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Monthly Archives: June 2014

Roses and Rue – Oscar Wilde’s Life in Dreams

 

I like to think that I’m a mature human being, but there are times, particularly when a new piece of reading material shows up on my doorstep, that I tend to turn into a four-year-old at Christmas.  Such was the case when yesterday, I found a coveted package waiting for me when I arrived home from work, stamped with the Barnes & Noble logo.  What followed next was a shriek (yes a shriek) of excitement and me pushing random pets out of my path as I attempted to tear open the package, my mother shaking her head in the corner as she sipped her herbal tea.  What at last I managed to wrestle the thing open, I was greeted with one of the great benefits of having a credit card and an eye for bargain books – a long-coveted copy of The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, one of my all-time favorite writers.

My respect for Oscar Wilde is immense; his poetry is beautiful and his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, thought-provoking.  In Victorian England, a world where photography was new and black and white and humor tended to be dry and stuffy, Wilde managed to bring light and color wherever he went, becoming the talk of the world he lived in and the man of the hour.  He was well educated (having attended both Trinity College in Dublin and Oxford) and became an accomplished poet and playwright in the 1890’s, his work still in print to this day, and now, many regard him as one of the most beloved writers of the Victorian Era (including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker).  But Wilde’s life was far from what one would expect to come with success and notoriety and toward the end of his life, he suffered persecution by his peers and even prison, becoming an outcast and dying deep in debt and impoverished at the young age of just forty-six.

Born Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde on 16 October 1854, he was the second of three children born to Sir William Wilde and his wife Jane “Speranza” Wilde.  His mother was an Irish poet with a passion for folktales who influenced her son’s life to a great extent.  Young Oscar was schooled at home until he was sent to boarding school at the age of nine.  From 1871-74, he attended Dublin’s Trinity College on scholarship, where he placed first in his class his freshman year, and later transferred to Magdalen College in Oxford, where he graduated in 1878.  At over six feet in height, he was an imposing figure, wearing his hair long and growing his lavish tastes.  He collected blue china, which he prized most of all among his possessions, saying once “I find it harder and harder every day to live up to my blue china!”  He studied Greek and learned both French and German, occasionally even boxing.  He had a silver tongue and a sharp wit and used it to silence critics and any who insulted him.  It was during this time that he wrote Ravenna, a poem which earned him a Newdigate Prize in 1878.

Upon his return to Dublin, Wilde flirted with the idea of converting to Catholicism, among other things.  He pursued a romance with his childhood sweetheart, a woman named Florence Balcombe, who later met and married horror author Bram Stoker.  After this stinging rejection, he moved permanently to England and made his home in London, where he roomed with high society painter Frank Miles.  Later he traveled to the United States of America, where he delivered lectures and in 1881, he collected his poetry and published them as a single volume book, Poems.  Upon returning to the Continent, he met and married the wealthy Constance Lloyd and the couple welcomed two sons in the following years, Cyril and Vyvyan.

Wilde and Bosie in 1893.

Wilde and Bosie in 1893.

Soon after, during a high point in his career, he met and fell fatally in love with the Marquess of Queensberry’s son, Lord Alfred Douglas, called Bosie.  Bosie was reckless, spoiled, hot-tempered, and just as extravagant as Wilde, and the two formed a friendship that quickly blossomed into a romantic affair, though it was a rocky one.  The two were often found in the other’s company and Wilde ended up slowly becoming a distant stranger to his wife and sons as a result.  The relationship between the two men was broken off and then rekindled several times and by the mid 1890’s, the Marquess of Queensburry learned of the affair.   Several points in time, the Marquess threatened both his son and Wilde, ordering them to stop what they were doing, but it wasn’t until February of 1895 that Wilde had had enough and sued Queensberry from criminal libel after he left a calling card for Wilde that called him a “sodomite.”

The lawsuit backfired when evidence was presented that exposed Wilde as a practicing homosexual, leaving the courtroom in shock.  At the time, homosexuality was a criminal offense, for which Queensberry, careful to exclude his son from the impending firestorm of scandal, had Wilde arrested and tried for gross indecency.  Found guilty, Wilde was sentenced to two years hard labor in prison.  His wife Constance left for Switzerland with their children, changing the family surname to Hollard and forbidding him to contact the boys.  He never saw them again.

Upon his release from prison in 1897, Wilde made his move to the Continent,, where he met with Bosie once again in France despite the tensions between them (Wilde blamed him for causing his misfortunes).  They moved in together near Naples, but broke things off for good soon after when both Bosie’s father and Wilde’s estranged wife threatened to cut them off financially.  Constance refused to resume sending money to her husband and as a result, Wilde became destitute, stricken by poverty and an infection in his ear that had increasingly worsened since his time in prison.  In 1900, he contracted cerebral meningitis and, upon converting to Catholicism on his death bed in order to receive the Last Rites, he died in his hotel room in Paris on 30 November and was buried in France.  His fitting epitaph, taken from his final work, The Ballad of Reading Goal, reads as follows:

And alien tears will fill for him

Pity’s long-run urn,

For his mourners will be outcast men,

And outcasts always mourn.

