Dr. Kevin O'Brien (photograph by John Bastin)
Oscar traveled in Canada before he was famous as a writer and playwright.
Oscar Wilde undertook a lecture tour of Canada and the U.S. early in his career, much before his now famous novel, plays, essays and short stories were written. However, although he had not accomplished much, he was already notorious in England as a silly, soulful, flower-eating poet because of the satires of Punch magazine and Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience or Bunthorne’s Bride.
Oscar Wilde in Canada
This is the only complete study of Wilde’s tour of fifteen Canadian cities in May and October of 1882. The tour was full of fun as Wilde paraded around the "colonies" in velvet knickers, lace shirt and comic opera cape. Canadians crowded the lectures to gape and laugh at the exotic visitor. However, Wilde was more serious than he looked, and he delivered thoughtful and credible lectures on the importance of having beautiful surroundings in everyday life.
The appendix of this expanded reprint includes the lectures he delivered in Canada, "The Decorative Arts," and "The House Beautiful," as well as the addition of his first lecture, "The English Renaissance," delivered in New York and the eastern U.S. the first month of his tour. The original editions of these lectures, published in 1908 in The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, were incomplete, incorrectly titled and confused between earlier and later versions of Wilde’s lectures. The new editions of Wilde's lectures offer a valuable insight into Wilde’s early critical theories and philosophy.
Some important historical figures in Canada met Wilde during this tour: artists Homer Watson and Frances Richards; poets Charles G.D. Roberts and Louis Frechette; and the Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald. Other interesting Canadians who have since disappeared from history are resurrected for a brief and colourful encounter with the always entertaining Oscar Wilde.
Kevin H.F. O’Brien
Biography: Kevin O’Brien is a retired Professor of English and former Dean of Arts at St. Francis Xavier University. Born in Moncton, N.B. a long time ago, he received degrees from St.F.X. (B.A.); the University of New Brunswick (B.Ed., M.A.); and the University of Notre Dame (Ph.D.). His research interests are Oscar Wilde and figures of the 1890s, publishing biographical articles on Wilde, Robert Harborough Sherard, Irene Osgood, Emma Sarah Love, and Lily Wilde. Besides the original academic journals and encyclopedias these articles have appeared in, samples of his work have been reproduced on his website and the “Osscholars” website. Dr. O’Brien was the recipient of research grants from the Canada Council, SSHRC, and a fellowship from the J. Leonard O’Brien Foundation. Students chose him for the Outstanding Teaching Award at St.F.X. in 2000, and he won the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia prize for non-fiction in 1983 for the original text of Oscar Wilde in Canada. He retired from St.F.X. in 2000.
The Connection to Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde has become one of the world’s most famous writers, poets and homosexual icons, due to his clever and witty epigrams, the circumstances surrounding his time in jail, and the events in his private life. In fact, his life and career have fascinated society since his entry onto the art scene in the 1880s, first as a journalist, and later on, as one of its most popular playwrights in the 1890s. His work and reputation still live on. Wilde’s plays, such as The Importance of Being Earnest and An Ideal Husband, are still performed, and one of his children’s books has been made into a successful film, a favourite for many at Christmas time, called The Happy Prince and Other Tales.
But before Wilde was a famous writer and playwright, he had tried to find fame and make a living by giving a series of lectures on the new English Renaissance in Art of the aesthetic movement throughout the United States and Canada, igniting great debate, gossip and musings through his biting wit, outrageous style of dress, and penchant for amusing the public, making him a major personality.
Other covers by Charles Pachter: