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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. Based on fresh material from many hitherto-untapped sources, Ellmann depict 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. Based on fresh material from many hitherto-untapped sources, Ellmann depicts Wilde's comet-like ascent on the Victorian scene and his equally dramatic sudden eclipse. His Irish background, the actresses to whom he paid court, his unfortunate wife and lovers, his clothes, coiffures, and the decor of his rooms - all are presented here in vivid detail. 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 epoque" and the Greece, Italy and North Africa of Wilde'stravels. Ellmann's definitive 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. This edition make the popular and best selling biography available in paperback for the first time.


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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. Based on fresh material from many hitherto-untapped sources, Ellmann depict 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. Based on fresh material from many hitherto-untapped sources, Ellmann depicts Wilde's comet-like ascent on the Victorian scene and his equally dramatic sudden eclipse. His Irish background, the actresses to whom he paid court, his unfortunate wife and lovers, his clothes, coiffures, and the decor of his rooms - all are presented here in vivid detail. 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 epoque" and the Greece, Italy and North Africa of Wilde'stravels. Ellmann's definitive 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. This edition make the popular and best selling biography available in paperback for the first time.

30 review for Oscar Wilde: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    MJ Nicholls

    Wilde had to live his life twice over, first in slow motion, then at top speed. During the first period he was a scapegrace, during the second a scapegoat. Richard Ellmann’s superlative bio ranks alongside the finest in the genre, with his earlier James Joyce volume already firmly in the pantheon. From Wilde’s unhumble beginnings as the son of two reputable writers, to his college days in the thrall of Ruskin and Pater, to his flowerings as a poet and spokesman for aestheticism, Ellmann presents Wilde had to live his life twice over, first in slow motion, then at top speed. During the first period he was a scapegrace, during the second a scapegoat. Richard Ellmann’s superlative bio ranks alongside the finest in the genre, with his earlier James Joyce volume already firmly in the pantheon. From Wilde’s unhumble beginnings as the son of two reputable writers, to his college days in the thrall of Ruskin and Pater, to his flowerings as a poet and spokesman for aestheticism, Ellmann presents the working Wilde, a complex contrarian and sneak-tongued snark, as he slowly becomes Wilde the Myth and Wilde the Wit. Parodied and pilloried since he first dared to lecture in knee-breeches, Wilde was always swatting enemies away and poking their hypocrarses, and as his career picked up traction, the vultures suppurated on the sidelines until the blood-axe dropped on the sweaty mattress of boneheaded bastard Bosie. Ellmann writes powerfully about Wilde’s trial and incarceration. The particularity of detail is breathtaking and presented always as a coherent, flowing and utterly captivating narrative, and when Wilde emerges from Reading into the beautiful and disgusting world, into a life of humiliation, penury, skin problems, loneliness, and separation in exile, you would need a heart of stone not to laugh at the preposterous imbecilities of the society Wilde was spoofing. The harsh brainless stupidity of Victorian England collapsed, and Wilde is remembered rightly as an avatar for truth, kindness, and zingy one-liners for every occasion. This fabulously exhaustive and definitive bio has the last word on Wilde, and since no one is ever likely to top it, is essential reading for all Oscarites.

  2. 5 out of 5

    David

    It seems obvious that this would get a 5-star review. The wit and genius of Oscar Wilde. A scandalous life. The proven track record of Ellmann. What's not to love? Answer - nothing. Ellmann doesn't make a single misstep in this astonishing biography. Imagine the challenges facing a Wilde biographer: the contradictions of an outrageous, larger-than-life subject whose brittle public persona masked his inner torments; Wilde's enormous drive, which led to success and acclaim, but also set in motion h It seems obvious that this would get a 5-star review. The wit and genius of Oscar Wilde. A scandalous life. The proven track record of Ellmann. What's not to love? Answer - nothing. Ellmann doesn't make a single misstep in this astonishing biography. Imagine the challenges facing a Wilde biographer: the contradictions of an outrageous, larger-than-life subject whose brittle public persona masked his inner torments; Wilde's enormous drive, which led to success and acclaim, but also set in motion his ultimate fall from grace. Worse: so much already written, including Wilde's own glittering one-liners - what could anyone presume to add to already crowded record? But Ellmann, who worked for almost twenty years on this book, doesn't fail to deliver. In what will clearly be the definitive biography, he lays out details of Wilde's life, illuminates the work, and cuts through the brilliant and brittle public persona to show us Wilde's soul. All of this is accomplished with wit, intelligence and compassion -- this book confirmed Ellmann's status as the English professor I always wished I'd had. His final assessment of Wilde: "He belongs to our world more than to Victoria's. Now, beyond the reach of scandal, his best writings validated by time, he comes before us still, a towering figure, laughing and weeping, with parables and paradoxes, so generous, so amusing, and so right." If I may be forgiven a paraphrase of Ellmann's own words, this biography is also "so generous, so amusing, and so right." Sadly, overuse by undiscriminating reviewers has made the assessment, 'a tour de force' off-limits in a serious review. But I feel compelled to dust it off anyway, together with a few other adjectives from the forbidden list. Here goes: "Ellmann's magisterial work, destined to be the definitive biography of Wilde, is a brilliant, breathtaking tour de force."

