Sunday, 22 March 2015

Tea and Cakes with Oscar Wilde

Victoria Clarke writes:
Speaking in front of a full house at the New Headingley Club, amateur local historian Geoff Dibb discussed the thirty years worth of research on the life and lectures of Victorian literary legend Oscar Wilde.

Hailing from a wealthy family in Ireland, Wilde was born in 1854 and was well educated, eventually moving to Oxford to study Classics at Magdalen College - where he also began his creative and journalistic writing practices. Following his first class graduation, he moved to London with a friend to work on his poetry. In 1882 he embarked upon a tour of America, giving lectures on art and literature, extending this lecture series to Great Britain and Ireland from 1883-4, during which time he met and married Constance Lloyd. Over the next decade his two sons were born, he commenced his doomed relationship with the Lord Alfred Douglas, and he built a strong reputation as a respected journalist and playwright, in addition to publishing his only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. The following year he unsuccessfully fought a lawsuit from Lord Alfred Douglas’ father and was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for ‘gross indecency’. Following his release in 1887, Wilde exiled himself to France and died destitute in Paris in 1900.

It is Wilde’s 1880s lecture series that Dibb became interested in. Having read several biographies of Wilde, he noticed an emphasis on the peak of his writing career in the early 1890s, with little information on the background informing it. Having noticed in one of these biographies a letter from Wilde, informing the reader of his stay at the Great Northern Railway Hotel, Leeds, dated December 1884, accounting his lecture on rational dress for women at the Albert Hall, Wakefield, native Dibb was intrigued. He journeyed to the Leeds City Library to research some contemporary newspapers, finding advertisements and reviews of these lectures. It was through his library research that Dibb was also able to bridge the historical gaps in the names of these Wildean Leeds landmarks - the Great Northern Railway Hotel being situated on Wellington Street next to the old train station, and the Albert Hall having since been incorporated into the Leeds City Museum.

Dibb recalls that it was at this point that he began to suspect that his library research was generating new information. He began to travel around West Yorkshire in search of records of other lectures, and it was at this point that Dibb’s suspicions about his work were confirmed. He was delighted to reminisce to the audience his being contacted with an American academic working on an Encyclopaedia of Oscar Wilde, to which Dibb contributed an entry on the 1883 lectures. Dibb found that these lectures spanned a variety of topics, and were performed twice per day, seven days a week, but mostly followed the themes of art, socialism, and proto-feminism.

A lively Q&A session followed the lecture, with audience members’ interests varying from contemporary gossip, with, “what do you know about the Whistler/Wilde rivalry?” to the technological advancements of our own age, with “would he be on Twitter?” The informative and entertaining session would not have been complete without the occasional recitation of Wildean aphorisms, to which the audience responded with great enthusiasm.

Geoff Dibb’s book on the Wilde lectures, Oscar Wilde: Vagabond with a Mission is available for purchase now. A more detailed biography of Wilde’s life is freely available online.

Thanks to Victoria Clarke, who stepped in to blog our Oscar Wilde event at the last minute.  She writes her own blog, on the food in Tolkien - shame she wasn't at our Beowulf and the Hobbit event last Wednesday! There's a recipe for Lembas too.

Audience comments:

Really interesting. Quite a fun speaker. I didn’t know anything about Oscar Wilde (thought I did). It must have been exciting to keep finding the papers as he did.

A good event, Literature, Laughter and Cake! Thank you, good value on every level. A most knowledgeable speaker, a clear presentation, friendly. Venue well organised by Volunteers.

A very satisfying event – very knowledgeable and passionate talk by Geoff – the questions from the floor were very well answered. Tea, cakes and venue all very good. Thank you!

Interesting, author knew his topic very well and spoke fluently without too any note.

A very enjoyable afternoon. The room and presentation were very well organised.

Excellent speaker – so good to hear an expert who isn’t an academic! Delicious cake too: thank you.

Geoff didn’t have a very good voice. A little slow and too local. He needs to work on his delivery and countenance. This would have been better presented by somebody more eloquent and outré. Disappointing that he seemed to concentrate on his work (Wilde) whereas the man himself is far more interesting. Wilde was a v. flamboyant character. However things did improve and Geoff certainly knew his facts. A little too much concentration on Leeds – Wilde was larger than that. Overall did very well. His book is a worthy one.

Geoff Dibb gave a really interesting lecture on what could have been a very dry subject. I was very impressed.

Thoroughly enjoyable; wonderful audience participation and comment. Excellent.

Brilliant – what a crowd! Geoff v. good and tea and cake an excellent idea for this kind of event.

Most interesting – humorous and informative – Wilde would have enjoyed it!

Brilliant, a thoroughly enjoyable event, interesting, thought provoking.

Very enjoyable talk, interesting and well presented. Good format. Lovely cakes.

Great event in conjunction with the Leeds Salon. Geoff was a great speaker and the event was thoroughly enjoyable. Thank you!

Very enjoyable meeting. Excellent speaker. Well organised (once it got started!). Wish I’d known about the rest of the festival.

Witty, entertaining and extremely well delivered with great insight and humour. Good mix of delivery and audience participation (Q&A).

Informative amusing talk bringing local history alive.
Brilliant – well informed and easeful manner made the talk exceptionally entertaining. Thank you.

Entertaining, broad, Leeds focused which intrigued me and highly informative re Wilde’s personal views and background.

Excellent talk and discussion. Tremendous expertise, nice cake too!

Really like the salon format. V. engaging speaker.

Good cake – interesting talk.

Very interesting. Well done!

Very interesting and informative.

Highly informative and interesting.

Entertaining and well run.

Very entertaining



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