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Oscar Wilde's life – like his wit – was alive with paradox. He was both an early exponent and a victim of 'celebrity culture': famous for being famous, he was lauded and ridiculed in equal measure. His achievements were frequently downplayed, his successes resented. He had a genius for comedy but strove to write tragedies. He was an unabashed snob who nevertheless delighte Oscar Wilde's life – like his wit – was alive with paradox. He was both an early exponent and a victim of 'celebrity culture': famous for being famous, he was lauded and ridiculed in equal measure. His achievements were frequently downplayed, his successes resented. He had a genius for comedy but strove to write tragedies. He was an unabashed snob who nevertheless delighted in exposing the faults of society. He affected a dandified disdain but was prone to great acts of kindness. Although happily married, he became a passionate lover of men and – at the very peak of his success – brought disaster upon himself. He disparaged authority, yet went to the law to defend his love for Lord Alfred Douglas. Having delighted in fashionable throngs, Wilde died almost alone: barely a dozen people were at his graveside. Yet despite this ruinous end, Wilde's star continues to shine brightly. His was a life of quite extraordinary drama. Above all, his flamboyant refusal to conform to the social and sexual orthodoxies of his day make him a hero and an inspiration to all who seek to challenge convention. In the first major biography of Oscar Wilde in thirty years, Matthew Sturgis draws on a wealth of new material and fresh research to place the man firmly in the context of his times. He brings alive the distinctive mood and characters of the fin de siècle in the richest and most compelling portrait of Wilde to date.


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Oscar Wilde's life – like his wit – was alive with paradox. He was both an early exponent and a victim of 'celebrity culture': famous for being famous, he was lauded and ridiculed in equal measure. His achievements were frequently downplayed, his successes resented. He had a genius for comedy but strove to write tragedies. He was an unabashed snob who nevertheless delighte Oscar Wilde's life – like his wit – was alive with paradox. He was both an early exponent and a victim of 'celebrity culture': famous for being famous, he was lauded and ridiculed in equal measure. His achievements were frequently downplayed, his successes resented. He had a genius for comedy but strove to write tragedies. He was an unabashed snob who nevertheless delighted in exposing the faults of society. He affected a dandified disdain but was prone to great acts of kindness. Although happily married, he became a passionate lover of men and – at the very peak of his success – brought disaster upon himself. He disparaged authority, yet went to the law to defend his love for Lord Alfred Douglas. Having delighted in fashionable throngs, Wilde died almost alone: barely a dozen people were at his graveside. Yet despite this ruinous end, Wilde's star continues to shine brightly. His was a life of quite extraordinary drama. Above all, his flamboyant refusal to conform to the social and sexual orthodoxies of his day make him a hero and an inspiration to all who seek to challenge convention. In the first major biography of Oscar Wilde in thirty years, Matthew Sturgis draws on a wealth of new material and fresh research to place the man firmly in the context of his times. He brings alive the distinctive mood and characters of the fin de siècle in the richest and most compelling portrait of Wilde to date.

30 review for Oscar: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Eric Anderson

    I don't often read biographies but when I saw that Matthew Sturgis' recent book on Oscar Wilde has been shortlisted for this year's prestigious Wolfson History Prize I thought this would be a great opportunity to learn more about Wilde's life. Sturgis' extensive biography is deliciously comprehensive and draws upon a lot of recent research and untapped material about Wilde to give a really authoritative, well-rounded understanding of this infamous, irresistibly flamboyant and brilliant writer. I I don't often read biographies but when I saw that Matthew Sturgis' recent book on Oscar Wilde has been shortlisted for this year's prestigious Wolfson History Prize I thought this would be a great opportunity to learn more about Wilde's life. Sturgis' extensive biography is deliciously comprehensive and draws upon a lot of recent research and untapped material about Wilde to give a really authoritative, well-rounded understanding of this infamous, irresistibly flamboyant and brilliant writer. I've previously read Wilde's most famous fiction as well as several of his plays (I even acted in a production of Lady Windermere's Fan) but I knew little about the trajectory of his life. I was only aware that he was a famous wit whose health and success went into sharp decline after he was tried and imprisoned for gross indecency with men. For instance, Rupert Everett's recent film 'The Happy Prince' is a really sympathetic depiction of the melancholy later years of Wilde's life. Sturgis documents in detail Wilde's family life and many social connections, his rise to fame and the gradual formation of his writing craft, the way his aesthetic principles connected to the expression of his sexuality and, of course, Wilde's tragic downfall from social darling to condemned sodomite. In doing so he has created a masterful portrait of Wilde capturing the rare flame of his brilliance and the gross injustice of his persecution. Read my full review of Oscar: A Life by Matthew Sturgis on LonesomeReader

  2. 5 out of 5

    Navi

    This is one of the best biographies I have read in a long time. I have always been a fan of Oscar Wilde. The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of my favourite books of all time. That being said, I didn't know too much about his life. Matthew Sturgis does an incredible job fleshing out who Oscar was from birth to his death. I loved being a bystander in Victorian society as Wilde reached his fame and ultimate demise. Sturgis goes into the minutiae of Wilde's life so if you do not enjoy reading highly This is one of the best biographies I have read in a long time. I have always been a fan of Oscar Wilde. The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of my favourite books of all time. That being said, I didn't know too much about his life. Matthew Sturgis does an incredible job fleshing out who Oscar was from birth to his death. I loved being a bystander in Victorian society as Wilde reached his fame and ultimate demise. Sturgis goes into the minutiae of Wilde's life so if you do not enjoy reading highly detailed biographies, this may not be the book for you. If you do, you will not be disappointed. The enigma that is Oscar Wilde is brought to life in this well-written biography. Highly recommend!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Francis Shaw