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lord Beardsley

    Better Book Title: "Dude, you really need to break up with that asshole." I've been an Oscar Wilde fan for many decades now, but I was always afraid to read this because it's THE DEFINITIVE BIG GIANT SCARY BIOGRAPHY on him. These kind of books always intimidate me, and until very recently I don't think I had the attention span it takes to take this one on. However, now that the world is spinning down a black hole of dystopian carnage, this book served as a welcome distraction! Instead of checking Better Book Title: "Dude, you really need to break up with that asshole." I've been an Oscar Wilde fan for many decades now, but I was always afraid to read this because it's THE DEFINITIVE BIG GIANT SCARY BIOGRAPHY on him. These kind of books always intimidate me, and until very recently I don't think I had the attention span it takes to take this one on. However, now that the world is spinning down a black hole of dystopian carnage, this book served as a welcome distraction! Instead of checking the news, I just went to read every. damn. footnote. Sad homosexual Victorians, sign me up. This is the only biography of this type that I couldn't put down, and I was pleasantly surprised at how engrossing it is. I feel like I understand Oscar Wilde much more, and also how creepy the Victorian period was. It's always good to look on the bright side of life, because things could always be so much worse! The last few chapters are painfully sad, and convey just what life in the worst case scenario could possibly be, except in Paris? This is a textbook example of "Dude, you should really break up with that asshole" because his boyfriend was a straight up awful person. The only good thing I can say about Lord Alfred Douglas was that he did contribute significantly (within his snobby ass social circle that is) to queer rights at a very early point in history. After that, he pretty much called it a day as far as good deeds are considered. If you love Oscar Wilde and want to escape reality, you should read this.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Dawn

    I am not, as I once claimed, Oscar Wilde. I lost the green coat—the one I wore to America, with tufts of fur falling out of the collar, with shapely cuffs. I lost the books (their dedications), shoes (the tipped ones, the ones you lace right up to your britches), and the shape of my wife’s mouth when she said it, when she called my name, even that, even when I didn’t come. And because I am not Oscar Wilde, because someone’s body is thinning in the dirt, I can still say this. Say, through this blu I am not, as I once claimed, Oscar Wilde. I lost the green coat—the one I wore to America, with tufts of fur falling out of the collar, with shapely cuffs. I lost the books (their dedications), shoes (the tipped ones, the ones you lace right up to your britches), and the shape of my wife’s mouth when she said it, when she called my name, even that, even when I didn’t come. And because I am not Oscar Wilde, because someone’s body is thinning in the dirt, I can still say this. Say, through this blue sheen, that he (Did you know they found shit smeared on the sheets of his bed? That boys young enough to climb stairs climbed the stairs of his suite?) that Oscar Wilde bled from the eyes and mouth right before— And I wonder (justly) if something might have exploded there, in his head, maybe something in the ear, something eating straight through. Maybe it was a little itch, a syphilis, that scratched the eyes’ interior. A disease that lived inside the tongue and the skull couldn’t hold it, couldn’t (either he or the wallpaper had to go). Oscar, if you place a glass of water on the bed, someone is bound to knock it over. The boy will spill it, the boy will capsize—a beautiful Greek boy—he will ride the sea’s black coattails all the way down. Your hyacinth, Oscar, will break the vase, break every part of the vase, out of beauty. So Oscar pushed up his shirtsleeves and (there, there are my hands—now take them) let them lead. The law. He listened (he never listened before) to the funny sound that hunger made, the crescendo, the bells turning up their skirts, the throttle of his throat, the ropes of his intestines wrung out. During the course of two years (it was only two years), the buzzing began. It was one prison, then another (there were only three); and he grew too large for the space, for a cell suited to the taking and leaving of prostitutes. He was too large for such of ceiling, for the blur of windows placed just below the ceiling, for all things having to do with penance. He wanted to read Dante in prison. He wanted the darkness he squinted into to take a form, any form, to become black pages, one after another ruffling under his fingers. He wanted the weight to shift from his right hand to the left, and then the book would end like an accordion squeezed shut, finally silent. He wanted to learn Italian, so after prison the words would not appear misplaced. He wanted to ride of the back of those words, to stuff himself into the new tongues forming around his teeth. I will write a play, he said. And he didn’t. I will write a poem, he said, and it was bad. I have forgotten everything he said, and the slits of eyes stared back at him. Maybe there will be new boys. New cigarette cases. Lectures. He thought this, but No. His wife changed her name and died. He never looked at his children again. He held a hand mirror, held it over his anus and strained to see. And in this thinning hair, in this new kind of bankruptcy, there was nothing to send to the children in prison, the ones locked up for shooting rabbits. For them, nothing.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Brian Bess

