THE STRANGER WILDE by Gary Schmidgall


Interpreting Oscar
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 In a richly allusive and imaginative portrait, Schmidgall (Literature as Opera and Shakespeare as Opera) analyzes the aspects of Oscar Wilde's life, character, reputation, and performance as a gay man living in the closing decade of the 19th century from the perspective of contemporary, post-Stonewall gay culture. Charming illustrations and apt quotes from Punch, Wilde himself, his friends and enemies, and historical and literary figures from Catullus to Joyce Carol Oates view Wilde from myriad perspectives, illuminating what he was (tall, fashionable, quotable) and how he appeared (a fallen angel or devil, effete or refined, pariah or hero), a paradox who loved paradoxes. Schmidgall shows him in various roles: Socrates and Hamlet, martyr and tragic hero, acrobat, clown, trespasser, aesthete, a reflection of his mother, an abysmal husband, a neglectful father, the perennial child writing fairy tales, and, for lack of a term for homosexual, an ``ass-thete,'' pederast, seducer who liked young men without hair from the lower classes. Schmidgall traces the legal history behind Wilde's ``crime,'' his sexual practices, his friends, and his decision to face a trial rather than escape--one of the first self-outings, a Socratic confrontation. In a clever chapter he compares Wilde's ideas to Neitzsche's transgressive philosophy against conventional morality. Similarly, he offers an extended analysis of the ``sublime'' and Shakespearean dimensions of Wilde's ``tragedy,'' raising him to an heroic level. Wilde's ``sin,'' he concludes, became the basis of a new civilization, a civilization in which, if he still survived, he would live in San Francisco working as a book commentator, staunchly PC, a feminist, reviling the vulgarity of contemporary celebrities and the inadequate responses to AIDS. Most likely, he would also applaud this book, a fanciful and operatic production.

Pub Date: April 21st, 1994
ISBN: 0-525-93763-3
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Dutton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1994