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Irish Eccentric to Global Icon: Making Oscar Wilde

MM Wilde

Irish Eccentric to Global Icon: Making Oscar Wilde| Neill Lecture Theatre, Trinity Long Room Hub, Fellows Square, Trinity College Dublin| Wed, October 17, 2018, 6pm – 7:30pm

The Library of Trinity College Dublin will mark the launch of a digital version of its Oscar Wilde collection with a public lecture by Michèle Mendelssohn, Associate Professor of English at the University of Oxford and author of the hugely successful biography Making Oscar Wilde on Wednesday October 17th, 2018.

Entitled Irish Eccentric to Global Icon: Making Oscar Wilde, the lecture will celebrate the launch of the Library’s Oscar Wilde digital collection.  The manuscript collection, comprising some 150 items including letters, photographs, theatre programmes and items of memorabilia, will now be made freely available online to a global audience. In addition, a new catalogue of the Library’s significant Oscar Wilde book collection, consisting of over 500 printed items is also now available online.

The event, organised by the Library of Trinity College Dublin and hosted by Vice-Provost and Seamus Heaney Professor of Irish Writing, Chris Morash, will also mark Oscar Wilde’s birthday, which is on October 16th.  Michèle will share her research which underpinned her 2018 biography of Oscar Wilde, published by Oxford University Press. Her book is renowned for its gripping and stylish account of Wilde’s tumultuous rise, fall, and resurrection.

One of Trinity’s most famous alumni, Oscar Wilde is one of the best-known Irish personalities of the 19th century and is one of the great writers of the Victorian era. Besides literary accomplishments, Wilde became a figure of some notoriety for his lifestyle and involvement in the ‘art for art’s sake’ aesthetic movement as well as the circumstances of his imprisonment and early death. Mendelssohn’s book charts Wilde’s extraordinary rise to fame through his tour of the United States, and the public perception of Wilde linked to his Irish identity at that time.

The Library acquired the Oscar Wilde collection in 2011 from Julia Rosenthal, a London-based rare book dealer and a keen collector of both manuscripts and printed works relating to Wilde. Rosenthal purchased her first autographed Wilde letter in 1976 and she continued to collect over the following decades, creating what is thought to have been one of the largest privately-owned Oscar Wilde collections in the world. It is now the only Wilde collection held in a public institution in Ireland.

Now for the first time items from this wonderful collection are freely available to Wilde fans and researchers worldwide, via the Library’s Digital Collections platform. The collection is unique in its focus on the playwright’s downfall and exile years and contains items of symbolic significance for Wilde’s biography, such as a receipt for a loan of money he received on leaving Reading Gaol in 1897, and the only known letter written to his son, Cyril.

The Oscar Wilde book collection contains over 500 books relating to Wilde, including both books by Wilde himself and works about him. Many of the books are first editions and/or inscribed copies, which makes them particularly valuable. Among these is a first edition of An Ideal Husband inscribed by Wilde to the book’s dedicatee, Frank Harris. Another rarity in the collection is a copy of the auction catalogue for the sale of Wilde’s possessions at his home in Tite Street at the time of his trial in 1895 – only four copies of this catalogue are known to survive. Several biographers of Oscar Wilde were given access to the collection by Julia Rosenthal in the past when they were researching their subject. This book collection has recently been catalogued and is now visible on the Library’s online catalogue providing an invaluable resource of material relating to this Irish writer for researchers. These books can be consulted in the Library’s Department of Early Printed Books.

Last year the Library hosted the first major Irish exhibition on Oscar Wilde entitled ‘From Decadence to Despair’. Curated by Assistant Librarian Caoimhe Ní Ghormáin, the highly personal display mapped out the playwright’s meteoric rise to fame and also his dramatic fall from grace. The exhibition was launched by actor Rupert Everett and Senator David Norris. An online version of the exhibition is available to view here.

Further information and registration details about the public lecture are available here:

Caoimhe Ní Ghormáin & Lydia Ferguson

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