    Wilde at his wildest and mildest After reading this book, I cannot help but review Oscar Wilde, the man and his life, as if it were a work of art in itself, as much as I can this biography of Wilde as depicted by Richard Ellmann. Wilde, as much as any historical figure, certainly as much as any creative figure, speaks loudly as an artifact of the age he embodied and from which he was consumed and discarded and as a creative figure whose own life was arguably a greater work of art than anything he Wilde at his wildest and mildest After reading this book, I cannot help but review Oscar Wilde, the man and his life, as if it were a work of art in itself, as much as I can this biography of Wilde as depicted by Richard Ellmann. Wilde, as much as any historical figure, certainly as much as any creative figure, speaks loudly as an artifact of the age he embodied and from which he was consumed and discarded and as a creative figure whose own life was arguably a greater work of art than anything he ever wrote or said. Before addressing Wilde, let’s evaluate Ellman’s book on its own merits. He presents everything you ever wanted to know about Oscar Wilde and then some. Admittedly, the voluminous number of acquaintances, companions and foes whose paths crossed with Wilde’s is overwhelming and it requires a monumental juggling act to keep track of all the players and how they intersect with each other and revolve around Wilde, the sun of this biographical solar system. Ellmann does an admirable job of this, although I was lost quite frequently and had to backtrack to find the first mention of an individual to identify the original relation to Wilde and draw a line in my mind between an individual once kindly disposed toward him and the person that ostracized and avoided him during and after his disgrace. One might view the ordeal and persecution of Wilde in the 19th century and conclude that he could live very openly and comfortably in the 21st century where gay and bisexual characters appear daily in all forms of media. That would seem to be an erroneous interpretation when one sees that Wilde was inextricably linked to the time and culture in which he lived. He was a product of Victorian England and he, by design as well as circumstance, paid the price for bringing an aspect of human sexuality and behavior to the unavoidable attention of a society that dared not think of, much less, speak the name of the abomination which Wilde represented to them. Wilde’s creativity, imagination and wit were all intertwined with his identity as provocateur, even as he sought the favor of respectable society. He felt compelled to seek out the ‘nameless’ side of human nature, specifically in a mutually destructive relationship with a powder keg of a young man, Lord Alfred Douglas. At the same time in which Oscar was fulfilling his authentic identity, that vehicle for his liberation was also the route to his undoing and downfall from the heights of success. Wilde could probably have saved himself from prison by following the advice of his long-suffering but tolerant wife Constance and his loyal friend Robbie Ross and living in exile in another country. However, he could not run. Staying and fighting, even if it led to prison was in his constitution and had been instilled in him by his very litigious mother. Ellmann repeatedly refers to Wilde as a kind and considerate man and in many respects this is true. He was generous even when he was in dire financial straits himself and he lavished gifts and compliments in purple prose as if he possessed an endless supply of both. It appears to me, however, that his greatest sin, more so than any of his ‘indecent’ activities, was his neglect of his wife and children, the innocent victims of Oscar’s hedonistic quest for self-fulfillment. Utimately, Oscar Wilde’s greatest creation was ‘Oscar Wilde’, a work of art that overshadows even his greatest prose work, The Picture of Dorian Gray, as well as his greatest play, The Importance of Being Earnest. It perhaps surprised him as much as anyone else that the play of his life that he originally conceived as a comedy was quickly transformed in its final act into tragedy.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Pesh

    this is one of my dearest treasures for the year 2008.what i have is actually a hardcover, picked at my 'used books' store for the price of my normal dinner at my favourite 'fast foods'. i couldnt believe it!! it's a great story about a great person. here is the most important thing about it: it is written with a subjective, condemning tone. and i felt the author should have surpassed the shadows of his subject's sexuality and other personality weaknesses, to simply objectively tell us the story! this is one of my dearest treasures for the year 2008.what i have is actually a hardcover, picked at my 'used books' store for the price of my normal dinner at my favourite 'fast foods'. i couldnt believe it!! it's a great story about a great person. here is the most important thing about it: it is written with a subjective, condemning tone. and i felt the author should have surpassed the shadows of his subject's sexuality and other personality weaknesses, to simply objectively tell us the story!!!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Suzanne Stroh

