The wit of the Wilde

With the sun shining gloriously, let us take you back to a bitterly cold Sunday evening in February…

While the rest of the country is wrapped up warm with hot chocolate and Downton Abbey, Living Literature members are braving the stormy British weather to venture out into London’s West End to fill their boots with literary indulgence.

And indulgence seems a fitting word for the subject of tonight’s event. A man for whom the terms decadence and flamboyance seem as if they were invented…of course the wonderfully witty Oscar Wilde.

Gerard Logan as Oscar Wilde

We find ourselves in The Nelson Suites of The beautiful Charing Cross Hotel, sipping wine and scoffing canapés ready to be treated to the premiere performance of one-man play, Wilde without the Boy, performed by the highly talented Gerard Logan.

Synonymous with Dickens, Austen and Forster; Wilde is a quintessential figure of English literary history. So much so that his witty quips and nuances are still recited in popular culture today, at times perhaps even by those who may be unaware that they were sown from ‘Wilde’ roots.

However, like most known figures, there is often a side that is often overshadowed by the rose tinted glasses of literary history. Most people are aware that Wilde was imprisoned for two years for ‘acts of gross indecency’ (the crime of homosexuality), however this is often overlooked in favour of the (rightful) celebration of Wilde’s legacy of wonderful words, wit and paradigms, which spring to mind when remembering the writer.

Adapted by award winning playwright and producer Gareth Armstrong, Wilde Without the Boy is an adaptation of ‘De Profundis’, a love letter written to Wilde’s gay lover, Bosie (Lord Alfred Douglas) whilst he was imprisoned in Reading gaol. Each prisoner was allowed to write one page a day and Wilde used the treasured space to cram every inch with his love, thoughts and feelings for Bosie. Today, it is often described as one of the most beautiful love poems ever written.

It is a simple spectacle. Using just a few props, Logan’s portrayal of Wilde is beautifully played. Dressed lavishly, as he would have done outside of prison, we view him in his grandeur; a Wilde who would not have deigned to let us see him in his prison clothes and anything less than a gentleman.

Photo courtesy of QuentinUK (http://www.panoramio.com/photo/32680955

The Oscar Wilde Memorial Walk outside Reading Gaol

As it is adapted from his own words, it is honest, funny and although this is Wilde at his most vulnerable, his spirit is not broken, and he retains his humour and dignity through the wit and ‘Wilde-isms’ for Bosie, who effectively abandoned Wilde during his imprisonment.

This is a man who has been betrayed by someone to whom he gave everything…his love, his money, his soul. However, he had also been betrayed by a society who could not accept him for who he truly was. He was defined by a factor that should not matter to anyone but himself.

Over a meal after the play we reflected over the brilliant performance which revealed the more intimate side of Wilde. We were very lucky to see this premier performance which can surely only go on to do great things. As with so many historical figures, it’s fascinating to see their more personal side and something we really enjoy exploring at our events.

Although a desperately sad story, it feels beautiful and humbling to be allowed in to experience such a personal account of one man’s love, anger and sadness towards a lover who not only rejected him, but a system that could not accept him for the true man he really was.

Reading Gaol Photo courtesy of QuentinUK (http://www.panoramio.com/photo/32680955)

A year in the life of The Living Literature Society

It’s been a while since we laid pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard (these phrases never seem quite as romantic in modern day terminology!)

But fear not! We have been working really hard to bring our members unique, interesting events that will leave them and you wanting more! As we haven’t been able to blog as much as we’d hoped this year, (and there have been some really special events – even if we say so ourselves!) we thought they still deserve a mention, so here’s a short round up of what went on in The Living Literature Society over the past year.

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In February, we re-visited a popular subject with our members, The King’s Speech. However this time, we looked at a figure who played an integral part in the story but has developed a rather infamous reputation throughout history; Wallis Simpson, or ‘that woman’ as she was infamously named by The Queen Mother. We were lucky enough to have historian Anne Sebba, talk to our members about her biography, ‘That Woman’ which shined a fascinating light on a figure who had always carried a reputation for influencing Edward to abdicate from his reign. Whilst this being partly true, she was also a misunderstood character, who had lived through abusive relationships and much sadness, only to find herself entangled with a situation which was practically impossible from which to escape. A reality much different to the scandalous figure that many ‘remember’ her to be.

