Synopses & Reviews
In this elegant and affectionate biography of one of the most controversial personalities of the nineteenth century, Barbara Belford breaks new ground in the evocation of Oscar Wilde's personal life and in our understanding of the choices he made for his art. Published for the centenary of Wilde's death, here is a fresh, full-scale examination of the author of The Importance of Being Earnest and The Picture of Dorian Gray, a figure not only full of himself but enjoying life to the fullest.
Based on extensive study of original sources and animated throughout by historical detail, anecdote, and insight, the narrative traces Wilde's progression from his childhood in an intellectual Irish household to his maturity as a London author to the years of his European exile. Here is Wilde the Oxford Aesthete becoming the talk of London, going off to tour America, lecturing on the craftsmanship of Cellini to the silver miners of Colorado, condemning the ugliness of cast-iron stoves to the ladies of Boston. Here is the domestic Wilde, building sandcastles with his sons, and the generous Wilde, underwriting the publication of poets, lending and spending with no thought of tomorrow. And here is the romantic Wilde, enthralled with Lord Alfred Douglas in an affair that thrived on laughter, smitten with Florence Balcombe, flirting with Violet Hunt, obsessed with Lillie Langtry, loving Constance, his wife.
Vividly evoked are the theatres, clubs, restaurants, and haunts that Wilde made famous. More than previous accounts, Belford's biography evaluates Wilde's homosexuality as not just a private matter but one connected to the politics and culture of the 1890s. Wilde's timeless observations, which make him the most quoted playwright after Shakespeare, are seamlessly woven into the life, revealing a man of remarkable intellect, energy, and warmth.
Too often portrayed as a tragic figure--persecuted, imprisoned, sent into exile, and shunned--Wilde emerges from this intuitive portrait as fully human and fallible, a man who, realizing that his creative years were behind him, committed himself to a life of sexual freedom, which he insisted was the privilege of every artist.
Even now, we have yet to catch up with the man who exhibited some of the more distinguishing characteristics of the twentieth century's preoccupation with fame and zeal for self-advertisement. Wilde's personality shaped an era, and his popularity as a wit and a dramatist has never ebbed.
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Barbara Belford's other biographies of Victorian literary figures include Bram Stoker: A Biography of the Author of Dracula and Violet: The Story of the Irrepressible Violet Hunt and Her Circle of Lovers and Friends--Ford Madox Ford, H. G. Wells, Somerset Maugham, and Henry James. She lives in New York City.
From the Hardcover edition.
Reading Group Guide
1. Reading Group Guide for OSCAR WILDE, by Barbara Belford
Consider Wilde's strange childhood; his father was an adulterer and accused rapist, his mother was a controversial figure, and his brother was constantly jealous of Oscar's abilities. Where do we see this reflected in his literature?
2. Belford says that homosexuality was an accepted part of English public schools at the time Wilde attended the Portora Royal School. Do you think Wilde first had his first stirrings of homosexuality here?
3. Christ was Wilde's ideal. Where did this fascination with Christ come from? How did it affect his prose and poetry?
4. Consider Wilde's many infatuations with women before he married. Why do you think Wilde felt this way about these women? Why didn't he feel this way about his wife in later years? Also, consider his later infatuations with young men. Did Wilde display the same characteristics in his infatuation with men as compared with his infatuation with women?
5. Consider the critics' reaction to Wilde's first work Poems. Do you believe they were justified? Wilde, who often scoffed at society and other people's thoughts, seemed quite upset about these reviews. What does this say about Wilde and his feelings on his own work?
6. Belford believes Wilde evaded overt homosexual conduct while building his reputation, but soon rejected this deception for a "bolder deception" by insisting on "the freedom of the artist." Some critics disagree with this. What do you think?
7. His writings torn apart by English critics, Wilde's American lecture tour was a success. Considering who his audience was and which cities he visited, why was this?
8. Belford suggests Wilde married for real love, or perhaps what he considered real love. Do you agree?
9. Consider Constance Mary Lloyd. Why did such a talented, well-liked woman fall in love with Wilde? Why do you feel she stayed with him even after his homosexual affairs?
10. Consider his relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas. Why is Wilde so taken by this young man, even after Douglas's family destroys him? Compare this relationship with Wilde's marriage. Are they in any way similar?
11. Why did Wilde insist his career was over after prison?
12. Do you see Wilde's life as a success or a failure, as a whole? If not, what, if any, of Wilde's life was successful, by your standards?
From the Hardcover edition.
This discussion guide will assist readers in exploring Oscar Wilde. Hopefully, it will help create a bond not only between the book and the reader, but also between the members of the reading group. In your support of this book, please feel free to copy and distribute this guide to best facilitate your reading program. Thank you.