Oscar Wilde


Oscar Wilde was an Anglo-Irish poet, playwright, literary critic and dandy of legendary wit. Born directly outside Trinity College Dublin, where he was to later to excel as a Classicist, his father was a prominent eye surgeon and his mother was an Irish nationalist poet known by the nom de plume ‘Speranza.’ In 1874 he went up to Oxford to read Greats at Magdalen College, and it was there that he first began to publish verse, and to develop a uniquely enthralling cult of personality. Raising eyebrows with his contempt of physical sports and an almost religious attitude to literature and art, he became known by his detractors as the ignoble figurehead of an emerging party of so-called ‘Aesthetes.’ A moniker that rapidly took on satirical connotations, it in fact suited Wilde’s conviction, strengthened at Oxford by encounters with John Ruskin and Walter Pater, that sensibility of beauty was the defining characteristic of humanity, and that the cultivation of taste was a sacred task. He cultivated an aesthetics of supreme artifice, promoted by his work and encapsulated in his lifestyle, its own symbol the green carnation that often adorned his lapel.

Wilde met Manmohan Ghose in London and wrote a favourable review of Primavera, the poems published by Binyon, Ghose, Cripps and Phillips in the Pall Mall Gazette in 1890. His theatrical masterwork, The Importance of Being Earnest, premiered even as his own downfall was set in motion by the depositing of an insulting note at his club by the Marquess of Queensberry. The pugnacious noble’s son, Lord Alfred Douglas, had been Wilde’s friend and sometime lover since 1891. Wilde’s rash attempt to sue Queensberry for libel resulted in his own prosecution for gross indecency, and the humiliating revelation of a sexual life undreamt of by the contemporary public. Despite his public defence of ‘the love that dare not speak its name’, Wilde has sentenced to two years with hard labour, an experience that led to his last major poem, The Ballad of Reading Gaol, and the prison letter De Profundis which is now read as his memoir and valediction. His health broken, he died in destitute exile in Paris aged forty-six.

Published works: 

Poems (1881)
The Happy Prince and Other Stories (1888)
Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories (1891)
Intentions (1891)
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890-1)
Salome (1891)
Lady Windermere's Fan (1892)
A Woman of No Importance (1893)
An Ideal Husband (1895)
The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)
The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898)
De Profundis (1905)


Oscar Wilde's review of Primavera in Pall Mall Gazette, 24 May 1890

Date of birth: 
16 Oct 1854
Contributions to periodicals: 

Pall Mall Gazette, 24 May 1890 (Review of Primavera)


These new singers are Mr Laurence Binyon, who has just gained the Newdigate; Mr Manmohan Ghose, a young Indian of brilliant scholarship and high literary attainments who gives some culture to Christ Church; Mr Stephen Phillips, whose recent performance of the Ghost in "Hamlet" at the Globe Theatre was so admirable in its dignity and elocution, and Mr Arthur Cripps, of Trinity. Particular interest attaches naturally to Mr Ghose's work. Born in India, of purely Indian parentage, he has been brought up entirely in England, and was educated at St Paul's School, and his verses show us how quick and subtly are the intellectual sympathies of the Oriental mind, and suggest how close is the bond of union that may some day bind India to us by other methods than those of commerce and military strength.

Secondary works: 

Ellmann, Richard, Oscar Wilde (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1987)

Gandhi, Leela, Affective Communities: Anticolonial Thought and the Politics of Friendship (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006)

McKenna, Neil, The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde (London: Arrow Books, 2004)

Archive source: 

Oscar Wilde Collection, William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, Los Angeles

Oscar Wilde Papers, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin

City of birth: 
Country of birth: 
Date of death: 
30 Nov 1900
Location of death: 
Paris, France
Tags for Making Britain: 

Edward Carpenter


Edward Carpenter was an English poet, social theorist and campaigner, and has been described as an early gay activist. As a proponent of an alternative, anti-industrial mode of life and an advocate of sexual freedom, he exercised a significant influence on progressive social thought at the turn of the century.