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Oscar Wilde, was another popular figure in our programme this year. We were lucky enough to be treated to a brilliant one man show by Lesley Clack in April and in June, biographer Franny Moyle offered us a unique look into Wilde’s wife, Constance, who is another figure who has been written into history with a tainted reputation. Forced to flee to Europe with her two sons in exile, after the scandal between Lord Alfred Douglas and Wilde, she sadly died at the age of thirty nine. Another brilliant evening of history, being completely re-examined through the modern eye of history.

May saw The Living Literature members head out of the big smoke to Great Missenden in Hertfordshire, where we learned all about Roald Dahl and the influence behind his cherished books.

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Actress Rohan McCullough portrays Clementine Chuchill in My Darling Clemmie

July brought us back to a popular venue, Fitzroy House in Fitzrovia where we enjoyed a brilliant portrayal of the well-loved poet, John Clare and his friend Emma Emerson by actors Ben Bazell and Patti Holloway. Two amazing pieces, really bringing the figures and history back to life.

August brought us to Wallington in Hertfordshire and to a very special setting where one of the most influential books of the twentieth century was written; George Orwell’s, Animal Farm. We enjoyed a fabulous day, wandering around the village on a tour of the famous associations with the novel and the author such as Manor Farm, Orwell’s cottage and the church where he and his wife got married. We were also treated to an excellent talk by biographer Gorden Bowker who gave a very detailed look into Orwell’s life. Oh, and to top it all off the British sun decided to give us a full day of brilliant sunshine – spot on!

However, it’s not just literature that we’ve been setting our sights on this past year – in October we held a musical evening on the composer Robert Schumann. It was a fantastic evening and hopefully there’ll be more like that to come in the future.

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Other highlights have included John Gielgud, Clemmie Churchill (Winston Churchill’s wife), Virginia Woolf….the list could go on. So all in all, it’s been a fantastic year for The Living Literature Society, and we hope that our members have enjoyed and got as much out of it as we have. 2013’s diary is shaping up to be just as exciting so please do keep an eye on the events diary – we hope to see you at one of our events soon!

LLS

PS. Sorry about the essay, we won’t leave it so long next time….

Getting to know Tennyson

On a cold Sunday evening in late February, around 25 Living Literature members gathered at the comfortable 4 star Belgraves Hotel, just off Belgrave Square. A short distance away from 9 Upper Belgrave Street, one of the famous blue plaques tells the passer-by that Tennyson lived there towards the end of his life.

We had come to listen to well-known author, John Batchelor, talk about his latest biography on the life and work of the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson.

Prior to the presentation, we were privileged enough to have a private corner of the Snug reserved for The Living Literature Society. Members mingled with John and his family, (who came down from Newcastle especially for the event), over drinks and canapés.

For the talk, the hotel had laid on a smart separate room with comfortable seating and we were treated to some very special pictures of Tennyson and his friends and his family, interspersed with readings of some of Tennyson’s most famous verse, such as ‘The Lady of Shalott’ and ‘In Memoriam’.

After the talk, guests were able to purchase a personally signed copy of John Batchelor’s book, Tennyson: To strive, to seek, to find. Following which, everyone vacated to the dining room for an excellent dinner, eager to discuss the many questions and points the evening had unearthed. A fascinating look into one of Britain’s most beloved Poet Laureates.

Discovering the real King’s Speech

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‘Let me just ask, who here has seen the film The King’s Speech?’

We look around and see a show of hands bar two – shame on them.

‘And who has read the book The King’s Speech?’

We sheepishly look into our laps, not one hand is raised – shame on us.

‘Ah well luckily, we have a table over there full of them, ready for you to purchase…’ jokes Peter Conradi, co-author of the book The King’s Speech, which is the subject of our talk tonight.

We’re seated in the beautiful River Suite in the Montague on the Gardens Hotel, Bloomsbury, wine in hand, ready to hear the true story behind the film that caught the public’s imagination this year, winning an abundance of awards. There was of course much more to the story about the extraordinary friendship of King George VI and Lionel Logue, the speech therapist who helped him to overcome the stammer which had been a source of great turmoil throughout his life.

