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Oscar Wilde's Voice
June 2, 2010 8:14 PM   Subscribe

"What you are now going to hear is a recording of the actual voice of Oscar Wilde ..."

Edison staff may have recorded Oscar Wilde reciting a portion of the Ballad of Reading Gaol at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900. Or was it forged in the 1960s for a radio programme hosted by Casper Citron?
posted by Fiasco da Gama (25 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Hmm, not sure what to believe. It seems unlikely, and is probably a fake.
posted by Fizz at 8:33 PM on June 2, 2010


I don't know. It seems a very personal, sensitive piece for him to have chosen to recite off the cuff. That alone puts me off the idea.

Also, the voice sounds like Graham Chapman's stereotypical queen voice from a Monty Python sketch -- which is to say, the diction of an actor in the 1960s.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:37 PM on June 2, 2010


It is so weird that you posted this. I was looking at parts of Ulysses today, and when I came upon the part in the third chapter in which Stephen Dedalus ponders "Wilde's love that dare not speak its name," I decided to research the origin of that phrase. One website contained a blockquote of Wilde during one of his trials explicating the phrase. He seems to have been so articulate even when he was just rattling off the top of his head, so I wondered whether his speech was actually fluid or if it was fraught with filler words that were not transcribed. I wished that I could hear him speak. If it is truly him reading on this decrepit recording, then his voice did not sound like I expected at all! It makes me wonder how incorrectly I have imagined his body language...

Thanks for the post!
posted by Houyhnhnm at 8:38 PM on June 2, 2010


Here's another controversial one: Whitman. Sounds fake to me. "Ample" sounds too contemporary in its enunciation.

I have a 3-CD set in my classroom (locked up for the summer) with another Whitman recording which sounds to my ear entirely authentic: a little stagey, which one would expect under the Edisonian 1895ish era...sorry I can't recall the name of the recording.
posted by kozad at 8:42 PM on June 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


I am reminded of the Mitchell and Webb party planners sketch, in which they debate whether or not to invite Oscar Wilde. "He's such a poseur! Everyone knows he's just trying to be like Stephen Fry."

Great post.
posted by That's Numberwang! at 8:54 PM on June 2, 2010


Intriguing possibility, but it seems unlikely to me too. The Utterly Wilde site mentions the Hyde and Ellmann biographies, but the Ellmann biography does not mention the supposed recording at all.

The Feuilleton site says that several Wilde biographies mention the supposed recording but I've never seen any other mention of it other than the Hyde biography.

The Feuilleton site also says that Wilde mentioned the Exposition several times in letters. If so, why would he have failed once to mention the novelty of making a recording of his own voice, the sound of which he was indisputably in love with?

It was said that Reggie Turner, one of Wilde's best friends, could do a devastating impression of Wilde, and when he did so, "his voice descended to the depths of an imaginary corpulence, his gestures became sculptured and hieratic and his fingers sprouted scarab rings." That doesn't gibe with the diffident, puling, hesitant voice in the recording.
posted by blucevalo at 9:42 PM on June 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


I always imagined Wilde to be very sort of "Oooooooooooooohhhh, cocks and fannies!" in a kind of Mank shriek.
posted by turgid dahlia at 10:28 PM on June 2, 2010


Great post. I would dearly love to hear Oscar Wilde's voice, but I side with the evidence against this being it.
posted by desuetude at 11:02 PM on June 2, 2010


The blog post says that the BBC analysis throws doubt, but their wording is much clearer:

This analysis of the technical aspects enabled us to get beyond the existing debate and its reliance on memory to the internal evidence that the original recording could not have been a cylinder and could not have been recorded as early as 1900. Oscar Wilde died in that year: it could not be his voice on the recording.
posted by honest knave at 11:52 PM on June 2, 2010


....I just mis-read this as being about "Orson Welles' voice" and had a very confusing couple minutes.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:00 AM on June 3, 2010


the original recording could not have been a cylinder and could not have been recorded as early as 1900.

That will be fixed if my time travel plans work out and I introduce recording technology decades ahead of schedule (hey, Edison stole from everybody else, so) and Abe Lincoln not only records the Gettysburg Address but becomes the king of rock and roll.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:20 AM on June 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


I can actually verify this. I'm in possession of a personal diary written by my great-grandfather (who died in a scaffolding accident during construction of the Crystal Palace). He was his companion for quite some time. His diary for that day reads: "OW does Reading @expoParis v.sad, love him more."
posted by unliteral at 6:31 AM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


the Ellmann biography does not mention the supposed recording at all.

