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Radio Listener by Jim Gilchrist: Wilde’s West Coast Collection | Between the Ears: Belongings

“IF one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again,” said Oscar Wilde, “there is no use in reading it at all.”

Sunday Feature: Wilde’s West Coast Collection Tonight, Radio 3, 7:45pm

Between the Ears: Belongings, Radio 3

Not only did Wilde acquire and read books – some 2,000 of them – he often annotated them, the marginalia revealing much about him.

His library, however, was auctioned off in 1895 as his world collapsed around him and he awaited trial for gross indecency. Only a few dozen are known to have survived, now scattered across the world, and in SUNDAY FEATURE: WILDE’S WEST COAST COLLECTION, Thomas Wright, author of Built of Books, a biography based on Wilde’s reading tastes, sets out to trace some of them in California.

Starting his pilgrimage with some Wilde aficionados in a Los Angeles gay bar, he eventually reaches the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, to discover a collection of books once owned by Wilde which reveal some less familiar aspects of his life and art. They include a collection of French music hall songs by the renowned songwriter Aristide Bruant, whom Wilde had met in Paris, a copy of his own Picture of Dorian Gray with an inscribed dedication to Lord Alfred Douglas, the cause of his downfall, as well as other works which shed light on his life.

Books aren’t the only thing which people accumulate, and are often reluctant to throw out, as tonight’s BETWEEN THE EARS: BELONGINGS reveals. The programme follows three people over a period of months as they prepare to move house and downsize, agonising over what to keep and what to discard, and books are the least of it.

JIM GILCHRIST

 

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