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Worthing's Wilde Past

It was 125 years ago that Oscar Wilde came to Sussex. Steve Roberts looks at the influence Worthing had on his greatest work

Steve Roberts

Oscar Wilde wrote The Importance of Being Earnest (A Trivial Comedy for Serious People) in 1894 while living in Worthing.

There’s a plaque on apartment block Esplanade Court, in The Esplanade, marking the location of a house where Wilde lodged and wrote the play, the one that he regarded as his finest. He came to Worthing in the summer of 1894, escaping from his London-based creditors. The inspiration came via a piece in the Worthing Gazette about a foundling baby, discovered in a hamper at King’s Cross railway station. Wilde’s composition took him just 21 days. He gave Worthing full credit: his lead character was one Jack Worthing. The play was first performed the following February.

Wilde seems to have enjoyed his time in Worthing. At the annual regatta, he presented the prizes for best-dressed vessels and went on to compliment the town for its beautiful surroundings, excellent water supply (certainly not a given in those days), and bags of opportunities for experiencing a pleasure.

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August 2019

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