ANDRÉ AND OSCAR by Jonathan Fryer


The Literary Friendship of André Gide and Oscar Wilde
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Sticking to biographic routes rather than real literary parallels, Fryer (Dylan: The Nine Lives of Dylan Thomas, 1994) retraces a decade of crossed paths between the notorious playwright and the future Noble Prize—winning novelist. They had first met when Wilde was revisiting Paris after boosting his literary reputation with The Picture of Dorian Gray and relentless self-promotion. The young salon-hopping Gide, still wrestling with his Protestant upbringing and launching his own career in letters, was fascinated and dazed by Wilde’s aesthetic doctrines, decadent paradoxes, and hedonistic habits. Fryer spends little time on their first intellectual exchanges or on those in later encounters, but duly examines the example that Wilde’s life held up for Gide. Gide would later cast Wilde as Mephistopheles to his Faust in his novel Les Nourritures terrestres, but the francophile Wilde simply enjoyed the younger man’s conversation and company (even for teasing). Wilde, however, had already discovered his own homosexual nature, while Gide would only come out to himself when he visited Algiers a few years later. When he encountered Wilde and his young lover, Alfred, Lord Douglas, on a subsequent trip there in 1895, Gide called Wilde in his diary “the most dangerous product of modern civilisation,” though this time he was referring to both Wilde’s artistic celebrity and his open courting of scandal. The sordid scandal soon broke while Gide was still accompanying Lord Douglas and Wilde was back in London for The Importance of Being Earnest. The two men of letters would not meet again until after Wilde’s release from Reading Gaol, with Wilde more a cautionary case than a role model. Reviewing Wilde’s familiar rise and fall from Gide’s perspective, Fryer finds a few intersections of the two men’s interests, and biographical similarities in such matters as that each man indirectly injured his wife. (8 pages of b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-312-18039-X
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1998