Oscar Wilde: A Life (Hardcover)
It seems that Oscar Wilde has been with me always. I grew up on my Mother's tale of her triumph as governess Miss Prism in an Ames High School production of "The Importance of Being Earnest." When I was in high school, I was given an assignment in world history class to do a multiple essay project on a topic of my choice, I chose English painting, and there was Wilde again, a prominent champion and influence in the English Aesthetic movement. Around the same time, I discovered at the library a haunting memoir "Son of Oscar Wilde." And in a later decade, a BBC series on Lillie Langtry (friend of Wilde) became a hit on “Masterpiece.” Wilde is the most quoted author since Shakespeare and many of his epigrams (often from his plays) seem to be self-referential (e.g. "I can resist everything except temptation"). Despite a life extravagantly lived, his accomplishments include Oxford’s annual Newdigate Prize for poetry, a celebrated lecture tour of America at age 27!, a still influential novel, essays, fairy tales, and of course that brilliant and brief stretch of play-writing, also unmatched since... It all ended with imprisonment, his prison letter "De Profundis," and exile and death at 46. Sturgis’s epic biography is now definitive,without losing a narrative populated by a hundred other famous artists, who still somehow remained in Wilde’s imposing shadow. Readingthis biography is a first-rate, even life-altering experience.
"Simply the best modern biography of Wilde." —Evening Standard
Drawing on material that has come to light in the past thirty years, including newly discovered letters, documents, first draft notebooks, and the full transcript of the libel trial, Matthew Sturgis meticulously portrays the key events and influences that shaped Oscar Wilde's life, returning the man "to his times, and to the facts," giving us Wilde's own experience as he experienced it.
Here, fully and richly portrayed, is Wilde's Irish childhood; a dreamy, aloof boy; a stellar classicist at boarding school; a born entertainer with a talent for comedy and a need for an audience; his years at Oxford, a brilliant undergraduate punctuated by his reckless disregard for authority . . . his arrival in London, in 1878, "already noticeable everywhere" . . . his ten-year marriage to Constance Lloyd, the father of two boys; Constance unwittingly welcoming young men into the household who became Oscar's lovers, and dying in exile at the age of thirty-nine . . . Wilde's development as a playwright. . . becoming the high priest of the aesthetic movement; his successes . . . his celebrity. . . and in later years, his irresistible pull toward another—double—life, in flagrant defiance and disregard of England's strict sodomy laws ("the blackmailer's charter"); the tragic story of his fall that sent him to prison for two years at hard labor, destroying his life and shattering his soul.
“Exhaustively researched, enlightening and lively . . . The story of the man in full, with flaws and fine qualities almost equally balanced . . . Sturgis does not pretend to be a critic—one of his gripes against Ellmann is that he approached his biography as a literary critic rather than a historian—and he does not essay any overarching judgments. Instead he delivers the judgments of Wilde’s own day: ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ turns out to have been by far the most popular of Wilde’s works during his own lifetime, a fact I found surprising. The opinions of Wilde’s more perceptive contemporaries can make us think.”—Brooke Allen, Wall Street Journal
“Give yourself a present: Pick up a copy of Oscar Wilde: A Life . . . Sturgis’s biography is now the fullest one-volume account of the iconic fin-de-siècle writer, aesthete, wit and gay martyr. It draws on the most up-to-date manuscript discoveries and scholarship, but deliberately sticks closely to Wilde’s life.”—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
“[Sturgis’s] clear-eyed understanding of Wilde is acute, his narrative assured. Drawing on new material, including the full transcript of the libel trial that set Wilde on the path to prison, he assembles an indelible portrait of a confounding and complex man.”—Mary Ann Gwinn, Minneapolis Star Tribune