Chronology of the Worthing Holiday of 1894
Constance Wilde, Cyril and Vyvyan arrive at The Haven, presumably with the boys’ Swiss governess – who seems, however, no longer to have been part of the household by the end of the month. Arthur Fenn, the servant Constance described as her ‘page-boy’, comes to Worthing either at the same time as Constance and the children or a few days later with Oscar. The other servants at The Haven during the Wildes’ holiday – a cook and a housemaid – are employees of Miss Lord, the owner of the house; and the ‘cook’s little boy’ completes the household.
Oscar Wilde writes to Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie) to say that he is going down to Worthing the next day and to suggest that Bosie join him there in due course.
Oscar Wilde arrives in Worthing. After lunch on the day of his arrival he writes a brief, hasty letter telling Bosie not after all to come.
Arthur Humphreys, who is shortly to publish Oscariana, spends the day in Worthing with the Wildes. While he is still at The Haven, Constance writes him a letter telling him how much she loves him.
Lord Alfred Douglas, who is in Stratford-upon-Avon at the end of a ‘pilgrimage’ to Shakespeare’s tomb with his distant cousin Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, returns to London ‘in a hurry’ because he has ‘an engagement to stay with Oscar Wilde at Worthing’.
Bosie, now in London, sends the Marquess of Queensberry the notorious postcard in which he threatens to shoot him. Wilde is also in London, to sign the contract for Oscariana with Arthur Humphreys. Bosie witnesses the document. Wilde returns to Worthing, bringing Bosie with him.
Constance goes to London to see Lady Wilde and to discuss the publishing of Oscariana with Arthur Humphreys – and to receive his response to the intimate letter she wrote five days earlier.
Wilde and Bosie meet Alphonse Conway and Stephen for the first time.
Wilde entertains Bosie, Alphonse and Stephen to lunch at the Marine Hotel.
Wilde attends the Lifeboat Demonstration.
The initial draft of The Importance of Being Earnest is perhaps already all but finished, for Constance writes to Lady Mount Temple: ‘Oscar has written a play here, so I love this place now!’
Constance writes to Lady Mount Temple: ‘I have had no-one to talk to, and I have been rather depressed.’ Constance’s complaining of loneliness – added to other evidence – suggests that Bosie’s first visit to Worthing has not yet ended. However Constance adds that ‘tomorrow Mr Lilley [a clergyman friend of hers] comes to stay with us’, so on – or by – 4 September the coast was probably clear of Bosie.
Around this date Bosie leaves Worthing, with Percy – the third boy on the boat trips – leaving a day later. Constance’s friend Leslie Lilley comes to stay overnight with the Wildes.
Wilde attends the Worthing Annual Regatta.
Wilde goes to London for lunch with the actor-manager George Alexander, and returns to Worthing by the 4.30 train in time for dinner. In the evening Wilde and Cyril attend the concert given by the Olympian Quartet (‘the vagabond singers of the sands’) in the Assembly Rooms.
Wilde writes Bosie the ‘concert letter’ in which the visit to London and the musical event of the previous day are mentioned.
Wilde, Alphonse and Stephen get caught in a severe storm while returning from Littlehampton in their sailing-boat.
Wilde writes Bosie the ‘storm letter’, describing the ‘dangerous adventure’ of the previous day. Wilde says that his new play is ‘really very funny’ and that he is ‘quite delighted with it’, but he adds (pace Constance’s comment to Lady Mount Temple on 25 August) that it is ‘not shaped yet’ – although it appears to have been sufficiently shaped for the first draft to go to the typing agency within the next few days (see below, 19 September).
Constance and the children return to the Wildes’ house at 16 Tite Street, but Arthur Fenn remains in Worthing with Wilde.
Bosie returns to Worthing. Wilde attends the Venetian Fete, gives away the prizes and makes an amusing speech.
Wilde and Bosie take the ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe.
