Newspaper clipping from the 1894 edition of Salomé by Oscar Wilde
This newspaper clipping was inserted into a copy of the 1894 edition of Oscar Wilde’s play Salomé; it comes from the Thursday 30 June 1892 edition of the London Standard.
What does it tell us about the book it was found in?
The article begins by telling us about ‘the prohibition’ of Salomé by the Lord Chamberlain. From 1737 to 1968, every play to be newly performed in London, and later the rest of the country, had to receive permission from the Lord Chamberlain’s office. The British Library holds the fascinating archive of the plays retained as part of this process, and though the text of Salomé is an unexplained absence from this collection, we do know that the play was refused permission. We also know that the explanation seems to have been that it was forbidden to represent a biblical figure such as St John the Baptist on stage.
What does it tell us about Wilde’s response?
The article quotes mainly from an interview with a French newspaper, Le Gaulois, in which Wilde suggests he might have himself naturalised as a French citizen, and stay in Paris:
…since it is impossible to have a work of art performed in England I shall transfer myself to another fatherland, of which I have long ago been enamoured. There is but one Paris […] It is the abode of artists […] I adore Paris. I also adore your beautiful language. To me there are only two languages in the world, French and Greek. Here (in London) people are essentially anti-artistic and narrow-minded.
He also goes on to point out that the English ruling against putting onstage ‘any person or persons connected with the Bible’ also excludes a great deal of fine French drama, and that he himself is actually an Irishman. According to the bookplate of this edition of Salomé – appropriately, an Aubrey Beardsley design - the owner of this book may have been Dr John Lumsden (1869 – 1944) a physician, and Irishman.
What does it tell us about English attitudes to Wilde?
Though writing, as the by-line explains, from Paris, on Wednesday night, the anonymous ‘Correspondent’ is clearly aware of writing for a readership of exactly the type of English person Wilde is quoted as disdaining. Perhaps appealing to the retired colonels in the readership, the article closes by treating Wilde with a kind of amused mockery, pointing out the compulsory military service in his adopted country:
…on becoming a French citizen, he will have to serve in the ranks of the French Army, and his aestheticism will have to come into contact with the unpleasant realities of barrack life.
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