 

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Posted by on June 19, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Courting the Virgin – the Romances of Elizabeth I

Elizabeth_1_1560

Elizabeth I’s reign has gone down in history as the Golden Age of England.  Though Elizabeth never married, there would be several suitors for her hand, as she would be the most eligible bride in Europe.  But the question begs answers: why did Elizabeth never marry?  There is no sure way to know, but what is certain is that she had a fair number of prospective husbands, but she rejected all of them.  One can hardly blame her: Elizabeth’s upbringing was far from peaceful, especially when it came to her father’s love life.  Elizabeth’s own mother, Anne Boleyn, had been Henry VIII’s second wife, whom he defied the Catholic Church of Rome and revolutionized England’s religious policy in order to marry only to have her beheaded at the Tower of London three years later.  Henry VIII would go on to take four more wives, father his only and coveted son Edward VI, and declare both Elizabeth and her older half-sister Mary illegitimate and bar them from the line of succession in favor of a boy whom was only nine years old when he came to power.  Perhaps marriage seemed horrifying to Elizabeth.  Whatever the case, despite her steadfast views on the subject, she still considered it, though perhaps halfheartedly.

The most prominent suitor that comes up in historical evidence is Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester.  Form her first year on the throne of England until his death in early September 1588, the two were close friends and he was one of the Queen’s favorites.  Though it seems clear that Elizabeth wanted to marry Dudley, it seemed her council was against the idea in favor of a foreign match so as to create an alliance with other nations, and besides that, Dudley was the son of the former Duke of Northumberland, whom raised his young daughter-in-law Jane Grey to the throne as opposed to Mary I, whom promptly executed both Grey and the Duke for treason.  Another obstacle was the fact that Dudley was already married to a lady named Amy Robsart, though the marriage ended tragically when Amy fell down a flight of stairs and broke her neck.  The circumstances of her death were so suspicious and coincidental that it was suspected that Dudley had her killed so that he himself could marry Elizabeth.  It is even said that the Queen herself was somehow responsible.  Whatever the case, it was clear from the scandalous effects of Amy’s death that it was too dangerous for Dudley and Elizabeth to wed, and so they did not.  However, it is clear that the two remained close until Dudley’s death, even when the Earl remarried, jealous as the Queen was proven to have been over the match.  When Elizabeth herself died at the age of sixty-nine, in her private possessions she had kept a letter from the Earl where in her own handwriting were three words that perhaps show the true depth of her feelings for him: “His last Letter.”

But Elizabeth had many more men at her doorstep vying for her hand during her lifetime.  One of these men was her own brother-in-law Philip II of Spain, widower to her half-sister Mary I.  She quickly turned him down and instead considered his cousin, Archduke Charles of Austria, who would later become Charles II of Austria.  Others the she considered where François, the Duke of Anjou, his brother who would later become Henry III of France, Robert Deveraux, Earl of Essex, Eric XIV of Sweden, Charles IX of France, and the Danish Prince Frederick, among others.  In fact, there were no less than 26 proposals to be considered, but none of them caught her attention as Dudley had and she seems to have only considered them to please her council, who were urging her to marry and produce an heir for England.  She did neither, perhaps to prevent an uprising against her.

However, Elizabeth made it clear that she was married first and foremost to England, and referred to the people of England as her “husbands”.  As a result, she was called the Virgin Queen in poetry and in portraiture.  She defied the stereotype of the era that proposed that a women could not rule a country because they were such a “gentle sex”, and became famous for ruling with her head and not her heart “as women often do”.  She was the last monarch of the Tudor Dynasty, reigning for forty-four years before passing away on 24 March 1603.  Upon her death, James VI of Scotland, son of her cousin Mary Stuart (Also known as Mary, Queen of Scots), was declared James I of England as the last surviving person with royal blood (his great-grandmother had been Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister).  He would be the first of the Scottish family on the throne and the first of the Stuart Dynasty.

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2014 in British Royalty, The Tudors

 

11 June – The Birth of Anne Neville

Anne Neville

Today, in 1456, Anne Neville was born in Warwick Castle as second daughter to Richard “The Kingmaker” Neville, Earl of Warwick, and his wife Countess Anne de Beauchamp.  During the Wars of the Roses, she was wife to two key figures – Edward of Lancaster, the Prince of Wales and son of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou, and upon his death she wed Richard of Gloucester, who would later ascend the throne of England as Richard III.  However, Anne was a sickly woman and predeceased her second husband only months before his own death at the Battle of Bosworth.  She was twenty-eight years old.  No formal portrait of her survives, thus the image above is the only image of her that remains.

My intention is to write a full length article on Anne sometime in the near future, however recent events mean that I may not get to it for some time.  I start college in the fall and with my mother being in poor health at this time, progression on anything at this point will have to be halted.  In the meantime, I pay tribute to the woman who managed to survive on both sides of a civil war conflict as both a Lancastrian and a Yorkist.  Cheers to you, Anne!

 
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Posted by on June 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

1 June 1533 – The Coronation of Anne Boleyn

After being secretly wed to the newly divorced King Henry VIII on January 25, Anne Boleyn came at last to Westminster Abbey, where she was crowned Queen of England on this day inc 1533.  What stood out about the ceremony was the fast that she had crowned with the Crown of St. Edward, which up until that point had only been used for the coronation of the reigning monarch.  She would reign as Queen for a mere three years before her execution at the Tower of London, but in that short time, she would be responsible for the break between the Catholic Church in Rome and the Church of England and give birth to the girl who would one day become Elizabeth I.

 
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Posted by on June 2, 2014 in British Royalty, The Tudors