenian and back

9. “Casey at the Bat” by Ernest Lawrence Thayer translated into Punjabi and back

10. “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens translated into Turkmen and back

11. “The Road Less Traveled” by Robert Frost translated into Finnish and back

12. “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll translated into Latvian and back

13. “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe translated into Russian and back

14. “Two Loves” by Lord Alfred Douglas translated into Hmong and back

15. “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg translated into Estonian and back

16. “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” by Christopher Marlowe translated into Hatian Creole and back

17. “Harlem (Dream Deferred)” by Langston Hughes translated into Greek and back

18. “Kubla Khan” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge translated into Xhosa and back

19. “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats translated into Somali and back

20. “Sonnet 18” by William Shakespeare translated into Mongolian and back

 

How did you do?

Oscar Wilde’s Tomb: Another Oscar’s Ghost Outtake

I have done a number of book signing and speaking events for Oscar’s Ghost, and invariably someone will tell me “I went to Oscar Wilde’s tomb in France.”

There was a little skirmish surrounding the sculpture that took place in Lord Alfred Douglas’s most litigious period. I had to leave it out of the book for space. It is tangential to the book I’m working on now as well, so having no book in which it quite fits, I will share it with you here.

Lord Alfred Douglas had been trying to get a picture of Wilde’s controversial tomb, the work of sculptor Jacob Epstein, for his book Oscar Wilde and Myself.

His innocent protestations to the contrary, as Robert Ross was behind it, Douglas undoubtedly meant to to show how inappropriate and immoral the monument was. Douglas had been successfully getting books banned and pulped, and Epstein did not want a noisy campaign against his work.

Douglas had the sculptor arrested for sending him a threatening letter which said, “If you attack my monument to ‘O.W.’ in any way derogatory to me in England I shall have you in the Courts. Should you disregard this warning I shall spoil the remains of your beauty double quick.”

Given the tone of the letter, and the fact that Douglas seems to have been stalking Ross at that very moment, the court appearance was surprisingly amicable. Epstein represented himself.

“Are you willing to be bound over?” asked the judge.

“What is that?” Epstein asked.

“That you undertake to pay the King any amount I may think fit that you conduct yourself and keep the peace. Will you undertake to pay £100 and to do that?”

“I will be satisfied with that.”

“What about costs?”

Douglas’s counsel said he believed they were entitled to costs.

“I wish to say that I only received the summons last night and I should like an adjourment until Monday,” Epstein said.

“Because of the question of costs?” asked the judge.

“Yes.”

The judge turned to Douglas, “You will be satisfied if he is bound over?”

“Yes,” Douglas said. “There need be no trouble about costs.”

And so Epstein paid his fine and they went their separate ways.

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.

Oscar’s Ghost Discussion

I’ve had a lot of requests to share this talk that I did a couple of weeks ago.

I apologize that it was recorded in grid mode, so I’m not as central on the screen as I probably should be. I have uploaded it to Youtube for easier posting, but it is an unlisted link, which means it will not turn up in the search, but people who have the link can share it.

After I did the talk, I listened through and wrote down some things I wanted to expand upon before sharing it, but I then lost the notebook in which I wrote it. Not having the gumption to watch it all again, (I don’t love watching myself) I’ll have to leave it as it is.

There are a couple of things that I do remember I had wanted to share.

One has to do with the part involving T.W.H. Crosland and Maurice Schwabe, which comes in the second half somewhere. I mention Crosland visiting Maurice Schwabe’s flat. The actual details of those associations are actually a bit more complicated. Crosland didnt spend time at Schwabe’s flat, but he and the friend Bosie was hanging out with at Schwabe’s flat were spending time together and went on a vacation together where a lot of debauchery allegedly happened and Crosland was part of that trip. All of this is to be detailed one day in my forthcoming book on Maurice Schwabe. (Really, I keep promising, but it is on the way.)