    The definitive Oscar bio to date. Well written and engrossing. The author paints the clearest picture we have of the complexity of Oscar Wilde. Highly recommend it.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sophie

    An immensely readable biography of Oscar Wilde. When I was sixteen, I was obsessed with Oscar Wilde. In retrospect, I realize it was because he was the first queer person that confirmed for me that queerness had a history- those were the days before internet access, before I was really aware of my own sexuality - I just felt a connection I couldn’t yet name. At that time, I read everything I could find about him, including books I got via interlibrary loan and bookorders ~from abroad (which weren An immensely readable biography of Oscar Wilde. When I was sixteen, I was obsessed with Oscar Wilde. In retrospect, I realize it was because he was the first queer person that confirmed for me that queerness had a history- those were the days before internet access, before I was really aware of my own sexuality - I just felt a connection I couldn’t yet name. At that time, I read everything I could find about him, including books I got via interlibrary loan and bookorders ~from abroad (which weren’t impossible but much more of a deal than nowadays). A lot of what I read went over my head, especially his essays about aestheticism - but yeah, I was definitely the one person in my town who knew most about him. But then I didn’t read much about him for the next twenty years. So reading this was a curious mix of getting new information and feelings of nostalgia. One thing that has definitely changed is the ease with which one can talk about homosexuality. I remember doing a short presentation on him during English class (*voluntarily* because I was a nerd) and saying that he was gay, which my 60+ year old English teacher wasn’t a fan of. I guess part of reading this was a curious kind of therapy? Hah. Anyway. That ease makes understanding Wilde a little easier. I think this book does a great job of presenting Wilde‘s life as a whole. I mentioned this before, but being older really put his life much more in perspective for me. It was surprising to see the amount of pages used for his life before he realized/ acted on his homosexuality. I had known he had been to the United States, but the impact he hadn’t quite registered for me. Overall, the author finds a balance between sympathy for his subject and showing his bad sides. I would have liked some more context for Wilde’s (and his friends’ and lovers’) pursuit of underaged boys. Then again, his focus on Wilde rather than the context is what I liked most of the time (I remember Ellmann going off on aestheticism, for example, and Sturgis manages to give an idea of what it’s all about without going into too much detail). I think if you’re interested in Oscar Wilde and willing to read ~700 pages, this should be a great starting point. It was fun to read, and while I see Wilde more critically now than I did when I was younger, it was good to reconnect with that part of myself. In fact, I will be another book about Wilde next.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Denise

    It's no secret that I adore Oscar Wilde, so this new biography went straight to my TBR the second I spotted it. Drawing on fresh, very thorough research and previously unavailable material, this is a wonderfully comprehensive examination of the life of a fascinating personality. It's no secret that I adore Oscar Wilde, so this new biography went straight to my TBR the second I spotted it. Drawing on fresh, very thorough research and previously unavailable material, this is a wonderfully comprehensive examination of the life of a fascinating personality.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Fryer

    When I heard Matthew Sturgis was writing a biography of Oscar Wilde, my initial reaction was “Why?”. Surely everything had already been said? I have two whole bookcases full of books about Wilde and his work and his circle of family and friends, including three volumes of my own. For many years, Richard Ellmann’s Oscar Wilde (1987) in its bright green dust-jacket was seen as definitive, but the meticulous work of scholars over the decades then identified a whole string of errors and omissions. I When I heard Matthew Sturgis was writing a biography of Oscar Wilde, my initial reaction was “Why?”. Surely everything had already been said? I have two whole bookcases full of books about Wilde and his work and his circle of family and friends, including three volumes of my own. For many years, Richard Ellmann’s Oscar Wilde (1987) in its bright green dust-jacket was seen as definitive, but the meticulous work of scholars over the decades then identified a whole string of errors and omissions. I was very conscious when putting together my little book Wilde for Haus (2005) that Ellmann’s coverage of the writer’s two years of life after his release from prison was relatively concertinaed and, more seriously, more uniformly downbeat than some of the reality recounted in Wilde’s prolific correspondence of the time. Ellmann was himself near death as he struggled to complete his book (for which he was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize). So, yes, more than 30 years on perhaps it was time for a truly definitive biography of Oscar Wilde. Given the immaculate research and elegant text of Matthew Sturgis’s Walter Sickert (2005) I should have been confident that Sturgis was the right man for the job. And indeed with his Oscar (Head of Zeus, £25) so he has proved to be. It is a massive work, full of detail not readily available elsewhere, especially not in a single place. There is illuminating coverage of Wilde’s lecture tours to America, for example, and by resisting the temptation to enter into critical analysis of the plays, poems and essays, Sturgis keeps the focus firmly on the man, his doings and his creative environment. Unlike many books on Wilde, moreover, this is neither hagiography nor a hatchet-job. Wilde’s literary importance as well as his significance as a social former ahead of his time are given due weight, as is Wilde’s championing of the “Uranian” lifestyle and his unbridled pursuit of comely youths after he went into exile. One sees both the light and dark sides of the playwright and watches how his character changes, first with growing arrogance and self-centredness during his heady rise to success and then acquiring a degree of humility and self-awareness through the almost redemptive horrors of prison life. The tumultuous relationship with Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas of course figures large, but for all its intensity and disruptiveness, it was only one aspect of a very complex and extremely social life. So Sturgis’s book is what is sometimes popularly referred to as a “warts and all” biography. There are moments when Wiled’s emotional cruelty to his wife Constance or unfair criticism of devoted friends such as Robbie Ross make the reader recoil. But Matthew Sturgis avoids much overt moralising about this, instead letting the facts speak for themselves. I have always been a fan of Oscar, but after reading this book I feel I know him much better, seeing his weaknesses more clearly as well as his strengths. Because the book is so hefty I suspect many people will find it challenging to read straight through over a short period of time; I actually deliberately lingered over its reading for months. It was far too big and heavy to carry around so it became the book on the side table in the sitting room that I picked up and got back into whenever I sat in the comfortable armchair at its side. Knowing the main lines of the story pretty intimately, this was not an instance of wanting to know what happens next when reading the book, but rather I savoured each chapter slowly and with relish. Not perhaps what a book reviewer should normally do, but in this case well-justified and thoroughly rewarding. Quite simply this is a magnificent achievement by Matthew Sturgis, a monument to Oscar Wilde fitting to the 21st century. The book now sits in one of my Wilde bookcases and I know it will be consulted frequently as the authoritative source on a unique figure in the modern literary world.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kadri