    Lady Wilde almost runs away with the first half of this dense, beautifully written biography that won Ellmann a Pulitzer prize. I agree with reviewers who commented that perhaps there was a bit too much detail for entry-level readers. The sheer competency of this treatment of Oscar Wilde's brilliant, sad and troubled life means that we may never get the kind of definitive work I'd like. Ellmann, writing to midcentury literary tastes, treats Wilde's sexuality too obliquely for young audiences toda Lady Wilde almost runs away with the first half of this dense, beautifully written biography that won Ellmann a Pulitzer prize. I agree with reviewers who commented that perhaps there was a bit too much detail for entry-level readers. The sheer competency of this treatment of Oscar Wilde's brilliant, sad and troubled life means that we may never get the kind of definitive work I'd like. Ellmann, writing to midcentury literary tastes, treats Wilde's sexuality too obliquely for young audiences today, and readers will be left confused about this central aspect of Wilde's life--central, I mean, because it was the aspect solely responsible for his downfall. In my ideal biography of Wilde, readers would clearly understand the coded boundaries and behaviors that closeted gays and lesbians of the era also clearly understood. In order to effect that, the biographer needs to write plainly and clearly about sex, erotic love and sexual practices. But who would ever revise a work so beloved, so thorough and well-researched, unless critical new source material came to light? As I work on the translation of Élisabeth de Gramont, the "eternal mate" of Natalie Barney, I am struck by Wildeana that Ellmann doesn't even cover in a footnote. He should have done. It's a true story that strains credulity in fiction, and Oscar would have been pleased to have it included. While on his American tour, Oscar Wilde rescued a pretty, blonde, six-year-old girl along a stretch of heavily leisured mid-Atlantic coastline. She was being taunted by her playmates. Oscar, full of the tenderness that was a lesser-known hallmark of his life on earth (beautifully treated by Richard Ellmann), decided to intervene. He took the little girl in his arms, sat her on his lap and told her a fairy tale. It was one of his own. Imagine that experience! That girl was Natalie Barney, the great 20th century lesbian seducer, who was to make her life in Paris and write volumes of epigrams that stand up to many of Wilde's wittiest and most biting. Wilde's actions on the beach that day made a lifelong impression on Natalie Barney; so much so that she developed a magnetic attraction for Wilde's family. Around 1910 she became the lover of Bosie's wife, Olive Custance, and was the godmother of their child. And then, in the 1920s, she formed an even deeper, lengthier liaison with Oscar's lookalike niece, Dolly. Oscar, Bosie, Dolly: Natalie Barney held them all in the palm of her hand. All because of a small kindness. One of so many Oscar is never remembered for.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Bo Rae

    Just one word: Impeccable! Ever since my brother first introduced me to Oscar Wilde while I was still in secondary school, I have been obsessed with everything written by the man. The Picture of Dorian Gray has been one of my favourite classics for years now and when my current pre-master programme requested me to conduct a literature review paper on a self-chosen topic, I could not put Wilde out of my head. After having decided to conduct a research on Wilde's vision of the Aesthetic Movement, Just one word: Impeccable! Ever since my brother first introduced me to Oscar Wilde while I was still in secondary school, I have been obsessed with everything written by the man. The Picture of Dorian Gray has been one of my favourite classics for years now and when my current pre-master programme requested me to conduct a literature review paper on a self-chosen topic, I could not put Wilde out of my head. After having decided to conduct a research on Wilde's vision of the Aesthetic Movement, with a focus on Dorian Gray, my tutor introduced me to this biography and boy.. am I glad that I decided to read it. I'm usually not a very big fan of non-fiction / biographies. They are truly interesting but as a reader, I prefer escaping to one of the many magical fictional worlds that have been provided to us by so many talented authors. Yet this biography by Richard Ellmann immediately pulled me into the world of Wilde and I loved every second of it. The tale of Wilde's life, and the most important events in it, is told in such a detailed and attention-grabbing manner. The story is written with so much grace and it clearly shows the immense respect the author must have had for (let's be honest) everyone's most beloved Aesthete. However, the book is written from a rather subjective point of view which I personally did not mind that much, but I can imagine that some might prefer reading a biography written in more objective manner. Besides providing me with lots of new knowledge, Ellmann also allowed me to change my views of Wilde, especially when it came to his artistic (mainly aesthetic) principles. At first, I was scared to dive into this book, considering that it's quite a BIG book but also because I was afraid that it would provide me with an image of Wilde that I would end up not liking so much after all, but to be honest; Ellmann achieved the complete opposite. It made me realise that Oscar Wilde went way beyond his art, he truly was (and still is, in my humble opinion) larger than life and I cannot help myself but to consider Wilde as a piece of art himself. The book made me feel all kinds of emotions, regarding the man's life, his many wonderous achievements and the various ways he was regarded and treated by many, and this made me love it even more. Ellmann truly provided me with more reasons to greatly admire the witty genius that is Oscar Wilde and I highly recommend this book to everyone who has an interest in Wilde, 19th-century cultures and aesthetics, or literary art in general.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mary Pagones

    This still remains for many the gold standard and first reference for any study of Wilde. I used it as a reference book, and didn't read it cover to cover, but have read or will read most of it. It's particularly interesting for its early portrait of Wilde as a student, although the details grow a bit more sketchy about his later life, particularly after he became more involved with Douglas. I'd highly recommend this to be read in conjunction with Neil McKenna's more recent The Secret Life of Os This still remains for many the gold standard and first reference for any study of Wilde. I used it as a reference book, and didn't read it cover to cover, but have read or will read most of it. It's particularly interesting for its early portrait of Wilde as a student, although the details grow a bit more sketchy about his later life, particularly after he became more involved with Douglas. I'd highly recommend this to be read in conjunction with Neil McKenna's more recent The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde. McKenna brings to light the fact that Wilde was in relationships with men long before Wilde met Robbie Ross, and much of his sexual life, while Ellmann's analysis of Wilde's major works, as well as some hilarious behind-the-scenes anecdotes about Wilde's relationships with other authors, artists, actors, and famous figures fully fleshes out the portrait of this fascinating man. Still, given Wilde's complexity, always remember that this is a great launching pad, and studying Wilde (despite his relatively short life) is a lifelong labor.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Johnny D

