Friday, March 22, 2019

Now & Then by William Corlett

Now & Then by William Corlett ; London : Abacus, 1996, ©1995
London : Abacus, 1996, ©1995
Revealed in alternating chapters taking place in 1990s London and Kent and in 1960s public school, Corlett tells the story of Christopher Metcalfe. After his father dies, he returns to the family home in Kent and while there, he finds the box of his school things that his father had saved. The picture of Stephen Walker, two years his senior, with whom he shared an intense relationship starts him on a journey to discover what really happened and where Stephen is now.

The chapters taking place at school in the 1960s hearken back to classic boarding school novels of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There is a focus on sport, and an emphasis on the classic structures of prefects using (or abusing) their power over younger boys. And like those classic stories there is an unsanctioned, too-close relationship between a prefect and one of the younger boys. Unlike those classic romances, they share far more than a chaste kiss. In fact, one is reminded of the scene in Peyrefitte's Les amitiés particulières when the relationship is bonded over the sharing of blood — only in the case of Stephen and Christopher, it's a different bodily fluid.

Christopher never got over losing Stephen all those years ago, and in many ways the pain of that event seems to have prevented him from moving on. Neither his family nor his closest friend knows anything about his romantic life or even whether or not he is gay. He has walled that part of himself off. His search for Stephen forces uncomfortable conversations with his family and brings him in contact with others from school who share their knowledge of events all those years ago that Christopher never knew. How much do his memories reflect what really happened? This is Christopher coming to terms with the love of his life — a love, that at the time was impossible, not to mention illegal.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Portrait of Mefody Lukjanov by Konstantin Somov

Portrait of Mefody Lukjanov (1918)  Konstantin Somov (Russian, 1869-1939)  Oil on canvas  Russian Museum, St. Petersburg    Mefody Lukjanov was the artists lover from 1910-1932.

Portrait of Mefody Lukjanov (1918)
Konstantin Somov (Russian, 1869-1939)
Oil on canvas
Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

Mefody Lukjanov was the artists lover from 1910-1932.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Stringed Lute : An Evocation in Dialogue of Oscar Wilde by John Furnell

The Stringed Lute : An Evocation in Dialogue of Oscar Wilde by John Furnell ; London : Rider and Company, 1955
London : Rider and Company, 1955
Beginning in 1891 when Oscar Wilde first meets Lord Alfred 'Bosie' Douglas, the author recounts their relationship in the form of a play. Even before their relationship began, there were those within society who took issue with Oscar's writing, specifically The Picture of Dorian Gray. The relationship was a particular problem for Bosie's father, the Marquess of Queensbury whom Wilde sued for libel for calling him a homosexual.

The Stringed Lute is a play within a play as it begins and ends with the author in his apartment in the former home of Oscar Wilde. Furnell makes use of Wilde's own writings to create an authenticity to the dialogue. The first part focusing on the relationship with Lord Alfred draws most heavily from The Picture of Dorian Gray. The final part, taking place after his release from prison, draws most heavily from De Profundis.

The action of the play truly humanizes Wilde and presents him as a martyr of sorts; a Christ-like figure willing to be sacrificed for the cause. Furnell only alludes to the trials and the time in prison is skipped in its entirety. The effects of the imprisonment, however are seen in the subsequent years in France and briefly in Naples with Lord Alfred. Wilde died in poverty in Paris in 1900 surrounded by friends who had supported him through everything.

The Stringed Lute as well as The Trials of Oscar Wilde by H. Montgomery Hyde formed the basis of the 1960 movie.  While Hyde's text fills in the details of the trials, unfortunately much of what makes The Stringed Lute so appealing doesn't appear in the film.

Bibliographies & Ratings: Cory (IV); Garde (P, 138 **); Mattachine Review (IV); Young (1345 *)

Monday, February 11, 2019

Young Man With a Sword by Max Svabinsky

Young Man With a Sword (1896)
Max Švabinský (Czech, 1873-1962)
Oil on canvas laid on board
73 x 58 cm

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Oscar Wilde : a Play by Leslie & Sewell Stokes

Oscar Wilde : a Play by Leslie & Sewell Stokes New York : Random House, 1938
New York : Random House, 1938
First published in 1937 in Britain and having been first performed in 1936 at London's Gate Theatre Studio, Oscar Wilde : A Play by Leslie and Sewell Stokes is tightly focused on Wilde's trials; first his libel suit against the Marquess of  Queensberry followed by his trials for gross indecency. His experience in prison is not discussed except in passing after his release. The focus is so tight, in fact, that several characters and events are simply not included. Completely absent are Lady Wilde (Wilde's mother) and Constance (Wilde's wife). Wilde's bankruptcy while imprisoned is also not discussed, although there is an acknowledgement late in the play of Oscar's need for monetary assistance from friends. Interestingly, Wilde's friend, the controversial author and journalist, Frank Harris appears as a character.

While Lester Cohen's play on the same topic from 1928 uses Wildean epigrams to create a true comedy in its early acts, the Stokes' present the story as straightforward drama. A few epigrams are used early on but they are used sparingly and there is even a comment by one of the characters that don't feel they are appropriate to the seriousness of the situation.

In this telling of the story, blessed by Lord Alfred 'Bosie' Douglas who wrote the forward, we see a very different Lord Alfred. Gone is the spoiled young man using Oscar as a means to attack his father, the Marquess, for all of the wrongs he felt were done him. Here, Oscar and Lord Alfred present a united front where they come to agreement on how to proceed at each stage. Based on the attention given, there is a particular defensiveness regarding Lord Alfred's absence during Wilde's imprisonment and his subsequent release. This is explained, in part, by Douglas' family's financial control over him — no contact with Wilde, or he would lose his allowance. For Wilde's part, he explains Lord Alfred's absence when he is released from prison as due to his friends withholding financial support if he and Douglas reunited.