    i love my gather (gay father)

  8. 4 out of 5

    Rohase Piercy

    This is a fascinating book – densely written, but how else can one do justice to the life and career of Oscar Wilde? It's full of wonderful anecdotes right from the start, and unlike many other biographies it takes the trouble to document many of the little details of Oscar's early life in Ireland as well as his life in exile in France during the last three years of his life. As with his biography of Aubrey Beardsley, Sturgis has really tried to get under the skin of his subject and understand hi This is a fascinating book – densely written, but how else can one do justice to the life and career of Oscar Wilde? It's full of wonderful anecdotes right from the start, and unlike many other biographies it takes the trouble to document many of the little details of Oscar's early life in Ireland as well as his life in exile in France during the last three years of his life. As with his biography of Aubrey Beardsley, Sturgis has really tried to get under the skin of his subject and understand his psychology, warts and all. The result is that we see Oscar not just as a writer, wit, raconteur, celebrity and gay martyr but as a rounded human being – generous and kind-hearted, always willing to see the best in people until disillusioned, but at the same time egocentric and vain, with an addictive streak that leads him to extremes. His extravert personality and wit attracted enemies as well as friends even at the height of his success, and those enemies were only too ready to gloat when his predilection for pleasure in life led him not only into serious debt but also, in the case of his pursuit of (homo)sexual experience, into conflict with the law. The details of his ongoing wrangle with the Marquess of Queensberry, father of his lover Lord Alfred Douglas, and the legal case that ensued (leading to Oscar's eventual conviction for gross indecency and sentence of two years' imprisonment with hard labour) are already well documented– but Sturgis paints them for us afresh and does not attempt to excuse the 'extraordinary vanity' which led the doomed man to resist all attempts by friends and family to smuggle him out of the country to safety. Not only Oscar's personality, but also those of his close friends, in particular his lover Bosie (Lord Alfred Douglas) are brought vividly to life in this biography. His mother, Lady Jane Wilde, is also given her due as a presiding influence on his character. However, there is one exception, in my view an unforgiveable one – Oscar's wife, Constance (nee Lloyd, later Holland) is all but written out of the story. Although a woman of some importance in her own right, a journalist and author of children's stories, a proto-feminist and political campaigner as well as the mother of Oscar's two sons Cyril and Vyvyan, Constance is given barely a voice and Sturgis accepts with only the mildest of demurs her brother Otho's assertion that his sister was in complete ignorance regarding her husband's homosexuality; I've elaborated in more detail on this omission in my author blog, so won't bang on about it here. There's also absolutely no mention in the epilogue of the fates of Oscar's two sons following his demise, or of Vyvyan Holland's autobiography 'Son Of Oscar Wilde', or (with the exception of one brief footnote) of Oscar's grandson Merlin Holland, a noted biographer of his grandfather who is still living – a fact that leaves me wondering whether there's some sort of feud going on between Sturgis and Oscar Wilde's descendants! Oh, and there are also a few editorial glitches – most notably the claim that, having died on 30 November 1900 Oscar's funeral took place 'on the morning of 3 November' – so it's only four stars out of five from me.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Helen Carolan

    Here's a book about one of the most interesting and funniest men ever, and yet I found this book tedious. Noting new in it and what there was didn't capture Wilde at all. Here's a book about one of the most interesting and funniest men ever, and yet I found this book tedious. Noting new in it and what there was didn't capture Wilde at all.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Beth Rawson

