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UCLA Magazine Fall 2004
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Fall 2004
Wild Wilde West
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The Clark has a reputation as a hidden treasure, due in no small part to its location. The library is 13 miles from campus in a stately 1926 mansion set amid restored Victorian and Craftsman homes in the historic West Adams district. Surrounded by a high, vine-covered brick wall, the Clark is almost easy to miss. Still, Wilde fans — more numerous each year — find their way here.

The arts patron and book collector William Andrews Clark Jr., son of a wealthy copper-mining magnate, was a passionate advocate of Wilde’s work when he began purchasing the author’s first editions in the early 1920s. Clark had no way of knowing that today Wilde manuscripts would command prices as high as those of any modern literary work. While his collection came to focus primarily on English literature and history of the 17th and 18th centuries, the Wilde was Clark’s first collection. Shortly after having the library constructed, Clark deeded in memory of his father the building, its contents and the property on which it sits to what was then the Southern Branch of the University of California.

The Clark collection includes a letter from Wilde to his loyal friend Robert Ross that makes the reader want to jump out of his chair and shout “Don’t do it!,” as if watching a horror film in which some unfortunate character is about to enter a forbidden room. In 1895, the Marquess of Queensberry, angry at the relationship between his son, Alfred Douglas, and the writer, left a calling card at Wilde’s club accusing him of sodomy. “Since I saw you something has happened,” a distraught Wilde writes in the letter to Ross. “Bosie’s father has left a card at my club with hideous words on it. I don’t see anything now but a criminal prosecution … ”

Goaded by Douglas, who hated his father, Wilde moved forward with an ill-advised libel suit, a folly that set in motion his own ruin. When the evidence turned against him in court, Wilde withdrew his case, but it was too late. Tried and convicted of homosexuality, Wilde was sentenced to two years of hard labor. He emerged from Reading Gaol, his career and reputation destroyed.

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