Series: Life & Times
Author: Jonathan Fryer
Publisher: Paperview U.K. Ltd in association with the Irish Independent
Release Date: September 1st, 2005
Oscar Wilde, self-styled master of the bon mot turned Victorian bogeyman, was resurrected by a more liberal age as St Oscar, slayer of the hypocrisy-dragon. The fat Irishman with the golden tongue had posthumously proved that the world is not black and white. His wit and his paradoxes were understood as profound and moral; his best plays were recognised as gems of English comedy. His most celebrated works include The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Importance of Being Earnest, Lady Windermere’s Fan, An Ideal Husband, A Woman of No Importance and Salome.
I don’t read a lot of biography, so it’s difficult for me to judge how good this is in the grand spectrum of that genre. But this quick read certainly had things that I liked, and things I was disappointed with.
Things I liked: There was a birds eye view of Oscar Wilde’s life, with a lot of details I didn’t previously know; the appendix includes an extensive list of referenced works which indicates a depth of research I appreciate; the author provided a good argument for further reading, allowing me to make an educated decision about what other of the thousands of works on Oscar Wilde to dive into.
Things I was disappointed in: This biography definitely focused more on Oscar Wilde’s sexuality than his works or philosophy. While I understand that his notoriety rose from his being a convicted homosexual, as well as an aesthete, that’s not what I was curious about. What I was curious about, and why I picked this up in the first place, is that I have no context for his famous works- why he wrote them, when he wrote them, how he wrote them, etc. And these works get mentioned for a page or two, but the focus of every single chapter was on Wilde’s love life.
My biggest takeaways weren’t anything of Oscar Wilde’s, but that Bosie (Lord Alfred Douglas) was a self-centered asshole of the worst degree, and Robbie Ross was a better friend than anyone deserves.
Overall, my expectations were disappointed, but I have to give this book full credit for being well-researched and giving the overview of a life that you can expect from such a tiny biography.