    Wonderful. I've read many biographies of Oscar Wilde but this one draws on fresh and extremely thorough research. Wonderful. I've read many biographies of Oscar Wilde but this one draws on fresh and extremely thorough research.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Will Mayo

    It's an old familiar tale, that of Oscar Wilde. A man famous for being famous, in the manner of today's reality stars, for his wit in ladies' drawing rooms who was then lampooned in newspaper cartoons and musicals such as Gilbert And Sullivan's "Patience," he then truly launched into the limelight with a lecture in the United States, attending a voodoo ceremony in Louisiana and meeting Walt Whitman in New Jersey along the way and achieving a spectacular lecture in a silver mine out West under th It's an old familiar tale, that of Oscar Wilde. A man famous for being famous, in the manner of today's reality stars, for his wit in ladies' drawing rooms who was then lampooned in newspaper cartoons and musicals such as Gilbert And Sullivan's "Patience," he then truly launched into the limelight with a lecture in the United States, attending a voodoo ceremony in Louisiana and meeting Walt Whitman in New Jersey along the way and achieving a spectacular lecture in a silver mine out West under the threat of death. Then back to Britain where his comedies on stage became the hit of the season before writing his scandalous novel "Dorian Gray" along with his equally scandalous play Salome about the woman who danced (and disrobed) for the head of John The Baptist. It seemed that he was everyone's darling. Women loved him. Men more so adored him. Then Fate intervened. Egged on by his lover Lord Alfred Douglas, he sued Douglas's father, the Marquess's of Queensbury, for having called Oscar a sodomite in public amid a cavalcade of other threats. The Marquess countered by blackmailing and presenting in court Wilde's many male lovers, in due course sending Oscar Wilde to prison for the perfectly consensual "Love That Has No Name" (as Alfred Douglas dubbed it). What followed were the lonely years of prison that broke Oscar's body and mind and spirit and will. What followed were the years spent in exile on the Continent through which two more great works would emerge from Wilde's pen, "The Ballad Of Reading Gaol" and "De Profundis." What followed, too, was more cruel treatment at the hands of Alfred Douglas. And what followed in the end was Oscar Wilde's eventual death, a broken man. I enjoyed reading this biography thoroughly and took time out along the way to familiarize myself with some of Wilde's lesser known works via the Internet. It was a joy and pleasure especially with its telling details of Lord Alfred Douglas's misbehavior along with that of his father. I would recommend this book to Wildeans everywhere and I look forward to reading more biographies by this author.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Eddie Clarke

    A well-balanced, perceptive, sympathetic and readable biography. This will probably become the standard Oscar text. Slightly let down by too frequent typos, a few in primary quotations.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Simon Bardwell

    Overlong! Not as good as the previous biography of Wilde that I read. This is one is very thoroughly researched and the author has gone to great pains to read everything about Wilde that he could. It seems perhaps a strange complaint - but I found it too detailed and at times it dragged for me. The description of the American tour would be an example where some of the detail could have been happily left out. It occurred to me that maybe I was the wrong person reading it and that the book is inten Overlong! Not as good as the previous biography of Wilde that I read. This is one is very thoroughly researched and the author has gone to great pains to read everything about Wilde that he could. It seems perhaps a strange complaint - but I found it too detailed and at times it dragged for me. The description of the American tour would be an example where some of the detail could have been happily left out. It occurred to me that maybe I was the wrong person reading it and that the book is intended for those who do want to study everything there is to know about Oscar Wilde. My interest is more casual and comes from a desire to know about his life and how he became the kind of writer he was. It struck me that his life became quite tragic.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    Used this bad boy to write my thesis. Big and bulky, full of loads of information. Didn't read it cover to cover (god bless indexes) but still did my best. Used this bad boy to write my thesis. Big and bulky, full of loads of information. Didn't read it cover to cover (god bless indexes) but still did my best.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    I thoroughly enjoyed this entertaining biography of a man whose life must be a biographer's dream. Oscar Wilde was all about excess and self-esteem: as a young man he managed to make himself the 19th-century equivalent of a social media star on the basis of an Oxford poetry prize and good social connections, as a newly-wed he and his wife were the sort of couple who would have regularly appeared on the celebrity pages. As money problems pushed him to actually work at being a writer, he was an ov I thoroughly enjoyed this entertaining biography of a man whose life must be a biographer's dream. Oscar Wilde was all about excess and self-esteem: as a young man he managed to make himself the 19th-century equivalent of a social media star on the basis of an Oxford poetry prize and good social connections, as a newly-wed he and his wife were the sort of couple who would have regularly appeared on the celebrity pages. As money problems pushed him to actually work at being a writer, he was an overnight success; as a gay man who refused to be discreet about his sexual adventures, he took center stage in one of the biggest scandals of the fin de siècle. He just couldn't stop. He couldn't stop overspending, drinking, sleeping with young boys available by the hour . . . even when his spell in prison had made him realize that these behaviors were a betrayal of his early self, the man who prized art and beauty above everything. Nowadays he could probably get therapy for his money, booze, and sex addictions and settle down with a man who truly loved him (Robbie Ross, his first lover, seems to have been the likely candidate) but addiction therapy wasn't much of a thing in the 19th century and gay men found it hard to achieve happy domesticity (although some did; it just took discretion, which OW didn't have). Sturgis paints the picture of a man who played big and ultimately lost. He lost his children, his wife (whom he loved even if he didn't want to sleep with her), and the London society he so relished. Too afraid to commit suicide in the approved Victorian fashion, he did the only thing he could and let his self-destructive behaviors carry him to an early grave. In doing so he lost his ability to write anything he could sell, and he lost his dignity. What he didn't lose was his generosity and the personality that earned him the lifelong loyalty of the best of his friends. This is a loooong biography, littered with quotation marks and footnotes, full of happy nuggets of new information for those of us fascinated by late Victorian society. It's also rather full of typos, but you just can't get the editing staff these days . . . and that didn't spoil things for me. My copy is now full of underlinings of interesting things, because OW was nothing if not interesting--and I managed to get through this doorstop of a book in three weeks. I started off vowing to read a chapter a day, but soon it was two, and then three, because I was enjoying it so much. Recommended for all fans of the late Victorian period.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Annalisa