    This book is a haunting and beautiful biography of the don of the Aesthetic Movement. It traces his life from his early days as the son of a prominent physician father and an eccentric socialite mother (Sperenza) to his competition with Bram Stoker for the hand of Frances Balcombe, to his early homosexual experiments and final death amod disgrace and anonymity in the exile of France. Richard Ellmann wields his pen with alacrity, grace, and an intense sympathy for his subject that may leave you in This book is a haunting and beautiful biography of the don of the Aesthetic Movement. It traces his life from his early days as the son of a prominent physician father and an eccentric socialite mother (Sperenza) to his competition with Bram Stoker for the hand of Frances Balcombe, to his early homosexual experiments and final death amod disgrace and anonymity in the exile of France. Richard Ellmann wields his pen with alacrity, grace, and an intense sympathy for his subject that may leave you in tears. A work of astonishing beauty

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sonia

    Honestly this book was mostly just "ok" for me, but I'm giving it a slightly higher rating because I think Ellman deserves it. I picked this up thinking it was going to be filled with super tawdry details of Wilde's life, but mostly it was literary criticism paralleled by events that occurred during the writing of each of his works. So it was okay. I wish it would have been a little more Wilde and a little less Wilde's contribution to literature. Honestly this book was mostly just "ok" for me, but I'm giving it a slightly higher rating because I think Ellman deserves it. I picked this up thinking it was going to be filled with super tawdry details of Wilde's life, but mostly it was literary criticism paralleled by events that occurred during the writing of each of his works. So it was okay. I wish it would have been a little more Wilde and a little less Wilde's contribution to literature.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Corey

    Richard Ellmann's James Joyce is the greatest literary biography I've read. His Yeats bio is fine, also. And so is this. Though I knew the outlines of the story I was unprepared for how wild, how strange, and how tragic Wilde was. Ellmann's closing epilogue almost brought a tear to my eye. Richard Ellmann's James Joyce is the greatest literary biography I've read. His Yeats bio is fine, also. And so is this. Though I knew the outlines of the story I was unprepared for how wild, how strange, and how tragic Wilde was. Ellmann's closing epilogue almost brought a tear to my eye.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Vijeta

    I finally finished it and although it took me a year to read it, I finally did it. Now, this comment is representative of the fact that it is slow-going, but that mustn't deter any future readers and fans of Oscar Wilde. It took me so long because I was reading a hard copy and these days I find Ebooks much easier to navigate. Oscar Wilde by Richard Ellmann is a very detailed biography which brings out Wilde's enormous generosity and his boundless intellect. Wilde lived a life of tremendous fame I finally finished it and although it took me a year to read it, I finally did it. Now, this comment is representative of the fact that it is slow-going, but that mustn't deter any future readers and fans of Oscar Wilde. It took me so long because I was reading a hard copy and these days I find Ebooks much easier to navigate. Oscar Wilde by Richard Ellmann is a very detailed biography which brings out Wilde's enormous generosity and his boundless intellect. Wilde lived a life of tremendous fame and he was a phenomenon before he had produced anything significant. The end, however, is riddled with black infamy. The years in prison, the disgrace that followed, the exile in Paris broke the man. The people he had made, those he had befriended now evaded him like the plague. Certain incidents where Wilde is outright ignored left me very sorrowful. Wilde, the film, has brought out the generosity of his spirit but failed to do justice to his intellect. The years in prison were tough, involving hard labour, a life marred by disease, but it was life to come, one of impecuniosity, and without friends which tears at you. Wilde lived by his principles, and although he could've avoided the lawsuit which was his ruin, he didn't. Then he could've escaped to France and avoided prison but he faced it head on. He was a work of art fully deserving of the adoration he receives today. His life is one of sensation but it doesn't detract from his contribution to aestheticism. A life well written, this, and a must read for Wilde fans.

  14. 4 out of 5

    ella

    I laughed, I cried, why do biographies make me emotional? For me, this reads like the plot of something Wilde himself wrote. Mostly because Oscar’s work mirrors himself and his life so much. Of course, the writing was factual instead of flowery, but the plot was there. Brilliant aesthete beginning his life in London. Romance, friendship, scandal. Tragedy. Maybe Earnest plus Dorian plus De Profundis. Funny, dynamic, heartbreaking—all qualities of his own work. But, of course, this is fact, life. A I laughed, I cried, why do biographies make me emotional? For me, this reads like the plot of something Wilde himself wrote. Mostly because Oscar’s work mirrors himself and his life so much. Of course, the writing was factual instead of flowery, but the plot was there. Brilliant aesthete beginning his life in London. Romance, friendship, scandal. Tragedy. Maybe Earnest plus Dorian plus De Profundis. Funny, dynamic, heartbreaking—all qualities of his own work. But, of course, this is fact, life. And what a life it was. I knew the story, but I wanted more, I wanted every detail. And thanks to this brilliant biography, I got that. I got the vases and the cello coat and Robert Ross and the American tours. And Bosie and the trial and prison and exile. A life can be a tragedy just as a novel can. But novels don’t have legacies in the same way people do. And I’m so happy at all the good that Wilde’s legacy has done. And this book, his story, is part of that legacy.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    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 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 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 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. (Reprinted from my website at brianjayjones.blogspot.com)

