OSCAR WILDE by Richard Ellmann
Kirkus Star


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In this monumental study, Ellmann manages a feat many would have considered impossible: he forces his readers to forget the myriad previous Wilde biographies--by Frank Harris, H. Montgomery Hyde, Hesketh Pearson, etc.--and to read the details of the Anglo-Irish author's brilliant, tragic life as if for the first time. Wilde once said every man's biography is written by his Judas. Ellmann proves him wrong by making his superbly conceived and executed work at once immensely sympathetic but not uncritical; remarkably erudite yet anything but stodgy. Ellmann, who was Goldsmiths' Professor of English Literature at Oxford from 1970 until his death earlier this year, explores in telling detail the paradoxes that characterized Wilde's life--Irish Home Rule advocate/intimate of the Prince of Wales; husband and father/besotted lover of Alfred Douglas; cynic/romanticist; adulated playwright/abhorred pariah. The author convincingly traces most of these dichotomies to Wilde's lifelong sense of invulnerability and love of danger. In this regard, Ellmann finds that homosexuality, then very dangerous indeed, at least if discovered, released Wilde's unique creative powers: ""It was the major stage in the discovery of himself."" Homosexuality, Ellmann suggests, enabled Wilde to move from lapidary verse in the style of the French Symbolists and such conventional melodramas as The Duchess of Padua and Vera to the moving ""Ballad of Reading Gaol"" and the wittily anarchic Importance of Being Earnest. The text is dotted not only with stimulating insights, previously unpublished revelations, and ironic commentary, but with aphoristic phrases worthy of the subject himself. Having devoted nearly 20 years to his research and composition, Ellmann has produced a work that is both dazzling and definitive.

Pub Date: Jan. 25th, 1987
ISBN: 0394759842
Publisher: Knopf