Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Oscar Wilde’

Effie Gray (2014) ****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 14th April, 2020

Effie GrayThe art critic John Ruskin was a complex character, intense, driven yet capable of inspiring great admiration and loyalty from young devotees, including Oscar Wilde while that brilliant Irishman was a student at Oxford. But in Richard Laxton’s film Effie Gray — available on BBC iPlayer for the next four weeks, with a screenplay by Emma Thompson — Ruskin is a callous, self-centred ingrate, almost smothered by an over-protective mother. As played by Greg Wise (Thompson’s real-life husband) he is  Heathcliff-like, handsome and broodingly aloof. Euphemia (Effie) Gray, in this biopic based largely on true happenings, was the young woman who married Ruskin at the age of 19, having been befriended by him when she was not yet in her teens. John Ruskin did indeed have a liking for young girls, in common with his contemporary Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), though that does not mean he was a paedophile in the overtly sexual sense. Indeed, there is a strong possibility that he was asexual; certainly, he was horrified by the sight of young Effie’s naked body when she stripped off for him on their wedding night, as faithfully depicted in the film. The marriage was never consummated, which some years later gave her the chance to have it annulled, enabling her then to marry the dashing young Pre-Raphaelite painter Everett Millais, with whom she went on to have eight children.

Effie Gray 1In the film, Effie (a rather timid and much side-lined creature in Dakota Fanning’s representation) is encouraged to appreciate her own worth by the wife of the President of the Royal Academy, played with great panache by Emma Thompson. It is largely Thompson’s feminist reading of the story that gives the air of tragedy to most of the film — much helped by the rain sodden Scottish landscape in its second half — but the real Euphemia was no shrinking violet. In fact, she was a notable flirt and seems to have had a wild time with attentive Austrian soldiers in Venice when Ruskin was in the city to write his celebrated volume about it, leaving her largely to her own devices. There is only a hint of her future happiness at the very end of the film. But it is a visually beautiful movie, running at a pace redolent of a pre-electric age (which some viewers might find too languid for their taste). There is a star-studded cast in supporting roles, but neither David Suchet nor Derek Jacobi really has enough meat to get their teeth into. However, even if the film has its weaknesses, it is well worth watching, and the story it tells intrigues enough for one to want to know more about the real Mr and Mrs John Ruskin.

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Open Eurasian Literature Festival

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 17th November, 2019

JF speaking at Open Eurasia Literature Festival 2019For much of this week I was in Brussels, attending the Open Eurasian Book Forum and Literature Festival, organised by the Eurasian Creative Guild. This annual event is a celebration of writers from Central Asia and Eastern Europe, with a special focus this year on Abai Qunanbaiuly (1845-1904) and Chinghiz Aitmatov (1928-2008), towering figures from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan respectgively. In the impressive surrounds of the Brussels Expo centre I delivered a paper on universal themes in Chinghiz Aitmatov and Oscar Wilde, which I had previously presented at two universities in Kazakhstan as well as in London. In some opening remarks at Expo, as well as on the following day at a lecture hall in central Brussels, I said how fitting is was that all this should be happening in the city that prides itself on being the Capital of Europe, but which should embrace far more than just the current 28 member states of the European Union. I also referred to the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which led to the collapse of Communism and the break-up of the Soviet Union into its constituent republics, many of which were represented at the festival.

Open Eurasian Literature Festival Numerous authors from the Eurasian region were able to showcase their work and there was also an awards ceremony for the winners of the associated cultural competition. Russian is still the lingua franca among the former Soviet republics and much of the event was in Russian, as well as presentations in English. Central Asian literature is still relatively little known in Western Europe, but dedicated enthusiasts are working hard to change that situation, not least the main driver of the whole enterprise, the Uzbekistan-born Marat Akhmedjanov of the Hertfordshire Press.

Link: https://www.hertfordshirepress.com

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LGBT History Month

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 2nd February, 2019

Alan TuringFebruary is LGBT History Month in the UK, providing an opportunity to showcase the contribution made to society by LGBT people, ranging from one of the fathers of modern computer technology and artificial intelligence (AI), Alan Turing, to the playwright and wit, Noel Coward. Given my own professional and personal interests I inevitably hold especially dear those who made a big contribution to politics and the Arts, several of whom I shall be celebrating during the course of the month. A great tribute is deserved for Peter Tatchell, who for decades has campaigned tirelessly for human rights and equality, and those who were instrumental in getting Equal Marriage put on the UK statute books by the 2010-2015 Coalition Government, not least Liberal Democrat Lynne Featherstone. History Month events are already occupying a significant place in my diary. Last night I was at a dinner for the Siegfried Sassoon Fellowship and today I’ll be attending a lunch put on by the Oscar Wilde Society.