Born in Hove in 1844, he was educated at Brighton College before going up to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, the scene of his homosexual awakening accompanied by romantic rejection. After leaving university, he visited male prostitutes in libertine Paris before entering the Church of England as a Christian socialist curate. Heavily influenced by the poetry of Walt Whitman and increasingly wearied by the hypocrisy of Victorian society, he soon left the Church and travelled to Yorkshire with the intention of educating workingmen, settling in Sheffield in 1882. Here he became increasingly politically engaged, joining the Socialist League in 1884. Like Gandhi, with whom he later corresponded, he was moved by Ruskin to reject the system of industrial capitalism, and advocated the back-to-the-earth Communist society idealized in Morris’ News from Nowhere. Inheriting his father’s fortune, he purchased a home at Millthorpe, Derbyshire, in 1882 and there began his soon-to-be iconic life of market gardening, poetry and hand-crafting the footwear he is credited with introducing from India: sandals.

Drawn increasingly to Hindu philosophy, he travelled to India and Ceylon in 1890. He stayed at the home of a college friend Ponnambalam Arunachalam and climbed Adam’s Peak in the company of Kalua, a lascar whom he had met on the steamer to Colombo. Following conversations with the guru Ramaswamy (known as the Gnani), he developed the conviction that socialism would bring about a revolution in human consciousness as well as of economic conditions. After returning to England, a chance meeting in a railway carriage led to his lifelong romance with George Merrill, a Sheffield workingman who joined him at Millthorpe in 1898. Undeterred by Wilde’s conviction in 1895, Carpenter insisted that ‘Uranian’ relationships could bring about a social levelling, and a stay at Millthorpe in 1912 gave E. M. Forster the outline of Maurice. From the cottage, now a social hub for radicals, he campaigned for environmentalism, animal rights, sexual freedom, pacifism and the Women’s Movement, while in London he encountered a lifelong friend and influence in Rabindranath Tagore. Although he did not travel again to India, friends such as Charlotte Despard, James and Margaret Cousins, Sarojini Naidu, Romain Rolland and Henry Salt continued to connect him to the subcontinent and its freedom struggle. A significant figure in the Fabian Society, he was in 1893 a founder member of the Independent Labour Party. He died in 1929 and was buried with Merrill at Mount Cemetery in Guildford, Surrey.

Published works: 

‘Narcissus’ and Other Poems (1873)

Towards Democracy (1883)

Civilisation: Its Cause and Cure (1889)

From Adam's Peak to Elephanta: Sketches in Ceylon and India (1892)

Homogenic Love and its Place in a Free Society (1894)

Love's Coming of Age (1896)

Angels' Wings: Essays on Art and its Relation to Life (1898)

Iolaus - Anthology of Friendship (1908)

The Intermediate Sex (1912)

The Healing of Nations (1915)

My Days and Dreams (1916)

Towards Industrial Freedom (1917)

Pagan and Christian Creeds (1920)

Friends of Walt Whitman (1923)

Date of birth: 
29 Aug 1844

Annie Besant, Charlotte Despard, G. Lowes Dickinson, Havelock Ellis, E. M. Forster, M. K. Gandhi, Keir Hardie, Henry Hyndman, Frank Maurice, George Merrill, William Morris, Sarojini Naidu, Henry S. Salt, Olive Schreiner, G. B. Shaw, John Addington Symonds, Rabindranath Tagore, Walt Whitman.

Christian Socialists, Independent Labour Party, Social Democratic Federation, Socialist League.

Secondary works: 

Brown, Tony and Corns, Thomas N., Edward Carpenter and Late Victorian Radicalism (London: Routledge, 1990)

Ellis, Edith Mary, Three Modern Seers: James Hinton, Nietzsche and Edward Carpenter (London: 1910)

Lewis, Edward, Edward Carpenter: An Exposition And An Appreciation (London: Methuen, 1915)

Rowbotham, Sheila, Edward Carpenter: A Life of Liberty of Love (London: Verso, 2009)

Tsuzuki, Chushichi, Edward Carpenter 1844-1929: Prophet of Human Fellowship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980)

Archive source: 

Carpenter Archive, Sheffield

Involved in events: 

Foundation of the Independent Labour Party, 1893

City of birth: 
Hove, Sussex
Country of birth: 
Date of death: 
28 Jun 1929
Location of death: 
Guildford, Surrey
Tags for Making Britain: 

David Garnett


David Garnett, the son of Edward Garnett and Constance Black, was well-connected in literary circles and with Socialist and revolutionary European exiles in his youth. Garnett was a writer and publisher, and involved with the Bloomsbury Group. He was editor of the New Statesman from 1932 to 1934.