In the second part, around the 27 minute mark, as I recall, I realized that I was a bit fuzzy on the details of the seemingly endless series of trials between our combatants.  It is hard to keep all the details in one’s mind.  When Oscar’s Ghost was still being put together, I wrote a primer on the trials with the idea that it would be an appendix. In the end, it wasn’t included. I don’t know if I have ever posted it here, but I thought it might clarify some of my wobbling in the middle.

The Trials

The Wilde Trials

Oscar Wilde was famously ‘three times tried’. He filed the first action for criminal libel against Lord Alfred Douglas’s father, the Marquess of Queensberry. This backfired and led to two criminal prosecutions.

1. Regina vs. John Douglas (Marquess of Queensberry). March-April 1895.

In the preliminary hearing in the magistrates’ court, before R. M. Newton, Mr C. O. Humphreys appeared for Wilde and Sir George Lewis for Queensberry. In a further preliminary Lewis was replaced, because of a conflict of interest, with Edward Carson and Mr. Charles Frederick Gill. The libel trial was heard by Justice Richard Henn Collins with Sir Edward Clarke, Charles W. Mathews and Travers Humphreys acting for the prosecution (Wilde) and Edward Carson, C.F. Gill and A. E. Gill acting for the defendant (Queensberry). Wilde withdrew his case against Queensberry before all the evidence had been heard, supposeddly on a gentlemen’s agreement that if he did there would be no criminal prosecution.

2. Regina v. Oscar Wilde. April 1895.

Wilde was arrested for a violation of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 based on evidence Queensberry had collected for the libel case. Wilde was tried with a co-defendant, Alfred Taylor. They were charged with twenty-five counts of gross indecency, procuring and conspiracy to procure. Edward Clarke represented Wilde pro bono. Taylor was represented by Arthur Newton. (Lord Alfred Douglas contributed towards the costs of Taylor’s defense.) In the preliminary hearings C.F. Gill prosecuted. Travers Humphreys appeared for Wilde and Newton for Taylor. The Old Bailey trial opened on 22 April 1895 before Justice Arthur Charles. C.F. Gill and Horace Avory prosecuted. Edward Clarke, Charles Mathews and Travers Humphreys defended. The jury was not able to reach a verdict and the case was postponed until the next session. The Morning published what purported to be the actual results of jury vote. If their account is accurate, the jury was divided 10-2 on most questions, with the majority in favor of a guilty verdict.

3. Regina v. Oscar Wilde and Regina v. Alfred Taylor

Upon a joint application by counsel to the defendants Wilde and Taylor were tried separately before Justice Alfred Wills. The solicitor general Sir Frank Lockwood (uncle of Douglas and Wilde’s friend Maurice Salis-Schwabe) prosecuted with C.F. Gill and Horace Avory. Edward Clarke, Charles Mathews and Travers Humphreys again appeared for Wilde and J.P. Grain for Taylor. Taylor was tried first and was found guilty of gross indecency but acquitted of procuring as no evidence had been presented that Taylor took money for the introductions he made. Wilde’s trial followed and he was found guilty. Both defendants were sentenced to two years’ hard labor. J.P. Grain would go on to represent Wilde in his bankruptcy.

Lord Alfred Douglas and T.W. H. Crosland

In the early 20th Century Lord Alfred Douglas became associated with writer and notorious litigant T.W.H. Crosland and joined in his particular brand of sport. One of their many courtroom adventures is relevant to our story.

Henry Frederick Walpole Manners-Sutton v. T.W.H. Crosland December 1909-February 1910