  16. 4 out of 5

    David Hill

    Lately it seems I'm never happy with the length and level of detail of biographies. This one was a bit too long and detailed for me. I was curious about Wilde, but not to the degree that I wanted to read the letters he wrote his mother. I think I'd have enjoyed it more at 400 pages than 600. But this quibble is more about me than the book. I didn't know much about Wilde. I hadn't read any of his poems and wasn't familiar with his plays and his other work. I probably learned what I knew about him Lately it seems I'm never happy with the length and level of detail of biographies. This one was a bit too long and detailed for me. I was curious about Wilde, but not to the degree that I wanted to read the letters he wrote his mother. I think I'd have enjoyed it more at 400 pages than 600. But this quibble is more about me than the book. I didn't know much about Wilde. I hadn't read any of his poems and wasn't familiar with his plays and his other work. I probably learned what I knew about him from Monty Python skits. The book interested me enough to seek out a few of his plays. My main take-away from the book is that love isn't just blind, it's stupid as well. Wilde was arguably a genius, but he allowed his love to destroy him utterly.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Jorquera

    A pretty good bio on Wilde. I don't know an insane amount on Wilde's personal life, so I can't state how accurate it is in regards to timeline, but I am going to assume that it is pretty accurate considering his substantial research. WAS LONG BUT LIKE WHAT BIO ISNT. A pretty good bio on Wilde. I don't know an insane amount on Wilde's personal life, so I can't state how accurate it is in regards to timeline, but I am going to assume that it is pretty accurate considering his substantial research. WAS LONG BUT LIKE WHAT BIO ISNT.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Walter Spence

    An exhaustive biography; reading it exhausted me.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kaethe Douglas

    I read it and I thought it was the best biography of all time. It helps that I love Wilde I guess.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    We all wear a mask, each person kills the thing they love some with a word some by the sword. Truth is love. This biography I started in my teens and got distracted. I found it too detailed and complex back then. My view of Wilde as a youth was one of pop idolism. Having picked him for my A level English literature coursework my teachers were worried as no one had studied Oscar Wilde in their classes before. It being the 1990s and despite 100 years on from Wildes time homosexuality was still tab We all wear a mask, each person kills the thing they love some with a word some by the sword. Truth is love. This biography I started in my teens and got distracted. I found it too detailed and complex back then. My view of Wilde as a youth was one of pop idolism. Having picked him for my A level English literature coursework my teachers were worried as no one had studied Oscar Wilde in their classes before. It being the 1990s and despite 100 years on from Wildes time homosexuality was still taboo and teachers were forbidden by clause 28 of some Thatcherite law to discuss anything promoting an LGBT lifestyle or identity with their students. It was illegal to acknowledge alternative lifestyle and gay people in English schools in the 90s. Picking this biography back up again in 2018 as a divorced father in his late 30s my rose tinted spectacular view of Wilde is now one of empathy, remorse and sympathy. Wilde was perpetually bullied and driven to ruin by the English pig the Marquis of Queensbury who appeared to be unhealthily obsessed with Wildes relationship with his son Sir Alfred Douglas. I can't help thinking that if Wilde had lived nowadays he could live out his life positively as a counsellor for LGBT families or a writer/actor for film and television. This biography is perfect in that it gives great detail. You can really get an honest account of his trial and the accusations of his sensitive crimes. It sheds great light on the oppression of western society upon its people during the late Victorian age. We are still reeling from the shock of Victorian morality some 120 years on. We are still talking about Wilde, Shelley and Coleridge. People who lived their life as they wanted until it wasn't possible to continue. Poets who were unreliable, selfish, ego centric, unpopular, debters, obsessed with their art and the soul of humanity. I'm so grateful that they pushed the boundaries of our souls to excess and lived a life less ordinary for their time. They were pioneers of the human condition and revolutionary. 'A dreaded sunny day so I'll meet you at the cemetery gates. Keats and Yates are on your side, but you lose, 'cos weird lover Wilde is on mine, surely'. The Smiths Cemetery Gates. 85.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kyra Boisseree

    I object to the ending. It was too sad. Why did he have to die? But in all seriousness, the final lines of this book did make me cry. Here: "His work survived as he claimed it would. We inherit his struggle to achieve supreme fictions in art, to associate art with social change, to bring together individual and social impulse, to save what is eccentric and singular from being sanitized and standardized, to replace a morality of severity by one of sympathy. He belongs to our world more than to Vic I object to the ending. It was too sad. Why did he have to die? But in all seriousness, the final lines of this book did make me cry. Here: "His work survived as he claimed it would. We inherit his struggle to achieve supreme fictions in art, to associate art with social change, to bring together individual and social impulse, to save what is eccentric and singular from being sanitized and standardized, to replace a morality of severity by one of sympathy. He belongs to our world more than to Victoria's. Now, beyond the reach of scandal, his best writings validated by time, he comes before us still, a towering figure, laughing and weeping, with parables and paradoxes, so generous, so amusing, and so right." I could never give this 5 stars merely for some differences of opinion between Ellmann and I and the few errors I know this book contains, but it was still thoroughly enjoyable. It even made me laugh at times, which is a feat (perhaps more due to Wilde than Ellmann, but sometimes it was definitely Ellmann). I was never too bored, though the duller sections were usually the parts about people who were not Wilde. This is the first time I've ever read nonfiction of this length, let alone a biography of this length. I've been reading it for so long that I feel sad and sort of lonely at the idea of giving it up. It was my travel companion in the UK, and a long-time presence on my nightstand. Still, I'm also sort of relieved to be finally finished. I think I'll take a break from Oscar for a while, before continuing to read through my collection of bookish Wildeana. I need to go back to primary sources soon though--I've been reading about him for too long.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Richard Jespers

