‘Making Oscar Wilde’: New Michele Mendelssohn Book Discusses The Mad Frenzy Of Oscar’s Many Female Fans

Oscar Wilde's lecture tour of America saw swooning females on a scale that had never been seen before, and women in England were not immune to his charm either.

New 'Making Oscar Wilde' book by Michele Mendelssohn discusses Wilde's impact on women.
Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Oscar Wilde's lecture tour of America saw swooning females on a scale that had never been seen before, and women in England were not immune to his charm either.

In 1882, Oscar Wilde embarked on a tour of America with 140 lectures, and the level of hysteria the English playwright and artist created among women was something that wouldn’t be seen again until The Beatles hit American shores. In her new book Making Oscar Wilde, Michele Mendelssohn dives into the many controversies that surrounded this brilliant man throughout his life, and one of them was the extreme level of adoration that females felt whenever they were in his presence.

It would appear that even investigative journalists who were used to dealing with public figures were not immune to Oscar Wilde’s charm, as was the case when San Francisco Examiner journalist Mary Watson visited the man in his hotel when he was touring the city, as the Daily Mail report.

“I saw the lion in his lair, saw him stirred up, poetically speaking, and an interesting process it was.”

While it had been her goal to describe to her readers what the playwright’s “at-home manner” might be, Watson described the moment when Oscar Wilde tossed his cloak high into the air for show with his valet quickly catching it, in an act that seemed as though it had been rehearsed and performed many times before for other appreciative audiences.

Afterward, Wilde reclined gracefully on his sofa, stretched out and dreamy, leaving Mary Watson to quietly ponder whether Oscar would end up “transgressing any social rules” during their interview.

During the interview, Watson recalled that Oscar Wilde’s valet popped into the room to exclaim that Wilde’s autograph would be needed immediately for someone, to which Wilde simply waved his hand, replying that he was simply “too much engaged just now.”

The charm that Oscar Wilde exuded around women was something that hadn’t been invented merely for the sake of celebrity but was something that had been with him his whole life. In Making Oscar Wilde, Michele Mendelssohn describes Oscar as a young Oxford University student at Magdalen College, at a time when he had successfully managed to get a female to sit squarely upon his lap.

After the two began kissing in the corridor, the girl’s mother found the two and chastised Wilde, telling him, “Oscar, the thing was neither right, nor manly, nor gentlemanlike in you.”

Truthfully, Wilde had always enjoyed the affections of women, from his teenage love for Florence Balcombe, who he once described as “just seventeen with the most perfectly beautiful face I ever saw and not a sixpence of money,” to Violet Hunt, who he once promised, “We will rule the world, you and I – you with your looks and I with my wits.”

The mad desire that women felt for Oscar Wilde continued unabated and reached its zenith during Wilde’s 1882 visit to America, where he lectured on subjects like The English Renaissance, The Decorative Arts, and The House Beautiful.

Lecture halls were sold out everywhere and female fans were in such abundance that the police were often forced to intervene when crowds went a little too crazy after seeing him outside. Women even found out what hotels Oscar would be staying at well in advance, and huddled around them outside, just waiting to catch a glimpse of their hero, who they called a “perfect raving angel.”

  Hulton Archive / Getty Images

This adoration of female fans eventually grew to be too much for some men, who called Oscar Wilde “the perverter of our wives by means of your idiotic art twaddle.” However, Wilde wasn’t bothered in the least by this.

“America is the only country in the world where Don Juan is not appreciated. I am obliging beautiful young ladies. I make it a point to grant my autograph to no others.”

Michele Mendelssohn’s new book Making Oscar Wilde will be published by Oxford University Press and is set to hit shelves on May 24.