Noel CowardOscar Wilde has posthumously played an important role in my own writing life, as I have produced three books about the Irish playwright and his circle. I am currently working my way through Matthew Sturgis’s monumental new biography, Oscar, which is full of previously unknown details, including a very detailed account of Wilde’s American lecture tours. It is often overlooked just how important Oscar Wilde was as a social reformer, the grey clouds of his trials and imprisonment obscuring his progressive agenda, expressed directly in a number of essays and indirectly through his plays. For me, he represents the clearest example of living out the life philosophy of discovering who you are and then proudly being that person. That was a very brave position to take in the late Victorian period.

9326E15F-E174-4CA8-A6F2-71AACBE68C7CDuring LGBT History Month we can mark new milestones in the campaign for equality, such as Angola’s recent decriminalisation of same-sex relationships, while also noting with concern backward steps, such as the election of the homophobic Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. LGBT people are still the subject of discrimination and abuse in several parts of the world, one of the most egregious examples being in Chechnya. But the heroes and heroines of the past and the present can perhaps serve as an inspiration and even a consolation to those who still have to attain the full human rights that should be the norm for all people, irrespective of their sexuality.

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Remembering Peter Boizot

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 17th December, 2018

3FE2B540-18B3-4045-A8FE-5FD8184CA09BThe entrepreneur, jazz lover and philanthropist Peter Boizot, who died earlier this month aged 89, was not one’s usual idea of a successful business. Affable, generous and at times curiously diffident, he nonetheless had the secret of many self-made millionaires: he had a brilliant idea and ran with it. That idea was to mormalise pizza as a British favourite dining out food, through what would become a huge network of restaurants under the name Pizza Express. The menus were largely familiar (and therefore teassuring) but the locations were often in unusual or beautiful converted premises. His two top restaurants were Pizza on the Park, near Hyde Park Corner, which hosted many jazz performances, and Kettner’s in Soho, the once grand Victorian dining establishment with several private rooms, where Oscar Wilde famously feasted with his young panthers. It was there that Peter launched, along with a Westminster Liberal, Harry Ball-Wilson, the monthly Kettner lunches with visiting political and historian speakers, usually of a Liberal bent. Peter wasn’t always able to attend them himself, but when he did, many bottles of wine would magically appear, to fuel lively and convivial conversation. The lunches continue today, under the auspices of the Kettner Society, but in the splendid surroundings of the National Liberal Club.

Soho was central to Peter’s life, though his London home was on Lowndes Square. It was in Soho that he heard jazz at Ronnie Scott’s and where he both ate his first pizza and opened his first pizza restaurant. However, his heart remained in his home city of Peterborough (which he fought twice, unsuccessfully, as a Liberal parliamentary candidate) and whose cultural and social life was the beneficiary of much of his charitable action. Though the last few years of his life were removed from his earlier social and business whirl, he will be much missed by legions of friends and faithful customers.

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Irish Studies in London

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 19th October, 2018

W B YeatsIt was a pleasure to be at the Irish Embassy last night to celebrate the launch of the M.A. in Irish Studies offered at the London campus of the Irish Institute of the University of Liverpool in Finsbury Square. As well as looking the work of writers from W.B. Yeats to Seamus Heaney (and my own favourite, Oscar Wilde, I hope), the course also examines what it calls “hidden histories” — ranging from the immram voyage narratives about heroic sea journeys to modern forms of writing about the past known as “history”. Students will explore modernity, identity and diaspora in terms of understanding the cultural history of emigration, exile and the transnational as they have been expressed through a range of plays, films and TV programming. Inevitably controversy and conflict in Northern Ireland will feature, but so too the histories, people and culture of Irish diaspora cities. As the Irish Ambassador, Adrian O’Neill pointed out in his welcoming remarks last night, London is the world’s fourth largest Irish city. The M.A. course can be completed in one year or else staggered over two. I only regret that my busy life precludes such a commitment, otherwise I would be very tempted to sign up myself!