The son of Viscount Canterbury (and later the next holder of that title) had been one of Lord Alfred Douglas’s best friends until he said he would only invest in Douglas and Crosland’s literary journal if Douglas agreed to take a pay cut. In retaliation, Crosland published a series of critical articles that hinted at Sutton’s identity. Sutton was reluctantly all but forced to sue for libel. Solicitor Arthur Newton (who had once acted for Sutton to extract him from an attempt at blackmail) initially acted for Crosland. After the preliminaries he stopped working for Crosland and testified for the prosecution (Sutton) in the trial. The case was heard before Sir F. A Bosanquet (whose nickname, coincidentally, was ‘Old Bosie’.) Marshall Hall, George Elliott and Storry Deans prosecuted. J.P. Valetta and Mr Rich defended. Crosland was found not guilty of libeling Sutton. Although it had no clear connection to the case at hand, Marshall Hall cross-examined Lord Alfred Douglas on his relationship with Oscar Wilde, giving him his first opportunity to tell his story on the stand. He interpreted the verdict as affirmation that he was an excellent witness. Robert Ross, who had fallen out with Douglas, was offended by what he read about the case. Particularly, he was offended by Douglas presenting himself as a reformed character. It was a catalyst that convinced him to ‘set the record straight’ about his former friend.

The Proxy Wars

Ross and Douglas sparred indirectly a number of times before they actually faced off in court.

Douglas v. Ransome and Others April 1913

Douglas sued author Arthur Ransome and the Times Book Club for writing and distributing respectively a biography called Oscar Wilde A Critical Study. This case was the hub around which the battle between Ross and Douglas turned. Ross had assisted Ransome with his biography and gave him select access to Wilde’s personal letters, including unpublished portions of De Profundis. Douglas was upset by the depiction of his role in Wilde’s downfall and sued for libel. Ross bankrolled the defense and provided personal letters that Douglas had written both to Oscar Wilde and to himself as evidence. The letters from Douglas to Ross were some of the most damning as they showed that Douglas was attracted to his own sex. Paradoxically, in a case where the actual libel was that Douglas had abandoned Wilde, the defense argued that a death bed message that Douglas had sent to Wilde through Ross, which contained the line “send him my undying love,” proved that Douglas had prevented Wilde from being reformed after he left prison, which made him responsible for Wilde’s downfall. (Note that this is different argument than the later understanding of Douglas as responsible for Wilde’s downfall because he involved him with rent boys. It was the fact that they were reunited, and continued to love each other in an “unnatural” way, that outraged the court.)

The trial was heard before Justice Charles Darling. Cecil Hayes acted for the plaintiff (Douglas). Hayes was a personal friend who had been a member of the Bar for less than two years. He probably worked pro bono. Ransome was represented by J.H. Capbell and H.A. McCardie. The Times Book Club by F.E. Smith. The jury found that the passage at issue was libelous, but also true. They also found that the Times Book Club had not been negligent in circulating it. Douglas filed an appeal, but was forced to withdraw it because he had been declared bankrupt and was unable to give security for the costs of the trial. Infuriated by what had happened in the case, Douglas and his friend Crosland began a campaign of libel against Robert Ross.

Ross v. Crosland April-June 1914

Following a long campaign of harassment, Ross finally went to court. He was well advised by Sir George Lewis not to file any libel actions that touched on the issue of his sexuality. Ross found an opportunity, however, to sue for conspiring to induce a witness to file a false police statement.  (The witness was a young man who claimed to have been kissed and fondled by Ross.) Douglas was out of the country, so Ross filed his lawsuit against Crosland alone. It was clear that Crosland and Douglas were on a vendetta against Ross. But Ross had the misfortune of drawing Justice Horace Avory, who had acted for the prosecution in Wilde’s criminal trials. Not only was Avory prejudiced against anyone associated with Wilde, he had an apparent dislike of F.E. Smith who led the prosecution. Crosland was defended by Cecil Hayes, and supported financially by Douglas’s mother. At issue was whether or not Crosland believed the boy was lying. Crosland was found not guilty. Bolstered by his success, Crosland went on to sue Ross for wrongful prosecution. This time Crosland lost.

Ross and Douglas

Robert Ross and Lord Alfred Douglas only confronted each other directly in court once.

