Trinity marks launch of Oscar Wilde digital collection with public lecture

Trinity College Library will mark the launch of a digital version of its precious 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, tomorrow, 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, as well as 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.

One of Napolean Sarony’s iconic portrait photographs of Wilde from his tour of America in 1882.

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 today, Tuesday 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 known for his biting wit, flamboyant dress and glittering conversation. He was one of the best-known Irish personalities of the 19th century and was 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 meteoric 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 of Trinity College Dublin 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.

One of the many trade cards inspired by Oscar Wilde’s tour of America in 1882.

Now for the first time items from this wonderful collection are freely available to Wilde fans and researchers worldwide, via the Library’s main 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.

Commenting on the significance of the digital collection, the Library’s Head of Research Collections Laura Shanahan says: “The Oscar Wilde Collection held here at the Library of Trinity College Dublin is unparalleled in giving a unique insight to this remarkable man and his experiences during the most challenging period of his life. In making this collection available online, fans and researchers around the world will now have unfiltered access to this material, which until very recently was in private hands. In her book, Mendelssohn makes reference to this being the ‘the Golden Age of the Archive’, where digitisation of collections is allowing new research and discoveries about some of the most significant characters of their generation and we in the Library are delighted to be a part of this.”

Last year the Library hosted the first major Irish exhibition on Oscar Wilde entitled ‘From Decadence to Despair’. Curated by Assistant Librarian Caoimhe Ni Ghormain, the highly personal display mapped out the playwright’s meteoric rise to fame and also his dramatic fall from grace. An online exhibition is available to view here.

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