    This is probably the most in depth biography of Wilde ever written: 600+ pages, 36 hours on audio (which is how I read it, though I've referred to the ebook from time to time too). I've read many Wilde biographies before, including of course Richard Ellman's, which I think is technically longer. But somehow even that one does not feel as complete to me as this one does. The biggest struggle, I think, with writing about Wilde's life is how easy it is to write about the "character" of Oscar Wilde, This is probably the most in depth biography of Wilde ever written: 600+ pages, 36 hours on audio (which is how I read it, though I've referred to the ebook from time to time too). I've read many Wilde biographies before, including of course Richard Ellman's, which I think is technically longer. But somehow even that one does not feel as complete to me as this one does. The biggest struggle, I think, with writing about Wilde's life is how easy it is to write about the "character" of Oscar Wilde, the figure invented in part by the media and in part by Wilde himself, who encouraged his own caricature. An unflappable dandy who always has a witty one liner to share, no matter the situation, a martyr to society's cruelty. None of this is exactly untrue. But people are more complex than that. In any case, most biographies of Wilde feel slightly removed, like you are viewing him from afar, or studying him under a microscope. They rarely try to understand him on a psychological level, or resurrect him as a living, breathing human being. This book, more than any I've read, does that. It tries to make you see Wilde as a vulnerable person, who can be anxious, stressed, overwhelmed, discouraged by failure and rejection, depressed, lonely, and weak. I felt like I understood him as both a writer and as a person much better, the ugly and the beautiful parts of him. More than I ever have before, I saw his relationship with Douglas for what it really was: emotionally abusive, with Douglas as the aggressor whose unchecked temper often frightened Wilde, but whose pleas for forgiveness pulled him back. (Maybe I've just been reading too many r/relationships posts lately, but it all just sounded very familiar to me.) I also saw his flaws much more starkly. I often wonder how Wilde would react to the world today -- a better place for LGBT people though still often dangerous -- and I don't know if he would have been much more comfortable here, either. His addictive personality and self-destructive behavior might have caused him a lot of trouble now, too. And his ideas about homosexuality would not have matched what our goals are now, I think. In any case this is a difficult read at times, but very worth it.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Benjamin

    One of my favourite books I've read this year. A great biography of a great man. One of my favourite books I've read this year. A great biography of a great man.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ravi Zutshi

    Very well written, thought provoking reference. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and learned so much.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    Oscar Wilde is a figure that still very much pervades our popular culture. Perhaps without even realising their origins many of us are familiar with his aphorisms and witty slogans. A particular favourite of mine is: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars” and “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” This is a point that Matthew Sturgis makes in the opening to this impressive and incredibly immersive biography. Wilde was an individual that very much tried to be Oscar Wilde is a figure that still very much pervades our popular culture. Perhaps without even realising their origins many of us are familiar with his aphorisms and witty slogans. A particular favourite of mine is: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars” and “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” This is a point that Matthew Sturgis makes in the opening to this impressive and incredibly immersive biography. Wilde was an individual that very much tried to be himself and was severely punished for being so. One thing I had not fully grasped or understood before reading the book was just how famous Wilde was at the time of writing, both in Europe and America. His extensive touring and lecturing in America around the notions of aestheticism were truly fascinating. He was, for many, in the late 1890s the toast of London mixing and dining with the Victorian social elite. There were not many people who had not heard of the name of Oscar Wilde. I felt he walked a fine line between being a true genius and caricature something that he, no doubt, was aware of. He was often mocked by the press and other literary figures however many reported that once they met and spoke to him they were dazzled by his breadth of knowledge and intellect. His fall from grace was truly great and must have been incredibly shocking at the time. The book was incredibly consuming and bought vividly to life how unique a character Wilde was. Someone who was incredibly generous and kind but also someone who could be (I imagine!) incredibly infuriating and exhausting. I was touched by his friendships with Robbie Ross and the Leversons who stood by him until the very end. His loneliness after his release from prison was poignantly drawn by Sturgis. The injustice of his treatment for being a homosexual was horrific and Wilde’s defiance in being who he wanted to be illustrates clearly why he is still held up to be an inspirational figure for some today. Sturgis opens the book with the trial of Wilde’s father, Dr. William Wilde, who was there on charges of inappropriate conduct with one of his patients; a charge he was ultimately cleared of. This forces the reader to contrast the treatment of both men and consider the unjust hypocrisy of the world these men inhabited, as Wilde’s father almost certainly was exonerated due to his social standing. One person I did not know much about was Oscar Wilde’s partner Alfred Lord Douglas. The images Sturgis puts within the biography show, quite hauntingly, a striking figure; one who was prone to extreme outbursts of anger and violence. The tumultuous nature of their relationship is evident and arguments between the two must have been explosive. It saddened me to read of the fleeting visits made by Douglas towards the end of Oscar’s life which worked to cement the pervading theme of loneliness once Wilde was out of prison. The book was thoroughly researched and incredibly compelling to read. There is a sense of inevitable doom that increases as you read with Wilde’s outright rejection to be anything but himself a right we sometimes take for granted today. He was a truly unique individual and he shines through the pages of the book much like he would have done in all those Victorian drawing rooms.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Andrewh