Rex v. Douglas November 1914

Robert Ross finally was harassed into charging Lord Alfred Douglas with criminal libel for pamphlets accusing him of gross indecency and blackmail. The case was heard by Justice Coleridge. Ross was represented by Ernest Wild and Eustace Fulton and the defense by Comyns Carr. The trial was turning against Ross, and both were running out of money. The solicitors negotiated a settlement in which Ross agreed to drop the charges and pay court costs, and Douglas agreed to stop libeling Ross. Douglas found a loophole and had a sporting publication publish a libelous article on Ross’s lover, Freddie Smith. The dossier of compromising letters that Ross had assembled for the defense in the Ransome case continued to haunt Douglas well after Ross’s death. It was used against him in legal proceedings until the early 1920s.

 

Douglas v Ransome and Others

I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who attended my Zoom talk on “Oscar’s Ghost” yesterday. It was fun, and I do plan to make the recording available when I’ve had  chance to edit out some of the zoom awkwardness at the beginning.

In the meantime, I thought I would share this video highlighting an artifact from the trial at the heart of the story, the libel case between Lord Alfred Douglas and Arthur Ransome, which was more of a proxy battle between Douglas and Robert Ross.

This is the document from which the prosecution read in court. You will notice that on the first page of the typescript the salutation “Dear Bosie” is hand written. I believe that a typescript copy, sent to Douglas in discovery before the case, did not have this handwritten salutation.

Early on in the case, Douglas tried to deny that De Profundis was addressed to him. He only admitted it was when he saw the handwritten copy for the first time on the witness stand. He would only have done this if the document he had seen lacked the salutation. The lawyer for the Times Book Club even argued in his closing, based presumably on a similar copy of the typescript he had been given to prepare his case, that “Wilde in the De Profundis letter had not mentioned the plaintiff’s name.”

This video reflects the widely held belief that the reading of De Profundis caused Lord Alfred Douglas to lose his case. In fact, after taking up two days of the court’s time with it, the judge instructed the jury that it should not give it much weight. As I wrote in Oscar’s Ghost:

Ransome Trial PhotoThe reading of De Profundis, however, as dramatic as it was, did not cause him to lose his case. Justice Charles Darling, in his summation urged the jury not to take the prison letter at face value. He called it a “most remarkable and interesting document.” He said it should be taken as a study of what a bad man of genius had gone through in prison and its effect upon him. “It would be a great mistake to take all that he said as Gospel truth. The document was an excuse and an apology.” If De Profundis had been the only evidence, Douglas would probably have won the case. As we shall soon see, what swayed the judge, and caused him to direct the jury as he did, were damning personal letters provided by Robert Ross that proved beyond a doubt Douglas was guilty of the same crimes as Wilde. The defence team had strategically held back the letters, saving them as to use as rebuttal evidence in cross-examination. This meant that they did not have to include them in the initial plea of justification. In a statement for a later legal case, Ross would claim that he had produced the letters “under subpoena.” This is unlikely because if he had not made the decision to show them to the Ransome legal team, they would have had no way of knowing of their existence in the first place.

As the judge said in his summation, Douglas had been badly advised when he brought the case, but he had not known that these letters still existed until he was confronted with them in court. If he had known what was about to be unleashed on him, even the litigious Bosie might have thought twice about bringing the action.

The prosecution, financed and instructed by Ross, had used a carefully curated selection of letters to tell a story that Oscar Wilde came out of jail a reformed man only to be dragged back into a shameful life by Lord Alfred Douglas, who left him as soon as the money ran out.

I won’t go into the specifics of the letters here, and how well they represented the truth, but if you have an interest in that, it’s in the book.

Christopher Millard (Wilde bibliographer and editor of Three Times Tried) called Darling’s summation “a brilliant speech for the defence.”

Darling defended Ross’s decision to cut out the unpublished parts of De Profundis while publishing the rest.

The fact that the trustees of the British Museum agreed to take it proved that it was a valuable document. After bringing the case, Douglas could not now complain that the defence had produced De Profundis to show what Wilde’s view was of their relations. Nor, he said, could Douglas complain that his old letters had been produced. “He apparently did not know that those letters had been kept.”

