An aesthete in America

Leon Litvack*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Citation (Scopus)


In April 1881 Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera Patience premièred in London; it was a satire of the aesthetic movement: a phenomenon which had a demonstrable effect on literature, painting, the decorative arts and interior design. Two of the characters, Reginald Bunthorne and Archibald Grosvenor, drew on elements of the flamboyant 27-year-old Wilde, who attended an early performance of the play. Its producer, Richard D’Oyly Carte (1844–1901), took Patience to New York, where this ‘very clever piece of satirical writing’ enjoyed successes as great as those in London. As a ‘fillip’ to the play Carte took up the suggestion made by the actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844–1923) to bring Wilde on a lecture tour to North America, where he might serve as a living exponent of aestheticist ideas. Carte had appointed as Wilde’s manager Colonel W. F. Morse, who wrote to booking agents across the country, inviting offers to host the writer and giving the opportunity to hear from him ‘a true and correct … explanation of this latest form of fashionable madness’. Wilde looked forward to the tour: not only would he have a platform for expounding his ideas, but he could also remedy financial difficulties, and, he hoped, produce his play Vera, which had been cancelled in London at short notice. Though he was aware of the widespread lampooning of aesthetic adherents by the media (and indeed by Gilbert and Sullivan), he took himself seriously as an ‘apostle for the arts’. He had sufficient material on which to draw for lectures: not only was he well versed in contemporary English art and literature, but he also knew some of the most famous critics and practitioners of his day, including Walter Pater, John Ruskin, Algernon Charles Swinburne, Alfred Tennyson, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and James McNeill Whistler. With this rich store of material, Wilde set sail on the SS Arizona on 24 December 1881.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationOscar Wilde in Context
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages10
ISBN (Electronic)9781139060103
ISBN (Print)9781107016132
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jan 2011

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Cambridge University Press 2013.

Copyright 2015 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

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