    This book of exhaustive research concerning Wilde’s life is a pleasure to read from his family history to his imprisonment years later and his resulting exile in France. Prior to reading this book, I had always had the impression that Oscar Wilde’s life (except for prison) was one wild ride (pardon the pun). And in some ways it was. He, even after experiencing financial success, was always in want of money, primarily because he was such a spendthrift, spending or giving away money he honestly di This book of exhaustive research concerning Wilde’s life is a pleasure to read from his family history to his imprisonment years later and his resulting exile in France. Prior to reading this book, I had always had the impression that Oscar Wilde’s life (except for prison) was one wild ride (pardon the pun). And in some ways it was. He, even after experiencing financial success, was always in want of money, primarily because he was such a spendthrift, spending or giving away money he honestly didn’t have. He cared not about what people thought of his extravagant ideas, his extravagant living. Yet Wilde faced great public disapproval of how he lived his life. His only friends were other homosexual men or those liberal enough to accept him. His downfall came in the package of one man, Lord Alfred Douglas, a much younger man, an aristocrat who both loved and used Wilde. If Wilde had never met him, he might have met his match with some other party, but I doubt it. The latter part of Wilde’s sad life was battling Douglas’s father in court. Lord Percy Douglas, Marquess of Queensberry, managed to have Wilde sent to prison for two years because he didn’t want Wilde near his son. Wilde did his prison time, and it broke him, both physically and mentally. He never wrote anything substantial again, was always begging others for money, and suffered physical ailments that eventually brought on his premature death at forty-six. Ellmann’s distinguished book, more than thirty years old now, does great justice to the life of an extraordinary writer who lived, until he could no longer bear the speed of light, way ahead of his time.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Rahul Adusumilli

    Much of my moral obliquity is due to the fact that my father would not allow me to become a Catholic. The artistic side of the Church and the fragrance of its teaching would have cured my degeneracies. Tell me dear reader, is there any boat you wish you'd gotten on that would've taken you far away from the shores of sin you presently lay upon? English law had misdone him by punishment, and English society finished him off by ostracism. Two writers whose graves I wish to visit- Oscar Wilde and Much of my moral obliquity is due to the fact that my father would not allow me to become a Catholic. The artistic side of the Church and the fragrance of its teaching would have cured my degeneracies. Tell me dear reader, is there any boat you wish you'd gotten on that would've taken you far away from the shores of sin you presently lay upon? English law had misdone him by punishment, and English society finished him off by ostracism. Two writers whose graves I wish to visit- Oscar Wilde and Marcel Proust. “The men who have realised themselves, and in whom all Humanity gains a partial realisation.”

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mazouza Sha'ban

    A man can be happy with any woman as long as he does not love her.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Erika

    I am glad I read this, but I do not think it is for everyone. If you have a specific interest in Oscar or art history/philosophy, read it. It is dense and full of academic details and footnotes. I don’t think the casual reader would enjoy it as much as a student of the subjects.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Magill

