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UCLA Magazine Fall 2004
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Fall 2004
Wild Wilde West
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For that, we are all the poorer. As an epigrammist, Wilde is without equal. His cleverest bon mots — “It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances,” for example — “turn conventional wisdom on its head,” writes UCLA professor and Wilde scholar Joseph Bristow. While a dusty agricultural outpost like 1880s Los Angeles would have held little appeal to someone who was accustomed to sipping iced champagne in gentlemen’s clubs, the city would surely have inspired a one-liner that would amuse us today.

Though he never made it to Southern California, Los Angeles — UCLA, to be precise — occupies a position of enviable status in the Wilde world. The William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, one of the special collections libraries of UCLA, holds the world’s largest and most significant collection of materials by and about Wilde. The collection is stunning in scope and breadth. Ensconced behind locked doors in a temperature-controlled basement room are more than 6,500 items, among them letters and manuscripts in Wilde’s neat script, photographs, oil paintings, caricatures, cartoons, news clippings, theater posters and programs. The most-requested items include Wilde’s letters from prison. Written in fountain pen on blue jail-issue stationery, the letters have the power “to bring people to tears” and often do, says librarian Jennifer Schaffner.

With interest in Wilde as keen today as ever, the Clark is a Mecca for Wilde scholars and researchers. Among them is the author’s grandson, Merlin Holland, who has written and edited a number of books that draw heavily on the Clark collection. Holland’s visits to the library are always a cause for excitement. Tall, with full lips and wavy brown hair, he bears a striking resemblance to his celebrated forbear.

Head Librarian Bruce Whiteman adds to the Wilde collection as items come on the market and as his budget allows. Recent acquisitions include a philosophy notebook that Wilde kept as a student from 1876-’78 at Magdalen College, Oxford. The red, cloth-backed volume, its contents hitherto unknown, has already generated interest among scholars for its insights into Wilde’s undergraduate reading. Purchased at the same time was the original manuscript of Without Apology, the autobiography of Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas, Wilde’s lover.

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