Wilde and Bosie return from Dieppe, and Bosie then probably stays in Worthing for a few more days. The first typed draft of The Importance of Being Earnest – Wilde is at this point using the working title Lady Lancing – is stamped 19 September, this almost certainly being the date the typing was completed.
Cyril and Vyvyan leave 16 Tite Street and go back to their respective schools. Wilde gives Alphonse Conway a copy of a book called The Wreck of the Grosvenor.
Constance leaves 16 Tite Street and goes to stay with Lady Mount Temple at Babbacombe.
Wilde and Alphonse Conway go to Brighton and spend the night at the Royal Albion Hotel.
Bosie arrives in Worthing for the third time, bringing with him a ‘companion’ so unsuitable that Wilde is not prepared to entertain him at The Haven; so Bosie and his friend stay elsewhere.
Bosie’s companion ‘returns to the duties of his profession’ and Bosie re-locates to The Haven. Constance’s stay at Babbacombe ends and she returns to 16 Tite Street.
Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas leave Worthing and check in at the Metropole Hotel in Brighton.
1. On Saturday 4 August Constance wrote to Lady Mount Temple: ‘On Tuesday [7 April] we go off to Worthing for 4 or 5 weeks.’ On 7 August she wrote again: ‘Here am I settled with my two dear boys and Oscar comes, I believe, on Friday [10 August].’
2. In the letter Wilde wrote as soon as he arrived in Worthing (Complete Letters, pp. 598-9), he told Bosie that there was ‘a horrid ugly Swiss governess’ at the Haven, who had been looking after Cyril and Vyvyan for a year. The governess almost certainly travelled down to Worthing with Constance and the children.
3. On 31 August Constance gave a full list of the household at the Haven in a letter to her brother Otho, but the governess referred to in Oscar’s letter to Bosie does not appear on it.
4. On 11 August Constance wrote to Lady Mount Temple: ‘I have my page-boy Arthur down here to take them [Cyril and Vyvyan] out on the sands and in boats on the sea, so I am not much troubled about them.’ This suggests that Arthur had been in situ since 7 August rather than that he had arrived the previous day with Oscar, but it is not conclusive.
5. See note 3.
6. This date is exact only if the 10 August date for Wilde’s arrival is correct (see note 7). In Complete Letters, p. 598, this letter is given the date-range ‘[July-August 1894]’.
7. Since Wilde was nothing if not impulsive in his arrangements, we cannot be certain that he did actually arrive on the 10 August date projected in Constance’s letter of 7 August. However he cannot have arrived any later, since Arthur Humphreys came to Worthing on 11 August and Oscar was certainly present, because Constance wrote to Lady Mount Temple that evening to say: ‘We [my italics] have had Mr Humphreys down here for the day.’ Wilde’s reply in court on 4 April 1895 when Sir Edward Clarke asked ‘When was it you went down to Worthing?’ was: ‘I think the 1st of August I went there.’ Therefore either Wilde’s memory was badly adrift or ‘1st August’ was mis-transcribed as ‘10th August’ when the court-writer wrote up his shorthand notes.
8. Complete Letters, pp. 598-9. Wilde wrote ‘Letter – No. II’ at the top of this letter. Letter No. I was probably the letter written the previous day from London in which Wilde had encouraged Bosie to come to Worthing, a suggestion contradicted in Letter No. II.
9. Oscariana was a collection of epigrams from Wilde’s works, which was published privately the following year.
10. See Chapter 6.
11. See Chapter 4. The words in inverted commas are Blunt’s.
12. See Chapter 4.
13. Richard Ellmann, Oscar Wilde (1987), p. 401, footnote. Although there is no direct evidence for Wilde’s and Bosie’s having travelled down to Worthing together, the fact that they had been at the signing of the Oscariana contract earlier that day makes it all but certain that they did.
14. See Chapter 6.
15. In his witness statement to Queensberry’s solicitors, Alphonse said only that he met Wilde ‘about 20 August’ (private information from Neil McKenna), so the 20 August date we give for their first meeting may not be exact.
