Thomas Wright's “Party Political Animal: Oscar Wilde, Gladstonian Liberal and Eighty Club Member," a commentary piece in the Times Literary Supplement for June 6, 2014, disproves the claims in Ellman's great biography and other places that Wilde never involved himself in party politics. Wright tells that when he was at the Clark Library in Los Angeles examining books from Wilde's library he came upon

a slim brown octavo called The Eighty Club 1890. I knew nothing about the club, let alone Wilde's association with it, never having seen a reference to it in Wilde criticism. Flicking through its yellowed pages, I found a paragraph outlining the Club's aims: "The 'Eighty' was formed in the year '80,' shortly before the Election [to] promote... the Liberal cause in the Commons and at elections... [and to provider speakers at meetings". On the opposite page was the committee list, which included prominent young MPs such as Asquith and Rosebery; perched at the top was Gladstone, the Club's president. The rest of the volume was dedicated to the club's activities over the previous year, including financial accounts and reports of speeches given by MPs at dinners. [13]

Looking into the Eighty Club, Wright discovered that by the mid-1880s it “had become an influential Liberal organization, boasting 250 members. MPs made up around 20 per cent of its membership: the bulk consisted of Liberal journalists, solicitors and aristocrats young enough to join - candidates having to be under forty” (13).

In 1886 80 members resigned in protest at Gladstone's Home Rule Bill, and the following year “the Club attracted 112 new recruits, all of whom were, by definition, ardent Gladstonians and Home Rulers. The organization became the social and intellectual heart of Gladstonian Liberalism, a think-tank for Irish policy, and an organ for the diffusion of Home Rule propaganda” (13). It was at this point that Wilde joined the Eighty Club, and Wright argues that doing so represents a “turning point in his party-political career,” because members declared themselves “willing to carry out ‘political work for the party’” and anyone who did not “would be struck off the club's books” (14). Wright next examines how Wilde carried out his pledge, arguing that Thomas Wemyss Reis, who also belonged to the club, hired him as editor of Woman's World and recruited him to write for The Speaker to advocate their shared political views. Wright further reveals the political nature in one of Wilde's quips in The Importance of Being Earnest. In one of the most interesting parts of the discussion, he points out that during his 1882 American lecture tour a newspaper, St Louis Globe Democrat, entitled its article on him, not “Oscar Wilde the Aesthete,” but “A Home Ruler: Oscar Wilde . . . ” (14). Finally, Wright argues that Wilde's “The Soul of Man under Socialism” “reflected the opinions of the Eighty Club's radical wing” (15).


Wright, Thomas. “Party Political Animal: Oscar Wilde, Gladstonian Liberal and Eighty Club Member.” Times Literary Supplement. (June 6, 2014): 13-15.

Last modified 9 June 2014