    I read the Richard Elleman bio in the 1980s, which was much more dense than this one, albeit half the length (this is 1000 pages). Sturgis’s book is highly accessible and more concerned with the recounting of the events of Oscar’s colourful life, rather than with an exegesis of his work. Sturgis notes that Elleman’s book has many ‘errors’ (presumably of facts – ironically, as Wilde himself abhorred facts) and sought to present his life trajectory as a sort of Greek tragedy. Sturgis sticks to the I read the Richard Elleman bio in the 1980s, which was much more dense than this one, albeit half the length (this is 1000 pages). Sturgis’s book is highly accessible and more concerned with the recounting of the events of Oscar’s colourful life, rather than with an exegesis of his work. Sturgis notes that Elleman’s book has many ‘errors’ (presumably of facts – ironically, as Wilde himself abhorred facts) and sought to present his life trajectory as a sort of Greek tragedy. Sturgis sticks to the events and spends much time on the more sensational aspects of his personal life. Oscar is well-born, to Sir and Lady Wilde in Ireland, and educated at Trinity College and Oxford, so was highly privileged, as well as brilliant. He was also, as the book reveals, inducted into Masonry at university, and also quite interested in Catholicism, while also torn by his more aesthetic interests in the classical world, pre-Raphaelites, and poetry (he was heavily influenced by Swinburne and Ruskin, and absorbed their aesthetic view of art for art’s sake). After graduating he went to London to try to become a poet, and he initially became well known for being well known, without having done very much in terms of literary output. He was extravagantly dressed, striking, witty and brilliant in company and knew many of the cultural shakers of the time and eventually got a volume of poems published ('Poems'). His fame was increased when he was invited to give a lecture tour of the US, as a representative of the ‘Aesthetic movement’ and made a great success of this, wearing his controversial knee britches. It was on arrival there he supposedly dropped one of his famous bon mots [‘I have nothing to declare except that I am a genius’] but this is not true, apparently – though he did also say he was ‘disappointed with the Atlantic’ on the crossing (which he reassessed on the way back). After a successful tour, he returned to England and soon after got married, and set about making his literary name (his wife Constance had a trust fund, which the impecunious Oscar needed at this point). Only after marrying and having two boys does Oscar find himself entering into the world of 'Uranian love'. From this point, Oscar also starts to enjoy literary success, with The Picture of Dorian Gray and then the hit play, Lady Windermere’s fan, and then also starts to live an increasingly reckless double life in the gay demi-monde. His nemesis was of course Lord Alfred Douglas, son of the Marquess of Queensberry. While seeing ‘Bosie’, Oscar would not hesitate to sleep with many other man, including rent boys, and while this activity was common rumour in literary London it was not common knowledge, says Sturgis. After several threats of blackmail from ‘renters’, the Marquess eventually goes to Oscar’s house and threatens him and then puts out a card accusing Wilde of ‘posing as a sodomite’, and Oscar, egged on by Bosie, who hates his father, replies with a libel writ. This was a disastrous decision as the Marquess had employed a team of investigators to find evidence against Oscar (who simply thought he could deny it and win). The libel case failed and Oscar was then in turn, on the evidence heard in court, accused of ‘gross indecency’ and eventually convicted and sentenced to two years’ ‘hard labour’, and faced huge legal costs. The case was a scandal and the prosecution brought to bear a huge amount of evidence, though stopped short of the more serious charge of sodomy. Once convicted, Oscar spiral down into a deep depression and ill health, denied of books, company and conversation (you could not even talk in a Victorian prison it seems), before being transferred from Wandsworth to Reading, which was more benign and he was allowed books and writing material. Here, he wrote his famous De Profundis essay (a letter to Bosie originally), and even seemed to find some solace in learning to feel pity for his fellow prison sufferers, which included very young children and people with mental health issues, or ‘imbeciles’ as they were known (one man was even executed in the yard during his stay). The book spends a lot of time describing in great detail the horrors of unreformed Victorian prisons and these are in many ways the most powerful chapters of the book – a stark contrast to the life of self-indulgence he lived before. Inside, he was in some ways spiritually reborn and was determined to relaunch his writing career, even if only from exile, and was also determined to cut ties with Bosie. During his incarceration, Oscar developed a new view of Christ as the precursor of the Romantic movement and this led, indirectly, to his famous Ballad of Reading Gaol, which was a poeticised account of the execution of a man in jail. It would become a great hit, eventually (it took time to get a publisher as his name was ruined), and was compared to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by some critics. Later, living in exile in Dieppe, under an assumed name ['Sebastian Melmoth'] he finally met up with Douglas again, and, despite his earlier vows, decided to go off with his nemesis to live in Naples, where he thought he could live in peace and write. After some money problems, their relationship finally broke up for good. Oscar moved to Paris, where he continued to live beyond his means and to enjoy the world of paid sex with young (rent) boys. He also embroiled himself in the Dreyfuss affair, meeting the person who was actually guilty of the crimes Dreyfuss was sentenced for (though he had no interest in politics and despised Zola’s realism). Despite being set on returning to serious writing, and needing to do so to earn money, Oscar descended into the depths of alcoholic oblivion (absinthe being a favorite tipple) and depressive inertia, failing to complete any new work. Eventually, he fell ill with an ear infection, which spread to his brain and led to an agonising death at the youthful age of 46 after surgery in hotel room. This biography is well written and highly informative, to the point of overkill, about the facts of Oscar’s life but is not so good on the analysis of his work, which is dealt with far more cursorily, even in the epilogue. This seems to speak to a general problem that perhaps Wilde’s life was more interesting than his literary career, which consists of far too few works of note for such a huge talent (as he said himself, 'I have put all my genius into my life, but only my talent into my works'). The whole book seems to hang on the great scandal of his court case and subsequent swift decline, which does indeed tell us much about Victorian attitudes to sexuality and class (Bosie being exempt from all charges), but also allows the writer to present a large amount of lurid detail about Oscar’s sexual adventures.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Laurens Marysse

