W. G. Wills

LifeCommentaryQuotationsReferences

Life
1828-1891 [William Gorman Wills]; b. Kilkenny, cousin of Somerville & Ross and grandson of Kendall Bushe through is mother; trained as painter; settled in London; adapted or wrote plays for the Lyceum including Charles I (Lyceum 1872), and Olivia (after Vicar of Wakefield), acted by Henry Irving; also Vanderdecken (‘the Flying Dutchman’), and a dramatisation of Goethe’s Faustus which Irving mounted as a stupendous display of stage-craft, himself appearing as Mephistopheles in a scarlet costume; played his novels include Life’s Foreshadowings, serialised in Irish Metropolitan Magazine; also The Wife’s Evidence, dealing with the hanging of one McLaughlin for a murder committed by his mother; biography by a life by his brother Freeman Wills (1897). CAB PI IF DIW OCEL OCIL

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Commentary
Allardyce Nicoll, A History of English Drama 1660-1900 [2nd edn.] (Cambridge UP 1959), Vol. 5: When W. G. Wills’s Charles I was presented at the Lyceum in 1872 ‘the Scenery and Appointments [were] prepared with the intention of giving reality to a reproduction of the actual period during which the incidents are supposed to have taken place ... succinctly expressing the ideal of most managers [of the period].’ Further, ‘In a competition organised by Truth to ascertain the popularity of dramatists in 1884, H. J. Byron was top (with 57 votes), Wills in the second group (with 48 votes) and Boucicault in the third with Lord Lytton (45 votes).’ There is no commentary on his plays.

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Barbara Belford, Bram Stoker: A Biography of the Author of Dracula (NY: Knopf 1996), refers to the Irish playwright William Gorman Wills ‘who adapted or wrote many plays of the Lyceum, started out to be a painter, and on the way to the theatre became a Bohemian; His studio was home to any stray cat or monkey or friend who needed a floor and a roof; Like Proust, he wrote in bed.’ (p.177, ftn.)

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Stephen Watt , Joyce, O’Casey, and Irish Popular Theater (Syracuse UP 1991), makes an incidential allusion to the ‘poignant conclusion of plays like W. G. Wills’s Olivia’ (p.15).

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Quotations
Araby” - ‘I’ll sing thee songs of Araby / And tales of far Cashmere, / Wild tales to cheat thee of a sigh, / Or charm thee with a tear. // And dreams delight shall on thee break, / And rainbow visions rise, / And all my soul shall strive to wake / Sweet wonder in thy eyes. [...] Through those twin lakes, when wonder wages, / My raptured song shall sink, / And as the diver dives for pearls, / Bring tears, bright tears, to their brink, / And rainbow visions rare, / And all my soul shall strive to wake, / Sweet wonder in thine eyes ... To cheat thee of a sigh, / Or charm thee to a tear!’ (From the cantata Lalla Rookh [after Thomas Moore], quoted in Don Gifford, Joyce Annotated [... &c.], California UP 1982, pp.41-42; see Music in the Works of James Joyce online; accessed 20.11.2010.) Note that this is sometimes taken to be a work of Moore himself.

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References
Charles Read, ed., A Cabinet of Irish Literature (3 vols., 1876-78), selects Charles I, and cites Olivia as a verse adaption of Vicar of Wakefield from the daughter’s viewpoint; cites Notice to Quit and Wife’s Evidence as best known novels, having been reprinted in America.

D. J. O’Donoghue, Poets of Ireland (Dublin: Hodges Figgis 1912), cites Charles the First, hist. trag. (1873), Drawing Room Dramas, verse (1873); Melchior, a poem (1885); his novels incl. Life’s Foreshadowings, and a play based on Goldsmith [see above].

Justin McCarthy, gen. ed., Irish Literature (Washington 1904), gives ‘The Queen and Cromwell,’ from Charles the First. See also Irish Book Lover, Vol. 6.

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Stephen Brown, Ireland in Fiction [Pt. I] (Dublin: Maunsel 1919), bio-data: 1828-1891; cites 32 plays, incl. Charles I; Olivia, and Faust; as above, plus Notice to Quit, The Three Witches, and David Chantry; lists Old Times (1857) set in [appar.] Protestant society in Dublin and Kingstown; The Love That Kills [3 vols.] (Tinsley 1867), dealing with landlord-peasant relations in the Irish 1840s, from Famine to Rising of ‘48; Brown says that Wills manages complex psychological characterisation but writes confusing plots; all his fictions was written for magazine serialisation [ODNB].

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Margaret Drabble, ed., The Oxford Companion to English Literature (OUP 1986), call him a highly successful but unremembered Irish verse dramatist whose first play, A Man and His Shadow, was produced in London in 1865; became dramatist at the Lyceum; Charles I (1872, with H. Irving); a version of Faust (1885), and a long poem, Melchior, dedicated to Browning.

Belfast Central Public Library holds The Wife’s Evidence [cited ODNB 1854, presum. reissued 1876], The Love that Kills, and Old Times; also Freeman Wills, W. G Wills, dramatist and painter (1898), 284pp.

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