Oscar Wilde

by Richard Ellmann

Paper Book, 1987




New York : Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 1988, c1987.


In this long-awaited biography, Wilde the legendary Victorian--brilliant writer and conversationalist, reckless flouter of social and sexual conventions--is brought to life. More astute and forbearing, yet more fallible than legend has allowed, Wilde is given here the dimensions of a modern hero. The author depicts Wilde's comet-like ascent on the Victorian scene and his equally dramatic sudden eclipse. He presents Wilde's Irish background, the actresses to whom he paid court, his unfortunate wife and lovers, his clothes, coiffures, and the decor of his rooms. The saga of his 1882 American tour is recounted with a wealth of new details; also his later impact on the bastions of the French literary establishment. The London of the Nineties, of Whistler and the Pre-Raphaelites, Lillie Langtry and the Prince of Wales, is evoked alongside Paris of the "belle époque" and the Greece, Italy and North Africa of Wilde's travels. This critical account of Wilde's entire oeuvre shows him as the proponent of a radical new aesthetic who was perilously at odds with Victorian society. After his period of success and daring, the fatal love affair with Lord Alfred Douglas is followed by exposure, imprisonment, a few wretched years abroad and death in exile. The tragic end of Wilde's life leaves the reader with a sense of compassion and grief for the protagonist.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member brianjayjones
Richard Ellman won the Pulitzer for his work on Oscar Wilde, and with good reason: it's not only the definitive look at the Irish poet, playwright, critic, and martyr, but it's also a ripping good read. Wilde was a movie star in a time before movies, a tabloid staple, and a constant bestseller, and
Show More
Ellmann makes him -- and his work -- come alive.

Following Wilde's rise to literary and theatrical fame, a series of colossally bad decisions lead to his imprisonment and disgrace -- another ending we know is coming and want desperately for our subject to avoid. In Ellmann's capable hands -- especially as he traces the poet's final frustrating years -- Wilde emerges not so much a victim of Victorian morals but rather of his own ego and genius. And we're more than ready to forgive him for it.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Hera
My favourite biography of all time. It's a wonderful, thorough and considered evaluation of Wilde's life as an artist, a public man and a family man. A truly remarkable book and in my 'all time top ten' books.
LibraryThing member Angela.Kingston
The only biography - quite simply a masterpiece. (Except for the unfortunate photograph of 'Oscar' in drag, mistakenly identified by Ellmann.)


Pulitzer Prize (Winner — 1989)
National Book Critics Circle Award (Finalist — Biography/Autobiography — 1988)
George Freedley Memorial Award (Honorable Mention — 1989)


Page: 1.1741 seconds