16. The accuracy of this date depends on the accuracy of the previous date. At the Queensberry libel trial Wilde said that the four of them lunched at the Marine Hotel on ‘the second day’, a statement evidently supported by Alphonse’s witness statement.
17. See Chapter 3.
18. See next note.
19. In the ‘storm letter’, written on 10 September, Wilde says: ‘Percy left the day after you did.’ This phrase suggests that Percy’s and Bosie’s departures were recent events, so the dates five and six days earlier that have been deduced from the circumstantial evidence in Constance’s letters must be, if not exact, at least very close.
20. See Chapter 6.
21. See Chapter 3.
22. These events are described in the ‘concert letter’ (Complete Letters, pp. 607-8)
23. Complete Letters, pp. 607-8.
24. This is the only possible date for the dangerous storm in which Wilde and the boys got caught – see Appendix B. Complete Letters (pp. 601-2) follows John Wagstaff (The Wildean, No. 8, January 1996), in giving the incorrect date of 13 August.
25. Complete Letters, pp. 601-2.
26. Constance had originally planned to return on 4 September, but in the event returned on 12 September. See Chapter 6.
27. In a letter to Lady Mount Temple from 16 Tite Street on 15 September, Constance mentions that one of her servants is still in Worthing. Since – if we exclude the Swiss governess, who, even if still in Worthing until 12 September, would have returned to London with Constance and the children on that day – Arthur was the only servant from the London household who went down to Sussex, it must have been he.
28. This date relies on Bosie’s having opted for Wilde’s suggestion in the ‘concert letter’ that he come back to Worthing ‘say on Thursday’ rather than the alternative suggestion that they meet ‘at Newhaven on the 15th’.
29. See Chapter 3.
30. This date relies on the day Wilde suggested for the departure to France having been adhered to. The suggestion was made on 8 September in the ‘concert letter’.
31. In the ‘concert letter’ Wilde said he could ‘only manage three days’ in Dieppe, while in court on 4 April 1895 he said he went to Dieppe ‘for four days’. We opt for four nights / three full days. The suggestion that Bosie stayed on in Worthing afterwards is supported by the fact that, in reference to Bosie’s third and final visit, Oscar wrote in ‘De Profundis’ (Complete Letters, p. 697) ‘the two [other] visits you had paid me had ended’. The context – and the fact that Bosie’s first visit had been for about three weeks – suggests that the second visit consisted of more than just two nights in Worthing and three in Dieppe. Indeed it is plausible that Oscar’s trip to Brighton with Alphonse nine days later was by way of compensation for Wilde’s trip to Dieppe with Bosie, in which case it is possible that Bosie stayed on in Worthing for the best part of a week, with Oscar unable to organise Alphonse’s trip to Brighton until Bosie had gone.
32. The manuscript was therefore probably sent to the typing agency just before the trip to Dieppe; or perhaps Constance took it back with her to London on 12 September.
33. Letter from Constance to Lady Mount Temple, 22 September.
34. In court on 3 April 1895 Edward Carson read out the inscription Wilde wrote in the book: ‘Alphonso Conway from his friend Oscar Wilde. Worthing, September 21st 1894’ (Merlin Holland, Irish Peacock & Scarlet Marquess, p. 147).
35. Letter from Constance to Lady Mount Temple, 22 September. See Chapter 6.
36. The 27 September date for the trip to Brighton may not be exact. Queensberry’s Plea of Justification, using information from Alphonse’s witness statement, says the acts alleged to have occurred at the hotel in Brighton took place ‘on or about the twenty-seventh day of September’.
37. See Complete Letters, p. 697.
38. Letter from Constance to Lady Mount Temple, 2 October. See Chapter 6.
39. Wilde wrongly remembered the hotel where he and Bosie stayed as the Grand. See Holland, Irish Peacock & Scarlet Marquess, p. 310, note 118.