It was on those letters that Darling put the greatest importance. He read one that Douglas had written to Wilde in 1899. The press declined to print it, but Darling described it as containing a “conversation which a decent pagan of the time of Pericles would not have referred to.”

Darling spoke of the attempts that had been made after Wilde’s release from prison “to enable him to redeem his past, and perhaps to still again become a great literary man if only he would give up his evil life. The plaintiff had referred to Oscar Wilde as a ‘devil incarnate.’ If it was true that Wilde was trying to lead a better life, what term might he not well apply to the man who had written that letter?”

He said that it had been proved that Lord Alfred Douglas was the subject of the text in Ransome’s book, and that De Profundis proved that Wilde did hold Douglas responsible for his downfall, and that further letters showed that he did believe Douglas behaved badly after he left prison and that Wilde feared his influence. His final thought before putting the case in the hands of the jury was devoted to De Profundis. “Oscar Wilde was writing this, and it is plain that he was writing it for his own glorification, whether it is true or not. That is quite plain.”

…It took the jury only 45 minutes to find that the words in Ransome’s book were libellous, but also true. They found that the Times Book Club was not negligent in making the book available. From then on there was no more talk of Wilde being driven to excess by “admirers” in the plural. Douglas was now the only suspect in Wilde’s ruin. The only question his supporters and detractors would fight over was just how culpable he was.

When Everything Stops We Sing

I’ve been thinking about that Matthew Arnold quote a lot lately.

Wandering between two worlds, one dead
The other powerless to be born,
With nowhere yet to rest my head
Like these, on earth I wait forlorn.

It is as though we got here via a bridge that collapsed behind us and we’re standing on a platform with the way forward obscured by heavy fog.

The support systems you would rely on when you’re going through a rough time are going through a rough time. Lots of great causes to donate to, lots of artist friends to support, lots of businesses you value that are stressed— and no money coming in. You just want to give everyone who is disrupted, anxious, depressed, broke, lonely, a hug.  And you can’t.

If we were oblivious to it before we are not now. We do not exist in isolation. We are interdependent. We need each other. We need a deeper connection than a social media feed. How can we share what it is to be human while keeping a distance?

A couple of weeks ago our ballet master class tour ended, and we faced some challenges getting my partner Valery Lantratov back home to Moscow. When Russia closed its borders to Europe, but not yet to America, I scrambled to find a flight from Detroit to Moscow that was affordable and did not go through Europe. It’s not so easy to find a flight to Moscow from here that does not go through Europe. I found one from Chicago on Azerbijani Airlines that went through Baku, but this was less than ideal, and so we had to drive to New York where we could catch a direct Aeroflot flight. Things were changing quickly at that time, and long story short, we got him back home two days before JFK closed for all international passenger flights.

It was an emotionally draining experience. Being in the airport itself was a bit like being among the last two people in a horror movie who have not yet been taken over by the body snatchers. To send him off and to be left alone there was even more ominous, especially given the uncertainty of when he would be able to come back.

I sought refuge at the home of nearby friends. He is a musician, and his work had dried up a couple of weeks before. Because he makes his living from playing live he was not sure when he would have income again, and of course, he missed playing and being with people.

We came up with a system, using a cell phone, and a tripod, to put on a little live streaming show. We didn’t announce it in advance, not knowing if it would work. We thought a few friends might log in. What happened was quite amazing. About 50 people discovered the feed and logged in, and they posted requests, and thanks, and said it was just what they needed. A half hour later the video had been shared and more than a hundred had seen it. By the next morning it was 1,500.

For the duration of the show people felt connected, music and art have always done that. They share an essential aspect of what it is to be human across distance and time.  To hear a familiar song, to know that others are experiencing it with you, is to remember that our culture connects us, that our humanity connects us, even when things around us seem to be falling apart. We are still us.

That’s why people are singing from their balconies, and dancing in the streets. We are still us. We still sing. We still dance.