    A 4 for the level of research but probably a 3 in overall enjoyment, this is a densely written and researched book, at times a bit overwhelming. Having read Wilde's stories and plays (skipping the poetry), I was aware of the broad outlines of his life but not much more (besides having stayed in a charming little hotel in Halifax, NS, where he had once stayed). It was difficult to keep track of the many friends and aquaintances as they appeared and reappeared through the book, but with such a busy A 4 for the level of research but probably a 3 in overall enjoyment, this is a densely written and researched book, at times a bit overwhelming. Having read Wilde's stories and plays (skipping the poetry), I was aware of the broad outlines of his life but not much more (besides having stayed in a charming little hotel in Halifax, NS, where he had once stayed). It was difficult to keep track of the many friends and aquaintances as they appeared and reappeared through the book, but with such a busy, infamous and crowded life, that should only be expected. More importantly though, these people provided additional observations through their own letters and diaries that added veracity and perspective to various details throughout the book. The author spent quite a bit of time, in the earlier parts of the book, discussing Wilde's aesthete philosophy which seemed to be somewhat malleable over time, but that could easily be my inability to completely grasp it, beyond thinking that much of it was tosh and impressed one could make a living spouting it. It seemed to be as much a fanciful creation as the stories scattered throughout the book that Wilde could seemingly create at a moment's notice. About 1/2-way through the book I started googling "Oscar Wilde psychology" as it seemed that, beyond his brilliance, there seemed to be some serious trends and wondered if anyone had done any kind of assessment. And, while the author repeatedly mentioned Wilde's generosity etc., it seemed less driven by real affection and more tied to his desire to be admired/loved or to impress (less so his wife and children) although having a certain sentimentalism (a not uncommon Victorian trait). Shallow, egocentric, destructive, thoughtless, careless, irresponsible (to name only a few)- maybe some of these things were a part of the carefully constructed persona, maybe Wilde was the first genuine performance artist. If so, he paid dearly for it. I am tempted to read this book: http://www.sussex-academic.com/sa/tit... Much of the destruction of Wilde he brought upon himself, living dangerously with his finances, with his choice of the people he associated with (the young panthers for example - one would have to be willfully blind to ignore the predatoriness) and, frankly, on whom he loved - the loathsome, and obviously mentally unstable, manipulative and abusive, Lord Alfred Douglas. This was a kind of Victorian "Sid and Nancy", and even without the imprisonment I can't see things ending well. People make much of how many of his "friends" treated him during his imprisonment and after, certainly a tragedy and hypocritical in many cases, and yet, Wilde's need to be the centre of attention and applauded, suggests that many of these people were probably not really friends but the audience for which he played and sought approval. The fact that not a few of his close friends had become estranged some time before Wilde's incarceration (barring Whistler who was somewhat crazed himself) would suggest one of two things - either Wilde alienated his intimates through his behaviour/shallowness or even in the early days he gravitated to people who were shallow and ungrateful themselves. A sad end and a sad ending, a waste and a tragedy. Now seems a good time to go back and re-read the plays and stories to see if I can actually see the apparent underlying messages... and here I thought the Happy Prince was just another sentimental victorian story (I much prefer Saki's short stories, btw).

  27. 4 out of 5

    David B

    Richard Ellman's fascinating biography follows Wilde from his beginnings as a brilliant student to his tragic end, when he haunted European locales that had delighted him in better times like a living ghost. The early part of the book is the least interesting. Wilde was one of the first useless celebrities-figures who gain notoriety simply because something odd or appealing about them keeps them in the public eye apart from any actual talent (although Wilde was, by all accounts, an excellent spe Richard Ellman's fascinating biography follows Wilde from his beginnings as a brilliant student to his tragic end, when he haunted European locales that had delighted him in better times like a living ghost. The early part of the book is the least interesting. Wilde was one of the first useless celebrities-figures who gain notoriety simply because something odd or appealing about them keeps them in the public eye apart from any actual talent (although Wilde was, by all accounts, an excellent speaker). Ellman's analysis of Wilde's aestheticism is, I suppose, essential to a complete understanding of the man, but since the matters that Wilde devoted so much of his energy to were so frivolous and trivial, it doesn't make for a very good read. Later, though, Wilde demonstrates his talent with the publication of "The Picture of Dorian Gray" and his successful plays, and the biography picks up as well. Wilde becomes a truly tragic figure by the end, ruined by his love for Lord Alfred Douglas, hounded by Douglas's father the Marquis of Queensberry, imprisoned, and finally betrayed and forgotten by most of his former friends. For all his wit and insight, Wilde emerges as a curiously naïve character and basically a good man, kind and trusting to a fault.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Theresa Leone Davidson

    A wonderful biography of Wilde's life and everything that was happening to him while he wrote his many great works, like The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest, as well as his short stories, like my favorite, The Happy Prince. I knew some facts surrounding his arrest and imprisonment before reading this but didn't know a lot, like how it started with his libel suit against his lover's father, the Marquess of Queensberry, so that was of particular interest, as was Wilde's A wonderful biography of Wilde's life and everything that was happening to him while he wrote his many great works, like The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest, as well as his short stories, like my favorite, The Happy Prince. I knew some facts surrounding his arrest and imprisonment before reading this but didn't know a lot, like how it started with his libel suit against his lover's father, the Marquess of Queensberry, so that was of particular interest, as was Wilde's trip to the United States. His life was both charmed and tragic, and the book captures all of it. HIGHLY recommend!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lucy

    The unreadable in pursuit of the dislikeable. Turgid prose that doesn't know when to stop, at times awkward construction, and far too little about the effect this ghastly man had on his wife and children. One has to feel sorry for OW but if ever a man was author of his own downfall, he was the man. I know things now about the late nineteenth century that I wish I didn't. In fact, I wish I hadn't read this book at all. The unreadable in pursuit of the dislikeable. Turgid prose that doesn't know when to stop, at times awkward construction, and far too little about the effect this ghastly man had on his wife and children. One has to feel sorry for OW but if ever a man was author of his own downfall, he was the man. I know things now about the late nineteenth century that I wish I didn't. In fact, I wish I hadn't read this book at all.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Barbara Rice

    No doubt that Oscar Wilde was a tortured genius, but he was also a narcissist and egotist, and in the end that may have contributed to his spectacular downfall. Well, that and Lord Alfred Douglas. This book is sympathetic to Wilde without pandering or making him to be grossly misunderstood. Worthwhile.

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