Left: Oscar Wilde : Tre Atti by Niccolò De' Colli  Firenze : Gruppo di cultura fiorentino degl'ISVICI, 1933  Right: Le procès d'Oscar Wilde : Pièce Inédite, en Trois Actes  Précédés d'un Prélude by Maurice Rostand  Paris : [publisher not identified], 1935
Left: Oscar Wilde : Tre Atti by Niccolò De' Colli
Firenze : Gruppo di cultura fiorentino degl'ISVICI, 1933
Right: Le procès d'Oscar Wilde : Pièce Inédite, en Trois Actes
Précédés d'un Prélude by Maurice Rostand
Paris : [publisher not identified], 1935
Just as Cohen's 1928 play was preceded by two non-English plays on the subject in the 1920s, the Stokes' play was also preceded by two European works in the 1930s. The first, an Italian work titled Oscar Wilde : Tre Atti by Niccolò De' Colli was published in 1933. The second, a French work titled Le procès d'Oscar Wilde : Pièce Inédite, en Trois Actes Précédés d'un Prélude by Maurice Rostand was published in 1935. An English language production of this French work was originally to be produced in London by Mr. Norman Marshall but a conversation with Lord Alfred Douglas who was outraged at its inaccuracies (largely that Douglas never saw Wilde again after he was imprisoned) led to the idea being scrapped in favor of producing an original work, the result being the Stokes' play.

It's not surprising that so many plays were written and produced during the second and third decades of the 20th century. European countries continued to be more socially permissive and were destinations for British gay men who felt unsafe after the Wilde ordeal. By the end of the 1930s with the rise of fascism in Europe, that would all begin to change.

Bibliographies & Ratings: Cory (IV); Garde (P, 62 **); Mattachine Review (IV); Young (3662)

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Oscar Wilde: a Play by Lester Cohen

Oscar Wilde: a Play by Lester Cohen ; New York : Boni & Liveright, 1928
New York : Boni & Liveright, 1928
In 1928, Cohen penned the first play on the life of Oscar Wilde in English. He refers to it as having been 'written for presentation — rather than for reading', however it was inadvisable to produce it in climate of New York at the time. In the play's forward, he also makes it very clear that he intends to leave history to the historians. A significant amount of artistic license has been taken with the facts of history.

The story is focused on four major events: Marquess of  Queensberry's confrontation of Wilde regarding his relationship with Queensberry's son, Lord Alfred 'Bosie' Douglas, a truncated telling of the trials — primarily focused on Wilde's libel suit against Queensberry and then a single trial for gross indecency, a short scene in prison, and finally Oscar in Paris following his two years at Reading Gaol.

Since the play doesn't intend to strictly follow actual events, major characters in the real-life drama have been replaced and/or renamed. Completely absent are Lady Wilde (Wilde's mother) and Constance (Wilde's wife). The character of Lady Diana, a jilted lover of sorts, serves the dual role of would-be savior and as the representation of society's opinion of Wilde and his behavior. The most comical addition to the cast of characters is Zadi, a servant girl who is brought in to replace Melville, a page, after rumors of Wilde's sexual behaviors are known. She is dressed in a gauzy harem costume which leaves nothing to the imagination and her presence is intended to throw the public off the track. The running joke is that the men who visit Oscar pay her little attention. Lord Alfred is written as a petulant and self absorbed young man determined to hurt his father regardless of how that may affect others. Oscar, on the other hand, is depicted as completely in Lord Alfred's control and unable to defy his wishes.

Cohen uses Wilde's style to great effect, creating conversations among the characters that are both witty and biting. For instance, when Lady Diana says 'Oh - I suppose I'm an idiot.', Wilde replies, 'You just go on making one discovery after another, don't you Diane?' What starts out as a comedy quickly turns dark during the trial scene. The 'sin' of excess must of course be punished. Repentance during incarceration soon follows.

Left: Oscar Wilde by David Peña
Buenos Aires : Sociedad Editorial Argentina, 1922
Right: Oskar Wilde : Sein Drama by Carl Sternheim
Potsdam : G. Kiepenheuer, 1925
Although Wilde did convert to Catholicism while in prison, Cohen might take that transformation a bit too far.  In particular, he suggests that Lord Alfred breaks with Oscar after he so spectacularly loses the libel suit against Queensberry. As well, after serving his prison term, Oscar thinks of their relationship as an anomaly when he 'lost [his] way in life - and stumbled into the slime'. We know from history that he did see Lord Alfred again after prison and he certainly had other liaisons before, after and during his relationship with him.

Oscar Wilde's ordeal became the subject of many plays starting in the early 1920s. Prior to Cohen's 1928 work, two non-English plays about Oscar Wilde were published: David Peña's Spanish play, Oscar Wilde, in 1922 and Carl Sternheim's German play, Oskar Wilde: Sein Drama in 1925. The French, with their more liberal attitudes regarding sexuality, helped to keep Oscar Wilde's story and his writings alive even as the British had consigned him to oblivion. As M. de Vedia y Mitra notes in the forward to Peña's work, the educated classes of Argentina had adopted the French language and their connection to Wilde's work was largely through French translations. During the period of the Weimar Republic, Germany also maintained more liberal views on sexuality and staged productions of Wilde's work during that time. Sternheim's play elevated Wilde beyond simply the author of these plays, to a subject of theatrical production itself.

Bibliographies & Ratings: Cory (IV); Garde (OTP, C *); Mattachine Review (IV); Young (716)