The arguments we’ve been making for years for art tend to fall flat. The grant writers and the patrons of the arts ask for and give funding in spite of these arguments, not because of them. They are disingenuous. The people who make art don’t want you to support it because it helps downtown development. They don’t want to have music classes in schools because it improves math scores. They want art to be supported because art matters.

What we have learned this past month is that when the buying and selling stops we need to know that other people have felt what we do, and that it connects us. When everything else stops, we sing.

Here’s a song for the friends you’re thinking of who you can’t be with physically at this moment.

 

 

 

 

Down the Memory Hole: Donald Trump’s 1999 Presidential Flirtation

You rarely hear much these days about Donald Trump’s 1999 shot at the presidency as the candidate of the Reform Party. Because I enjoy going through old newspaper archives, I thought I would take a look back at commentary on Trump’s campaign (or was it really a PR campaign? The commentators were not sure) of 20 years ago.

Fri, Oct 29, 1999 – Page 19 · Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, South Dakota) · Newspapers.com

Thu, Dec 2, 1999 – Page 19 · Hartford Courant (Hartford, Connecticut) · Newspapers.com

Thu, Dec 2, 1999 – Page 19 · Hartford Courant (Hartford, Connecticut) · Newspapers.com

Thu, Dec 2, 1999 – Page 19 · Hartford Courant (Hartford, Connecticut) · Newspapers.com

Mon, Oct 25, 1999 – 1 · The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, New Mexico) · Newspapers.com

Thu, Nov 4, 1999 – Page 7 · South Florida Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Florida) · Newspapers.com

Donald Trump views on abortion, 1999.Donald Trump views on abortion, 1999. Sun, Nov 28, 1999 – Page 108 · The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Florida) · Newspapers.com

Wed, Sep 22, 1999 – 22 · The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) · Newspapers.com

Sun, Nov 28, 1999 – 60 · The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California) · Newspapers.com

Sun, Jan 23, 2000 – Page 3 · Herald and Review (Decatur, Illinois) · Newspapers.com

Sun, Nov 28, 1999 – 60 · The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California) · Newspapers.com

Tue, Nov 16, 1999 – 12 · The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) · Newspapers.com

Mon, Nov 29, 1999 – 9 · Sioux City Journal (Sioux City, Iowa) · Newspapers.com

Thu, Oct 21, 1999 – Page 14 · Tallahassee Democrat (Tallahassee, Florida) · Newspapers.com

Wed, Dec 8, 1999 – 3 · The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) · Newspapers.com

Thu, Nov 18, 1999 – 8 · The Daily News (Lebanon, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com

Thu, Nov 18, 1999 – 8 · The Daily News (Lebanon, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com

Wed, Dec 8, 1999 – 3 · The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) · Newspapers.com

Thu, Dec 9, 1999 – 50 · The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California) · Newspapers.com

The Multi-Directional Public Pose

Watching Desperate Romantics on Pluto recently I found myself wondering about our current era in arts. How do we approach art making and receiving in our age? Who would the “pre-Raphelites” be?

Each age has an idea about what art aims to do, and argues over it. Having a sense of the goal of art allows one to critique it, to recognize corruption, how it deviates from the ultimate expression of that goal.

Writing this I am reminded of a scene in the movie Dead Poet’s Society in which Robin Williams’ character John Keating has his students rip out the introduction to a book on poetry, which conflicts with his own philosophy of the purpose of literature.

The film came out when I was in college, and the perfect age to accept its message.  It is an age in which your whole life is focused on finding yourself and your place in the world. One of the great challenges is to separate what you really think and feel from what you’ve been taught you should think and feel. And at this moment, Keating’s view that the purpose of art is to lead the viewer to greater self-discovery and self-expression made perfect sense. I cheered the liberation that came with tearing the introduction out of the “Pritchard text.”

A number of years later my father gave me a book that was nearly falling apart. My father was raised in a home that did not emphasize book learning, and after dropping out of high school, he enrolled in the Marines which gave him the opportunity to take the GED and use the G.I. Bill to go to college. The book, Sound and Sense by Laurence Perrine.This book, along with a supportive teacher, was the gateway that allowed my father to become a professional writer.