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Happy Birthday, Oscar Wilde

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 16th October, 2017

Oscar Wilde 2Today is the 163rd birthday of Irish playwright Oscar Wilde and as usual on this anniversary occasion the writer and broadcaster Gyles Brandreth brought together an extraordinary band of people to celebrate, this time in the Grosvenor House Hotel in Mayfair, which was frequented by Oscar and his wife Constance at least as late as 1893. Gyles is London’s networker sans pareil; the late socialite, writer and editor Fleur Cowles must be spinning in her grave with envy. Half of the British theatrical royalty were there, including Maggie Smith, Derek Jacobi, Simon Callow and Ronnie Hardwood, as well as a whole cricket team of members of the House of Lords, the odd duchess, marchioness and — as Gyles put it cheekily in his witty homily — a bit of rough trade, of which Oscar would have approved. Oscar’s sole grandson, Merlin Holland, loyally put in an appearance. But this evening’s event was special for another reason, this being the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of sexual relations between consenting adult men — the “crime” that had sent Oscar to prison. How fitting, therefore, that one of the speeches of the night should have been from the head of the capital’s police, the Commissioner of the Metropolis, Cressida Dick, who was there with her wife. How things have changed.

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Celebrating Oscar Wilde

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 17th June, 2017

JF and Gyles BrandrethThough I can’t claim to be a founder member, I have been a keen supporter of the Oscar Wilde Society for many years, and am proud to be one of its Patrons. Not only has it filled a lacuna in the academic market with its scholarly publication, The Wildean, but it also puts on extremely jolly events, from the annual summer lunch at Oscar’s alma mater, Magdalen College, Oxford, to the annual birthday dinner each October at the National Liberal Club in London. Today the Society tried a new venue, Obicá, in South Kensington, for one of its occasional authors’ lunches, this time for our President, no less: Gyles Brandreth. Gyles has been producing a series of sleuthful stories embracing the historic personalities of Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle (who did indeed know each other) and in his latest sortie into London’s underworld, Gyles takes on that most lurid of 19th century serial killers, Jack the Ripper.

Gyles Brandreth Jack the RipperAs well as explaining the background to how he came to write Jack the Ripper: Case Closed (Little, Brown), Gyles shared affectionate recollections of his recently departed literary agent, Ed Victor, as well as making charming asides to the various Wildeans in the room. Gyles’s Wilde mysteries have been a huge success worldwide, not least in France, and although he seems to have abandoned his trademark crazy jumpers Gyles himself is still one of the most instantly recognisable and genuinely delightful television “personalities” around. Oscar would, I am sure, have approved, had he been with us now, and he might even have co-opted one of Brandreth’s witticisms as his own, as he did with his Chelsea neighbour, friend and deadly rival, James McNeill Whistler.

Link: http://oscarwildesociety.co.uk/

 

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Singing for One’s Supper

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 8th May, 2017

JF speaking at Newham HustingsThis afternoon I spoke to Kingston U3A about my Life as a Foreign Correspondent — undoubtedly the most popular of all the talks that I have been giving since I joined the lecture circuit a decade or so ago. Most writers and many broadcasters sing for their supper in that way, whether for women’s clubs, Rotary Clubs and other professional bodies and U3A — the University of the Third Age, which has hundreds of thousands of members in Britain (the Kingston branch has well over a thousand). So whereas many people, not least the young, get their information and entertainment online or through their mobile phones or other post-modern platforms, others still want to hear stories from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. And it is all about stories. Whether I’m giving a talk directly related to one of my books (such as on Oscar Wilde) or instead recounting my journalistic exploits round the world from the Vietnam War onward, or aspects of modern history and current affairs, such as the so-called Arab Spring, I paint a picture in words, exactly as I do when I am writing a script for Radio 4’s From Our Own Correspondent. Well-delivered, the spoken word can convey so much, without the need for visual illustration.

