Sunday, February 6, 2011

Son Of Oscar Wilde

Vyvyan Wilde, 1885

        Perhaps my father was at his best with us at the seaside.  He was a powerful swimmer; he also enjoyed sailing and fishing and would take us out with him when it was not too breezy.  I do not think we took to it very much; personally, I was much too concerned with the plight of the fish flapping about on the floor boards.  I preferred helping my father to build sand castles, an art in which he excelled; long, rambling castles they were, with moats and tunnels and towers and battlements and when they were finished he would usually pull a few lead soldiers out of his pocket to man the castle walls.  I remember him so well, in a Norfolk jacket and knickerbockers, no shoes or stockings and a large gray hat which he had probably brought back with him from the United States.  We ourselves were dressed in much the same fashion.  It never struck parents in those days that the most sensible costume for children on the beach in the hot weather was a pair of bathing-trunks; they were much too afraid of their catching cold or getting sunstroke.

Bathing machines, Scarborough

 Beach boxes, Great Yarmouth

        My father lived in a world of his own; an artificial world, perhaps, but a world in which the only things that really mattered were art and beauty in all their forms.  This gave him that horror of conventionality which destroyed him in the end.

Cyril Wilde, ca. 1890

        Once in Reading Gaol he discovered that three small children were in the same place for the heinous crime of poaching rabbits; a fine which neither they nor their parents were able to pay had been inflicted upon them and they were sent to prison in default.  This may seem incredible to us now, but not much more than a hundred years earlier they probably would have been publicly hanged.  My father was deeply distressed that children who might be the same age as his own could be barbarously treated by a self-righteous community, and he managed to get a note through to one of the warders with whom he was on good terms, asking what he could do to help and offering to pay the fine.  “Please do this for me,” the note went on to say; “I must get them out.  Think what a thing it would be for me to be able to help three little children.  If I can do this by paying the fine, tell the children that they are to be released tomorrow by a friend, and ask them to be happy and not to tell anyone.” And the children were freed.

Reading Gaol

Excerpts from:  Vyvyan Holland, Son of Oscar Wilde, New York, E.P. Dutton & Company, 1954  


  1. Good afternoon and thank you for writing. Interesting indeed. I recommend Vyvyan Holland's (ne Wilde's) book and indeed his other writings. Vyvyan was lucky in his life, although his father's vicissitudes and tragic end left their mark. His older brother Cyril was not so fortunate, nor their mother Constance. It's one of the gripping, poignant stories and so much of Wilde's life can be gleaned through his remarkable letters. Curtis

  2. thanks for the information. i didn't know that wilde had children and maybe it explains some of his writing.

  3. This and the last Wilde post both wonderful. You manage to find fresh and illuminating angles even on old favorites.

    Spectacular illustrations as usual. One of James Ensor's first mature paintings was of a solitary bathing machine. He grew up, in fact lived his whole live, in Oostende, so had occasion to paint them many times. One self-portait shows him timidly exiting one, as fearful for his health and modesty as the Wildes must have been for their children's.

    Thank you.

  4. Roddy: I'm really glad you liked this. I thought you might. Because of his letters and the way he excited other people's imaginations and lived on in their memories (there's even a really great G.B. Shaw quote from the last year of his long life where he said that if there was anyone in history he would like to converse with, he would just wish to speak with Oscar Wilde again), it's so easy to feel Wilde as a real person and a definite (if you look at things this way) bridge between the 19th century and the 20th century, where I definitely still live. Hope you're having a decent evening. We're back in Pennsylvania, which is icy enough, but nothing compared to Tuxedo Park, which is really treacherous. Curtis

  5. Roddy -- One more thing. Will check out the Ensor bathing machines. Thank you for mentioning them. Curtis

  6. Great post! I love that book. I got a 1954 Penguin edition and I read it mostly on vacation near Bevaix, where Constance and the kids took refuge after the scandal.

  7. Dear Anonymous: Thank you for writing and I'm glad you liked it. My wife and I love V. Holland's book. My reaction to all things involving Wilde's talent, life and the way it affected those around him is an ever-changing thing. It is a profound story. I've never been to Belvaix, but now I'm thinking of it. Curtis

  8. Hi, Curtis. I came across your blog a couple of days ago while looking for information about Denton Welch, and I liked it and saved it to my favourite list. I'm still hesitating as to which of Denton's books to get first. He seems such an incredibly interesting writer, and I don't know why I hadn't heard of him before.

    Bevaix is a village in Switzerland near Neuchatel and that whole region well deserves a visit.

    Cheers from Lisbon,

  9. Rui, Hi. Regarding Welch, I would either start at the beginning with Maiden Voyage or at the end with A Voice Through A Cloud. I would also keep a copy of the remarkable Journals handy. I think you'll like Welch a lot. He is a completely original voice and a brave and inspiring figure. If you get really interested, you'll find that interesting things turn up about him in places like Evelyn Waugh's letters, memoirs about people such as Lord Berners, etc. The biography that was published about him a number of years (but not that long) ago by James Methuen-Campbell is very good. I may have mentioned this in my Welch post, but we were introduced to Welch's writings in a surprising way. My wife used to work in record company publicity and she acted as US press representative for the British band, the Pet Shop Boys, early in their career. Neil Tennant, one of the duo, introduced us to Welch by giving us copies of Maiden Voyage and A Voice Through A Cloud. It was a great kindness, for which we will always be grateful. Curtis

  10. Thanks for the recommendation! Just ordered Maiden Voyage through Amazon uk.
    P.s. I like the Pet Shop Boys!

  11. Thank you for this fascinating insight. Terrible that such a good man was punished so unfairly. Delightful to hear such happy memories from his son.

    1. Dear Normandy Thenandnow: Thank you very much for writing and responding to this post. And please visit again soon (and write). I'd like to think there are other posts you would find interesting. Curtis