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Oscar Wilde

A Certain Genius

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Description

In this elegant and affectionate biography of one of the most controversial personalities of the nineteenth century, Barbara Belford breaks new ground in the evocation of Oscar Wilde's personal life and in our understanding of the choices he made for his art. Published for the centenary of Wilde's death, here is a fresh, full-scale examination of the author of The Importance of Being Earnest and The Picture of Dorian Gray, a figure not only full of himself but enjoying life to the fullest.

Based on extensive study of original sources and animated throughout by historical detail, anecdote, and insight, the narrative traces Wilde's progression from his childhood in an intellectual Irish household to his maturity as a London author to the years of his European exile. Here is Wilde the Oxford Aesthete becoming the talk of London, going off to tour America, lecturing on the craftsmanship of Cellini to the silver miners of Colorado, condemning the ugliness of cast-iron stoves to the ladies of Boston. Here is the domestic Wilde, building sandcastles with his sons, and the generous Wilde, underwriting the publication of poets, lending and spending with no thought of tomorrow. And here is the romantic Wilde, enthralled with Lord Alfred Douglas in an affair that thrived on laughter, smitten with Florence Balcombe, flirting with Violet Hunt, obsessed with Lillie Langtry, loving Constance, his wife.

Vividly evoked are the theatres, clubs, restaurants, and haunts that Wilde made famous. More than previous accounts, Belford's biography evaluates Wilde's homosexuality as not just a private matter but one connected to the politics and culture of the 1890s. Wilde's timeless observations, which make him the most quoted playwright after Shakespeare, are seamlessly woven into the life, revealing a man of remarkable intellect, energy, and warmth.

Too often portrayed as a tragic figure--persecuted, imprisoned, sent into exile, and shunned--Wilde emerges from this intuitive portrait as fully human and fallible, a man who, realizing that his creative years were behind him, committed himself to a life of sexual freedom, which he insisted was the privilege of every artist.

Even now, we have yet to catch up with the man who exhibited some of the more distinguishing characteristics of the twentieth century's preoccupation with fame and zeal for self-advertisement. Wilde's personality shaped an era, and his popularity as a wit and a dramatist has never ebbed.

NOTE: This edition does not include a photo insert.

From Publishers Weekly

Oct 02, 2000 – Wilde died on November 30, 1900Dthus the timing of this centenary biographyDand media attention to this anniversary could send people in to purchase this new bio of the outrageous but likable dramatist and wit. The standard life is by Richard Ellmann, published posthumously in 1987 and nearly twice as long as this one by Belford, biographer of Violet Hunt and Bram Stoker. Belford's major quarrel with Ellmann is whether Wilde at his death was suffering from the final indignities of syphilis acquired in his youth, but that controversy is not enough to make a case for this new biography. Belford's strategic strengthDsince few if any can compete with a masterly stylist such as EllmannDis to exploit Wilde's words whenever possible. She sees Wilde as evading overt homosexual conduct while building a reputation as satirist and social critic, and even marrying for what seemed like love. Yet leading an imaginary life, however obviously precious, was, she says, a tiring role he rejected for a bolder deception. At first his guilty parallel life was craftily reinvented in his writings, becoming the fulcrum of his comedies. When it surfaced, as was inevitable, so did his "intractable nature," and he made a public caseDin courtDfor the absolute freedom of the artist. It cost him two years of hard labor, his health and his career. Out of prison and in exile in France, he insisted, "I must remake my maimed life on my own lines," but by then his life was all but over. His wife was dead, his two sons lived under new surnames, and his plays had been pulled from the stage. Cerebral meningitis, whatever its origin, did Wilde in two weeks after his 46th birthday. With a penchant for overstatement ("Christ had his cult, and Wilde had his"), Belford claims, "Ellman wrote the tragedy of Wilde, not the life." Still, there is more life in what remains the standard biography of Wilde than in what Belford offers. Illus. not seen by PW.
Oscar Wilde
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  • $11.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Biographies & Memoirs
  • Published: Oct 03, 2000
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Seller: Penguin Random House LLC
  • Print Length: 400 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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