Sometimes people ask me, “Why do you do it?”, in other words, give talks, which I do mainly in London and the Home Counties, though for several years I lectured on cruise ships as well. “Surely it takes away valuable time from your writing?” Well, yes, up to a point that is true, though writing is a very solitary occupation and it’s good to have a speaking engagement lined up that means I actually do have to shave, get fully dressed and go out into the world and converse with real live people. Besides, these days writers of books, in particular, are urged by their publishers to go out and promote the product, not just at literary festivals, but in other fora, as well as keeping up a visible presence online and on social media. Finally, yes, the money does help. Unless one is fortunate enough to pen a blockbuster, writers’ income from their craft has fallen sharply in recent years. A recent survey by the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), on whose Board I sit, discovered through a survey that the average income of writers in the UK is £11,000 a year. That means many are having to survive on much less. So speaking fees (usually calculated on a per capita basis on the size of the expected audience, can make all the difference, even when the group (and therefore the fee) is modest. But I mustn’t grumble. I am one of those writers and broadcasters who actually enjoys giving talks, unlike some of my colleagues who loathe it. So my advice to fellow scribes is: don’t knock it. Be brave! Go with it!

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Oscance: Toasting Oscar and Constance Wilde

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 30th May, 2016

Oscar Wilde married Constance Lloyd on 29 May 1884 at St. James’s Church, Paddington, a short walk from the bride’s grandfather’s house in Lancaster Gate. For the past dozen years or so, that event has been commemorated at the church with an afternoon ceremony called Oscance, with readings, interviews and performances. But yesterday’s commemoration was special, as it centred on the unveiling by their only grandson, Merlin Holland, of a beautiful memorial to the couple, made by he young letter-cutter, Thomas Sergeant. As one of the Patrons of the Oscar Wilde Society, I was then asked asked to propose a toast (with prosecco), which I did as follows:

Wilde plaqueEvery time I come to St. James’s, I can feel the presence of Oscar Wilde. Spooky, as Dame Edna Everage would say, though spooky in a most pleasant way. He’s up there somewhere, among the rafters, looking down on us. But he’s not alone, because half concealed behind one of the pillars — not hiding, but watching the proceedings with a wry smile on her face — is Constance. As was mentioned in the reading from Franny Moyle’s biography, Constance was a strong character in her own right — for example, being an active member of the Chelsea Women’s Liberal Association — though the drama of Oscar’s later life left her overshadowed. I sometimes wonder how things would have been if the couple had lived a hundred years later, in our own, more liberal age. But maybe there would not have been this more liberal age had it not been for the lesson of the downfall of Oscar Wilde. It is most fitting now that all the planning and commissioning and the tooling of the memorial are complete that Oscar and Constance in the form of the beautiful plaque will now greet everyone who comes into this church and will bid us farewell this afternoon. I therefore ask you to raise your glasses: to Oscar and Constance!

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Charles Dickens at the NLC

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 15th February, 2016

Jeremy ClarkeDickens groupiesCharles Dickens is often thought of as the quintessential Victorian novelist, though his career began before the young Victoria ascended the throne and he died in 1870. There was thus no way that he could ever have visited that most stylish of late Victorian edifices, Alfred Waterhouse’s National Liberal Club (NLC), which was founded in 1882 (though its magnificent premises on the north bank of the River Thames were not completed until five years later)  and to a degree remains a shrine to William Gladstone. However, the Kettner Lunch club — founded by Peter Boizot 42 years ago, originally at Kettner’s in Soho but latterly at the NLC –.has often doffed its cap in the direction of Dickens, but today it offered a special treat in terms of an illustrated lecture on My Boyhood’s Home: Dickens and North Kent by Dr Jeremy Clarke of the Dickens Museum in Rochester. It must be 20 years since I went down to Rochester specifically to see the Dickens collection at the Guildhall Museum and was pleased to know it is going great guns. Even better news was the revelation that Gad’s Hill, Dickens’s rather grand home at Higham, which has for some time been used as a school, may revert wholly to being a place for Dickens fans to make a pilgrimage. Though my own great literary love, Oscar Wilde, had a poor view of Dickens — thinking him old fashioned and at times mawkish — in fact the two of them were the real godfathers of modernism, at least insofar as we now see literature as much about the writer as about the text. Moreover, both were phenomenal self-promoters who also engaged directly with their public. No wonder Oscar was a little jealous of Charles, though I have to day that one’s admiration is somewhat dimmed by the fact that Dickens treated his wife even more shamefully than Wilde did his.

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