Joining Peter is Mark Logue, the grandson of Lionel, whose search to find the truth of his grandfather’s incredible story has led him to make public one of the most fascinating stories in recent history.

They begin by telling us the background behind the writer of the screenplay, David Seidler’s ambition to write a fictionalised account of a story which had captured his imagination ever since he was a young boy.  Seidler himself had battled with a stammer, and was inspired by listening to King George’s speeches on the wireless during the Second World War.

He carried this affection with him for many years, until he decided write a play about the subject. Naturally he thought it best to contact the Royal family about his project, as he did not want to cause any offence or upset. He was right to do so, as the Queen Mother came back with the response: ‘Please not in my lifetime. The memories of these events are still too painful’.

Wanting to respect the Queen Mother’s wishes, the play was not written for many years. Valentine Logue, Lionel’s son whom Seidler had originally contacted had sadly passed away in this time. As Seidler had now written a film script for the project, the producers came to get in touch with Mark who still had his grandfather’s diary and collections of letters of correspondence between Logue and the King. It was through this that he began to research into his grandfather’s extraordinary life, (Mark became one of the advisors on the film) and how Lionel came to move from Australia to England and in just two years became the King’s speech therapist.

The book is not only an account of the two men’s professional life together, it is also a tale of a dear friendship which lasted over twenty years, which is not made as apparent in the film. The book is littered with snippets of letters of correspondence between the two, of the King thanking Logue for his help with his speech and friendship, and a fascinating insight of royal life from an outsider’s point of view. For example Mark’s tells us of a diary entry of Logue’s where, during the war years, he had Christmas dinner with the Royal family.

Whilst what we see in the film is largely from the imagination of Seidler (sadly the King did not shout out expletives, although Colin Firth does it so brilliantly) there were strangely some scenes which he spookily got right. The scene for example where Lionel and his children recite Shakespeare was something that Mark remembers doing with his own Father. Seidler had no way of knowing this, but amazingly it was a chance imagining that was spot on.

It is apparent that not only do Mark and Peter work well as a creative team, they also bounce off each other and they have a fascinating repertoire when talking about this subject, which they are both clearly passionate about. After the talk they kindly signed books for our members, and then we spent the course of our delicious dinner mulling over the incredible story we had just heard.

King George VI was thrust into a role he did not want to take, but as Mark and Peter’s book shows he had a good friend to guide him and stand with him whilst he addressed the nation and supported them through a dark period in history. It is such a pleasure that this old friendship has been brought to light again so we can learn more about this extraordinary story.

The Scandalous World of R. B. Sheridan

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Greeted with pleasant sunshine and situated within the open walls of the stable courtyard, we begin the afternoon as we mean to go on: delving into cakes and biscuits galore, with enough English tea to have satisfied Sheridan and his … Continue reading

Analyse This

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Situated on a quiet north London street, this grand house looks like many of the others, although on closer inspection you will spot two blue plaques embedded in the redbrick front, offering two vital clues about the residents who resided … Continue reading

‘The pen is mightier than the sword…’

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It’s 11am on a Sunday morning in August, and we gather in the Grand Reception Hall of Knebworth House in Hertfordshire for our exclusive tour by the current owner and occupant, the Hon Henry Lytton Cobbold, who will be taking … Continue reading

“I’ve taken my fun where I’ve found it – Kipling’s life and verse.’

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What link could there possible be between the author, poet, short-story-teller and friend of royalty, Rudyard Kipling, and the splendid Royal Horse Guards Hotel in Whitehall? Well more than you think. It is a military hotel and Kipling was a … Continue reading

Austen’s Women – A dream fulfilled, June 12th 2011

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Here, at The Living Literature Society, we make every effort to ensure that each of our events has a uniqueness and that little something special that you might not necessarily find anywhere else.  Obviously, we don’t like to blow our … Continue reading

Forster Country and Howard’s End Revisited

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We gathered in the gardens in front of Rook’s Nest House, the house on which author EM Forster based his novel Howard’s End, and where he spent his beloved childhood years from four to fourteen. We were privileged to be … Continue reading