When I started reading Sound and Sense something about it sounded familiar “Once we have answered the question, What is the central purpose of the poem? we can consider another question, equally important to full understanding: By what means is that purpose achieved?”

After a bit of research I discovered that indeed Sound and Sense was the model for the hated “Pritchard” text in Dead Poet’s Society. Perrine warned against the “false approach” to literature that “always looks for a lesson, a moral, a bit of moral instruction.”

Today I believe Perrine/Pritchard were in the right. The way to judge the value (The film version of the book calls it “greatness”) of a work of art is to measure the result against its aims.

I also recognize that Keating won the day. Today, judging by the many writing blogs I’ve come across, we tend to talk about art as self-expression. We use the word “creativity” to refer to inspiration, not the hard work of making something out of that spark of inspiration. We’re most likely to critique art in terms of the moral instruction embedded within it.  Art is affirmation, instruction and an illustration of how we should be in the world.

Arts movements are influenced by technological change. The invention of photography meant that a realistic image could be captured. This sparked Impressionism as artists tried to capture what a camera could not.

Our era is defined by the invention of ubiquitous computer technology and the interconnectedness that came with the internet.

I would argue that the biggest impact of this on literature is not that ebooks have changed the economics of publishing (although they have), but that the smartphone has fracutred our attention.

I recently went to the theater and during intermission, instead of sitting and talking about the first act, a large portion of the audience was checking their phones. Almost all experiences of art today are interrupted by the checking of Facebook and Twitter. There are pictures of friends, news headlines. Every experience becomes a mosaic or patchwork quilt.

At the same time, we edit out the pauses in some forms of entertainment. We watch an entire season of television in a week instead of over the course of a year with week-long breaks.

Creators can no longer count on their works being experienced in the form in which the artist envisioned them. Everything is remixed.

Books have always been enjoyed in isolation, and now, with streaming, you can enjoy music and theater the same way. You watch what you want, when you want, on a device that is always in your hand.

Yet, while we may experience these media in isolation, we do so with an awareness that we will be called on to act as critic, to give 4 stars or to post to a blog. We will have the opportunity to comment on the work and make that part of our public persona. That makes us self-conscious viewers.

How does the self-conscious audience and the self-conscious creator– aware of how the work might be star-rated and dissected–shape the current art movement?

My sense is that in the online environment, as we fight for attention and likes, and try to “build a platform” in order to have any chance of making a living, we are prodded to see ourselves more in competition for scarce resources than as a “brotherhood.”

It is common to say that the internet has made it possible for the first time for the audience to participate. Art used to be a one way street, the artist created and the viewer consumed. This is true only of the 20th century, when recording and broadcasting made it possible to reproduce and send works across space and time in one direction. For most of human history most art was participatory. People told stories by the fireside, they went to the theater in person, the popular songs were sheet music that you played at home, or songs that you sang at a party with friends.  Artists existed in communities, which supported them and knew them.

What is different in our era is having participation by an audience with whom you have no personal or physical connection. Today an artist can put something out, and it will be built upon, commented upon, and so on, by people the artist has never and will likely never meet. Unlike mass communication it is participatory, unlike the older forms, it is not community oriented.  This environment creates a multi-directional public pose.

So what should we call this moment?

 

 

 

 

 

Bosie the Birthday Boy

The_Age_Sat__Oct_15__1938_2It’s October 22, and being the anniversary of Lord Alfred Douglas’s birth, it is the traditional time to post about his awfulness.  “Evil queen” and “a dick” are a couple of the memorials that flashed through my twitter feed today.

I usually try to find a little something of interest to share on the day. (Last year it was an obscure interview Douglas did about Oscar Wilde for a French journal.)

In 1938, around the time of Douglas’s birthday, The Age, published an article on the old poet’s self regard. Here are a couple of excerpts.

The_Age_Sat__Oct_15__1938_

 

The_Age_Sat__Oct_15__1938_3