Last night, a public lecture and an audience Q&A session was held in the Trinity Long Room Hub hosted by Vice-Provost Chris Morash and organized by the Trinity College Library, speaking at the event was Michéle Mendelssohn.
Mendelssohn, an Associate Professor of English Literature at Oxford University, is the author of Making Oscar Wilde, a new biography on one of Trinity College Dublin’s most famous alumni. The book is based on social history and filled with new evidence of the behind the scenes story of the self-creation of Wilde. It follows his travels across both Victorian England and post-Civil War United States, showcasing his journey of self-discovery along the way.
Throughout her lecture, Mendelssohn commented on how much of the famous wit’s cool demeanour and flashy fashion choices were created and intensified by Wilde. Mentioning his days at Trinity, she spoke of his high marks, but apparently unremarkable social life. “He [Wilde] was not born a dramatic genius, and it took him a lot of work to make it look so easy,” said Mendelssohn.
After a short introduction, including information about Wilde’s parents, as well as his time studying Classics at both Trinity College Dublin and Oxford University, the lecture’s focus was on Wilde’s year-long tour of the United States in 1882. She discussed the issues he faced while on tour, namely the boredom he invoked in his audiences and the mockery he experienced from travel shows and minstrel groups. Mendelssohn said that her research led her to think that Wilde truly developed and learned the “ABCs of show-business” through the long series of interviews with journalists that accompanied his tour of the United States.
The study of history seemed to be like a jack-in-the-box to Mendelssohn, as one can never be sure when a source will lead to a new conclusion, and some sources can be quite surprising. She appreciates that history must be studied within its own context in order to be understood, and that archives are what allow historians to do so. Trinity College Library also announced that their vast archive of documents, mementoes, plays and books relating to Oscar Wilde have now been fully and freely made available online, for both scholars and the public to use and enjoy.
Oscar Wilde is a famous character and author worldwide, sitting beside William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, as well as James Joyce, and W.B. Yeats. He has also recently become an icon for the LGBT+ community, beloved for who he became after his travels and experiences in England and beyond, and his defence of his love during his trial. Mendelssohn says of Oscar’s legacy, “his afterlife has given him a legitimacy that his life never gave him.”