This semester, as I probably mentioned in a prior blog, I am taking a course on Oscar Wilde at Oxford. I spent this week reading Wilde’s fictions, which include, most famously, The Picture of Dorian Gray (which I also read at Colby, but it was still enjoyable the second time), Wilde’s short stories, and his children’s books.
While these stories were intriguing and entertaining, the highlight of my academic adventures at Oxford this week was getting the opportunity to explore the archives at the Bodleian Library. Because you design your own classes before coming to Oxford, as part of the Oscar Wilde course that I designed, I requested to work with the materials in the Robert Ross Memorial Oscar Wilde Collection.
After going through a little bit of a process in order to acquire permission to work in these archives (which mostly involved waiting)—including getting approval from my tutor, explaining why I am interested in certain aspects of the collection, etc.—I finally got into the archives for the first time today.
I probably read over 100 letters that Oscar Wilde wrote to various people within his social circle. I also looked at pictures of him and his friends and newspaper articles that critics had written about his novels and plays. It was really exciting to do this, because I’ve never really gotten the opportunity for such extended engagement with rare manuscripts. Once, last year at Colby, I went along with an English class to Colby’s special collections, which offered me the opportunity to do a similar thing. I suggest that you take any chance that you get to go to the Special Collections at Colby, by the way, because there really are some interesting books and documents in there. Besides that trip, the only other opportunity that I’ve had to work in the archives was as a research assistant at Yale last year—my mentor asked that I go into Yale’s archives and look for anything related to Pierre Wack, a man he was researching. The exciting part about the research that I did today was that I got to pick out entirely what I was looking for—I designed the class, and I chose the general theme of the manuscripts that I requested that the library call up from the closed stacks for my use.
Next week, as I study Wilde’s poetry, I plan to go back to the archives. I felt tired after I came out of the reading room where my materials were today—deciphering 19-century handwriting is no easy task!—but it truly was a very rewarding experience.
On a side note, and consistent with the subject of Victorian authors around which this blog revolves, I got a position volunteering at the Charles Dickens Museum in London. I credit the two wonderful Victorian Literature courses that I took at Colby for preparing me for this role. I am going to travel to London on Monday to learn more about my duties. I can’t wait!
Until next week,