OSCAR WILDE by Philippe Jullian


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Hesketh Pearson's biography of ""The Wilde"" as he referred to himself sometimes was the last general portrait; since that time, more than twenty years ago, new materials have become available (the voluminous correspondence; the H. Montgomery Hyde books on the trial and after), fully utilized here. Pearson in his own autobiography contended that Wilde was a great writer along with Shaw and Shakespeare: Mr. Jullian concludes that he was a great actor and that in any case the person is more important than his works. He is also particularly interested in Wilde as the leading aesthete of the era and the opposite number of Robert de Montesquiou with whom he last and less interestingly dealt with in Prince of Aesthetes (1968). But then Wilde had much more flair even though all of the facts are by now pretty much in the public domain: his gaiety and effrontery which made him a drawing card in any drawing room; his youthful startling appearance which later ran to bloat; his failed marriage and later more public predilection for ""dear boys"" and dear Boysie; his trial which M. Jullian in a possibly procrustean fashion compares to the Dreyfus affair as a necessary corrective on the part of the conservatives. M. Jullian's work is certainly careful (and assisted by the knowledge as well as the considerable talent of his translator, Violet Wyndham); though not footnoted, sources are acknowledged in the text; and while one is never deeply involved (perhaps because of the overfamiliarity of the subject) it is a seemingly just and nonpartisan presentation of the man who certainly, before he was calumniated, recognized not so much the importance of being earnest as that of being impudently charming.

Pub Date: June 11th, 1969
Publisher: Viking