Garnett met his first Indian while preparing for the London Matriculation at the London Tutorial College in Red Lion Square. He met a young Bengali, Dutt (Sukhsagar Datta), who introduced him to his friends, Ashutosh Mitter and Niranjan Pal (playwright and son of Bepin Chandra Pal). Garnett became close friends with these young Indians, meeting them at various times in London and taking them down to his family's home in Caerne. At some point after 1907, Dutt took Garnett to India House in Highgate, where he was introduced to V. D. Savarkar and spoke to Madan Lal Dhingra briefly.

After the murder of Curzon Wyllie in July 1909, Savarkar asked Garnett to publish Dhingra's statement, which Garnett passed on to Robert Lloyd at the Daily News where it appeared the next morning. Attracted by Savarkar's 'extraordinary personal magnetism', Garnett would meet him regularly, and when Savarkar was arrested and put into Brixton Gaol, Garnett visited him there. Garnett takes credit for hatching a plan to help Savarkar escape from prison, enlisting the help of Indian exiles in Paris. The plan was foiled when his family found out about it, despite Maud Gonne's attempts to warn Garnett. When Savarkar returned to India, Garnett severed all ties with him.

Published works: 

The Golden Echo (London: Chatto & Windus, 1953)

Date of birth: 
09 Mar 1892
Contributions to periodicals: 

Daily News

New Statesman

Secondary works: 

Partridge, Frances, ‘Garnett, David (1892–1981)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2009) [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/31138]

Archive source: 

Papers, University of Texas, Austin

Correspondence with Constance and Edward Garnett, Eton College, Berkshire

Correspondence, King's College Archive Centre, Cambridge

Correspondence, University of Reading

Involved in events: 

Aborted attempt to help V. D. Savarkar escape from Brixton Gaol, 1910

City of birth: 
Country of birth: 
Date of death: 
17 Feb 1981
Location of death: 

Aubrey Menen


Aubrey Menen was a writer, essayist, broadcaster, journalist, drama critic and activist. His work explored the question of nationalism and the cultural contrast between his own Irish-Indian ancestry and his traditional British upbringing. He was born to an Irish mother and an Indian father in 1912 and was brought up in Islington, later moving to Forest Hill, south London. He studied philosophy at University College London (UCL), where he formed his own drama group, and befriended the artist Duncan Grant who introduced him to many members of the Bloomsbury Group, including John Maynard Keynes and Virginia Woolf. He persuaded H. G. Wells to allow him to adapt The Shape of Things to Come, even though Wells had already sold the rights to Alexander Korda. Korda agreed to three closed performances, which caused a sensation. At UCL he was rejected for the Rosa Morrison Bursary by the then Jewish Master of the college on the grounds that he was not of 'pure' English descent.

After graduating in 1932, Menen became the drama critic for The Bookman from 1933 to 1934. He also became involved with Krishna Menon's India League and toured the regions as a speaker. So that he would not be confused with Menon, a friend of his father's, he anglicized his name to Menen. In 1934, Menen, together with the actor Andre van Gysegham, founded the Experimental Theatre, which sought to create a politically engaging theatre in alternative performance spaces. His radical plays regularly ran into difficulties with the Lord Chamberlain and he was sued for blasphemy and obscenity for his 1934 play Genesis II. From 1937 to 1939 he worked as director of the Personalities Press Service. In April 1939 he moved to Bombay, finding work at All-India Radio. During the Second World War, he worked as a script writer and editor for propaganda broadcasts for the Government of India. He also broadcast regularly on the radio and became a leading radio personality in India. He subsequently worked for the advertising agency J. Walter Thompson's film department. In the late 1940s, after the war, he became a full-time writer. He briefly returned to Britain in the autumn 1947 to oversee the publication of The Prevalence of Witches. In 1948 he moved to Italy, to live in what he described as a space midway between India and England. He lived there until 1980. He spent his final years living in Kerala, where he died in 1989.