    A very comprehensive biography of the best-known Irish dandy. Well documented with many references to the influences on Oscar Wilde's work. Recommended. A very comprehensive biography of the best-known Irish dandy. Well documented with many references to the influences on Oscar Wilde's work. Recommended.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Adam Clark

    Exhaustive and not a little exhausting. Hoping to flesh out what I knew of Oscar Wilde after reading some of the most famous works, this did the job but could have done so with a lighter touch and a more incisive voice. Sturgis works through each phase of Wilde's life, resisting all temptation to elide, foreshadow or critique. School prizes and lectures in obscure American towns are given equal weight to the writing of The Picture of Dorian Gray, and rather more space than the neglect of his wif Exhaustive and not a little exhausting. Hoping to flesh out what I knew of Oscar Wilde after reading some of the most famous works, this did the job but could have done so with a lighter touch and a more incisive voice. Sturgis works through each phase of Wilde's life, resisting all temptation to elide, foreshadow or critique. School prizes and lectures in obscure American towns are given equal weight to the writing of The Picture of Dorian Gray, and rather more space than the neglect of his wife Constance. The publication of minor sonnets receives the same brief analysis as masterpieces of the stage. There are advantages to the relentless unfolding of Wilde's life in preference to judging his works, as it becomes clear that the writings represent only a small part of his wit. "I put all my genius into my life; I put only my talent into my works," were Wilde's own words. And like all genius, once examined we see the hard work behind the seemingly effortless brilliance, something Wilde would likely detest having exposed. Not content to simply be inspired by his artistic mentors John Ruskin and Walter Pater, Wilde determinedly worked his way into their company, even labouring on a road project headed by Ruskin at Oxford. He charmed London society, especially women who were less threatened and repelled by his flamboyance. Sturgis notes his gift for making --and losing-- friends and lovers, including his likely first male lover Robert Ross, who emerges as his truest companion, especially in comparison with his destructive entanglement with Alfred Douglas. Sturgis doesn't shrink from noting the predatory nature of Wilde's sex life with working-class young men and boys but does little to contextualise it. The comparatively libertine attitude to such relationships elsewhere in Europe compared with London is noted but never explained. While the run up to Wilde's trial and eventual imprisonment is tense, there's little to place it in the bigger picture of English society. Sturgis finishes by noting that Wilde continues to wear many masks in death - as "counter-cultural rebel, the gay martyr, the victim of British colonial oppression, the proto-modernist, the proto-postmodernist, the precursor of 'Cool'". Which mask tells the truth - if any- is left as an exercise to the reader.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ninaminacat

    Incredibly comprehensive This detailed biography is suitable for those making a first foray into Wilde's life but will also enhance the knowledge of those who have read the works earlier biographers. I felt that it was particularly strong on Wilde's formative years and his trials and fall from grace. I also liked the insight into his character (which almost made me feel as if I knew him) and the unbiased presentation of a far from perfect human being who, although talented, was also selfish, misg Incredibly comprehensive This detailed biography is suitable for those making a first foray into Wilde's life but will also enhance the knowledge of those who have read the works earlier biographers. I felt that it was particularly strong on Wilde's formative years and his trials and fall from grace. I also liked the insight into his character (which almost made me feel as if I knew him) and the unbiased presentation of a far from perfect human being who, although talented, was also selfish, misguided and partially responsible for his own downfall. I had previously read Ellmann's biography of Wilde which, as far as I recall from 30 years ago, made him much more Queensberry's victim, whereas here he is a victim of his own rashness and Lord Alfred Douglas' manipulation. It makes me keen to reread Ellmann for comparative purposes. If you are deterred by the length, there are extensive footnotes, which occupy a considerable proportion of the book, making the main body of it much shorter than is immediately apparent. Many of them are more than a reference, so you may well end up reading them for interest, even if Wilde's life is not a topic you intend to pursue in greater detail. However, if you do require a biography for more scholarly purposes, this would be eminently suitable since it is both detailed and well referenced. I thoroughly recommend this book and give it a clear 5 star rating.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Stu Worthington