As I recall, the Ellmann biography does contain a phonetic reconstruction meant to convey what Wilde's voice sounded like. I seem to recall thinking it was much lower than that in this recording....
posted by Bummus at 7:32 AM on June 3, 2010


As I recall, the Ellmann biography does contain a phonetic reconstruction meant to convey what Wilde's voice sounded like.

A phonetic reconstruction of what? The recording?
posted by blucevalo at 7:40 AM on June 3, 2010


A phonetic reconstruction of what? The recording?

I believe it was a phonetic reconstruction of a speech that Wilde gave, maybe on his tour of America. I don't recall exactly and don't have the book at hand.
posted by Bummus at 7:43 AM on June 3, 2010


Oh, okay. I hadn't recalled that. I'll have to take a second look.
posted by blucevalo at 7:48 AM on June 3, 2010


I can actually verify this. I'm in possession of a personal diary written by my great-grandfather (who died in a scaffolding accident during construction of the Crystal Palace).

Since the Crystal Palace was opened in 1851, your claim is suspect ... unless it is some injoke or reference I am not getting...
posted by kuppajava at 8:07 AM on June 3, 2010


Wow. I never knew how much probably-fake Oscar Wilde would sound like my grandmother.
posted by thivaia at 8:12 AM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Dorian [Gray] could not help liking the tall, graceful young man [Lord Henry Wotton] ... his romantic, olive-coloured face and worn expression interested him. There was something in his low, languid voice that was absolutely fascinating."

Oscar Wilde is often suspected to have written Lord Henry as a stand-in for himself.

Again, not in consonance with the feeble voice on the recording.
posted by blucevalo at 8:51 AM on June 3, 2010


blucevalo: Oscar Wilde is often suspected to have written Lord Henry as a stand-in for himself.

Well, no wonder Lord Henry has all the best lines! My favorite: "She is quite beautiful, Dorian," he said, "but she can't act. Let us go."
posted by Houyhnhnm at 9:02 AM on June 3, 2010


Regarding whether or not the voice sounds likely: given that Vyvyan Holland initially identified it as his father, even though he changed his mind later, doesn't that suggest the voice is at least similar to Wilde's? Or at least, similar to how he spoke some of the time, given that most people use different pitches, speeds, accents and so on depending on context.
posted by Kit W at 9:07 AM on June 3, 2010


Listened to it a couple of times - it's an obvious fake. From my comments on the site:

"...in particular, the voice never seems to get distorted, which in my mind is characteristic of early recordings, but more, it sounds to me like there’s a noise track on top of a clear vocal track – when there’s a click in an actual record, the whole sound stops for 10 milliseconds or so as the needle leaves the groove, and I don’t hear that here.

"Looking in the back of the book, it sounds like the British Sound Association has misgivings similar to mine, better worked out, and more of them."
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:26 AM on June 3, 2010


Regarding whether or not the voice sounds likely: given that Vyvyan Holland initially identified it as his father, even though he changed his mind later, doesn't that suggest the voice is at least similar to Wilde's?

Vyvyan Holland was raised by dour Scottish great-aunts who drilled it into him that he was to forget that he had ever borne the name Wilde, whose legacy to his descendants was more than a lot of turmoil and angst.

Vyvyan changed his mind about a lot of things concerning his father, for many reasons, and is at best an uncertain witness. Also, Wilde died when Vyvyan was 8 years old, and Holland first heard the recording 60 years after his father died.
posted by blucevalo at 2:07 PM on June 3, 2010


Since the Crystal Palace was opened in 1851, your claim is suspect
Busted.
posted by unliteral at 5:13 PM on June 3, 2010


The purported (Paris Expo 1900) source recording is missing. The NSA says it that a WOR-FM researcher found it in an Archive. If that's true, it seems highly likely that the Archive would be aware of it (or that it's missing).

Without that sort of provenance, the piece is worth no more than any other crap in this giant Road Show we call Earth.
posted by Twang at 6:37 PM on June 5, 2010


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