Menen's output was prolific and covered a variety of genres. Starting his career as a dramatist and critic, he moved to radio journalism. He authored nine novels, several travel books, autobiographical works, essays and reviews. He also published a version of The RamayanaRama Retold, which was banned in India but, despite its radical implications, performed in London amidst some controversy. His fiction is driven by a caustic satire and his essays reveal a passionate desire to break down the falsity of racial myths of 'Aryan' superiority, whether in India amongst Nairs or in Nazi Germany; a similar perspective is evident in relation to the hypocrisy of racial stereotyping in Britain. Menen expresses in his non-fiction the advantage of dual vision: born to Indian and Irish parents, brought up as a brown Englishman in Britain, and in India always a foreigner. This liminality takes on sexual dimensions throughout his autobiographical essays which reflect, despite his conversion to Catholicism, a radical homosexuality.

Published works: 

The Prevalence of Witches (London: Chatto & Windus, 1947)

The Stumbling-Stone, etc. (London: Chatto & Windus, 1949)

The Backward Bride (London: Chatto & Windus, 1950)

The Duke of Gallodora (London: Chatto & Windus, 1952)

Dead Man in the Silver Market: An Autobiographical Essay on National Pride (London: Chatto & Windus, 1954)

Rama Retold (London: Chatto & Windus, 1954)

The Abode of Love: The Conception, Financing and Daily Routine of an English Harem in the Middle of the Nineteenth Century Described in the Form of a Novel (London: Chatto & Windus, 1957) 

The Fig Tree (London: Chatto & Windus, 1959)

Rome Revealed (London: Thames & Hudson, 1960)

SheLa: A Satire (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1963)

Speaking the Language Like a Native: Aubrey Menen on Italy (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1963)

A Conspiracy of Women (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1966)

The Space Within the Heart (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1970)

Cities in the Sand (London: Thames & Hudson, 1972)

Upon this Rock (New York: Saturday Review Press, 1972)

The New Mystics and the True Indian Tradition (London: Thames & Hudson, 1974)

Fonthill: A Comedy (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1975)

(with photographs by Brian Seed) London (Amsterdam: Time-Life Books, 1976)

(with the editors of Time-Life Books and photographs by Brian Seed) Venice (Amsterdam: Time-Life Books, 1976)

Art and Money: An Irreverent History (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1980)

Date of birth: 
22 Apr 1912

Mulk Raj Anand, Z. A. Bokhari, Bertold Brecht, Marc Chagall, Kamala Das (poet and relative), Roger Fry, William Golding, Duncan Grant, Andre van Gyseghem, John Maynard Keynes, Alexander Korda, S. M. Marath, Krishna Menon, Jawaharlal Nehru, Santha Rama Rau, George Bernhard Shaw, Ernst Toller, Gore Vidal, H. G. Wells, Virginia Woolf.

Contributions to periodicals: 

The Bookman


Vanity Fair

Secondary works: 

Elias, Mohammed, Aubrey Menen, vol. 7 (Madras: Macmillan, 1985) 

Innes, C. L.,  A History of Black and Asian Writing in Britain, 2nd edn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008)

Nasta, Susheila, Home Truths: Fictions of the South Asian Diaspora in Britain (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2002)

Ranasinha, Ruvani, South Asian Writers in Twentieth-Century Britain: Culture in Translation (Oxford: Clarendon, 2007)

Vijayan, K. B., Asvastharaya Pratibhasalikal (Kottayam: Current Books, 1995)

Archive source: 

Private papers and mss, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, University of Boston


Involved in events: 

Campaigned for the India League as a speaker in the regions

Propaganda broadcasting during the Second World War on All-India Radio

City of birth: 
Country of birth: 
Other names: 

Aubrey Menon


Charlotte Street Bloomsbury
London, W1T 4LU
United Kingdom
51° 31' 7.3416" N, 0° 8' 6.0612" W
Date of death: 
13 Feb 1989
Location of death: 
Trivandrum, India
Dates of time spent in Britain: 

1912-39, 1947-8


Islington, London; Forest Hill, London.

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