    This was a very long read but definitely worth it. Lots of detailed information about the circumstances, atmosphere and incidents that helped to shape Oscar's life and those who supported or opposed him. He couldn't resist the ready quips and clever/callous comments that helped to alienate friends and foes alike but made his plays and stories so outstanding. His desire for other males appears not to have been a great surprise to many and could have been appeased in private without causing a st This was a very long read but definitely worth it. Lots of detailed information about the circumstances, atmosphere and incidents that helped to shape Oscar's life and those who supported or opposed him. He couldn't resist the ready quips and clever/callous comments that helped to alienate friends and foes alike but made his plays and stories so outstanding. His desire for other males appears not to have been a great surprise to many and could have been appeased in private without causing a stir but his ego was such that it blinded him to any realisation of how the public might respond to his cavorting with teenage boys and flouting public decency and opinion. I've yet to see a good word about 'Bosie' so it's difficult to see what attraction, beyond youth and pure lust, there might have been. The total lack of any discretion after Oscar meets him leads to the accusation and the court case so its difficult to see Bosie's actions in any other light than to wound his father at the expense of Oscar being involved and subsequently incarcerated. The Picture of Dorian Gray has been one of my most favourite and revered books for many years and The Importance of Being Earnest a favourite film. I'm sure I will still enjoy them in future but at the same time, now be very aware of what it cost Oscar to bring them into being.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nikki

    Since I’m currently living just around the corner from the famous Reading Gaol, I wanted to find out more about Oscar Wilde. He certainly led an interesting life, but I didn’t feel a huge connection to Wilde himself, which made it rather an abstract reading experience. Before his plays found success, he was ahead of his time in the dubious achievement of becoming a celebrity largely by acting like one. He was famously imprisoned for ‘gross indecency’ after intimate details of his homosexual rela Since I’m currently living just around the corner from the famous Reading Gaol, I wanted to find out more about Oscar Wilde. He certainly led an interesting life, but I didn’t feel a huge connection to Wilde himself, which made it rather an abstract reading experience. Before his plays found success, he was ahead of his time in the dubious achievement of becoming a celebrity largely by acting like one. He was famously imprisoned for ‘gross indecency’ after intimate details of his homosexual relationships were revealed in court by the his lover’s father the Marquess of Queensbury, who Wilde had accused of libel for calling him a ‘sodomite’. However, in this book Wilde comes across less as a romantic martyr suffering for forbidden love, and more as a man wilfully rushing headlong towards his own destruction. His beloved ‘Bosie’ is portrayed here as petulant, manipulative, and selfish, and I found myself wanting to give Oscar a shake when he ignored the advice of friends and got pulled into Bosie’s doomed scheme to prosecute his father, and especially when he refused to flee the country before his arrest.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Thordur

    This is an extensive historical biography about the infamous Oscar Wilde. A poet who died rather early at age of 46 in Paris. There is much into this book and I doubt that you ever have to read another one about Oscar, as this book is fairly enough for life. Well it does tell you a good deal about the poet. Some parts of this book aren't so exciting, it's him writing his plays and doing his lectures. But the chapters when he is getting more and more into homosexuality and getting to now the love This is an extensive historical biography about the infamous Oscar Wilde. A poet who died rather early at age of 46 in Paris. There is much into this book and I doubt that you ever have to read another one about Oscar, as this book is fairly enough for life. Well it does tell you a good deal about the poet. Some parts of this book aren't so exciting, it's him writing his plays and doing his lectures. But the chapters when he is getting more and more into homosexuality and getting to now the love of his life, Douglas, are much more interesting, and as well when Wilde is charged, harassed by the lord of Queensbury, goes to court, and ends up in jail. And yes there are lots of stuff you might not know about concerning the life of Oscar Wilde. And if you are really keen into know about this poets life, this book is as I have mentioned before the only one you ever need.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Richard Krieger

    I've read and continue to read just about every Wilde bio I can find. Matthew Sturgis has done an extraordinary job in putting together a detailed, readable bio rich with new insights and information. I've read and continue to read just about every Wilde bio I can find. Matthew Sturgis has done an extraordinary job in putting together a detailed, readable bio rich with new insights and information.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Susan Sullivan

    Fascinating biography of Oscar Wilde - lengthy but still a page turner.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Eszter Molnár

    I read this on and off for 1.5 years.I never knew Oscar Wilde's life had so many ups and downs. A fantastic biography. Everyone should have a friend like Ross who stood by him until the bitter end. I read this on and off for 1.5 years.I never knew Oscar Wilde's life had so many ups and downs. A fantastic biography. Everyone should have a friend like Ross who stood by him until the bitter end.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Frances Thornton

    An absolute masterpiece!

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