'I am the only person in the world I should like to know thoroughly"The truth is rarely pure and never simple' OSCAR WILDE'An elegant and affectionate biography of this controversial man' DAILY MAIL
Barbara Belford is the author of VIOLET: THE IRREPRESSIBLE VIOLET HUNT. Her most recent book, a biography of Bram Stoker was published by Weidenfeld to wide acclaim.
To mark the centennial of Wilde's (1854-1900) death, Belford (Bram Stoker) sets out to "revoke the myth of Wilde as a tragic figure" by showing that his ultimate acceptance of his homosexuality was liberating, despite his conviction on charges of "gross indecency" as the result of an affair with the Marquess of Queensberry's son, Lord Alfred Douglas (who was himself covered recently in Douglas Murray's Bosie, Talk/Miramax, 2000). The book deals with Wilde's sexuality more directly than most previous works, including the monumental study by Richard Ellmann (Oscar Wilde, LJ 12/87), whom Belford takes to task for failing to present Wilde's life against the background of his times. Belford emphasizes Wilde's Irishness, despite his expatriation to England and later France, and calls him a "true senachi" (storyteller), as he implemented the concepts of aestheticism, decadence, and symbolism in works like The Picture of Dorian Gray. Writing in a readily accessible style, Belford yields new insights to scholars while providing a "good read" for the lay audience. Although this new work doesn't replace Ellmann's classic, it should be widely read because it examines Wilde's life with a fresh emphasis on the positive. Also, Belford's sharp focus on Wilde's society colors the reader's reaction to the author himself. Highly recommended for academic and public libraries.DDenise J. Stankovics, Rockville P.L., Vernon, CT Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Wilde died on November 30, 1900Dthus the timing of this centenary biographyDand media attention to this anniversary could send people in to purchase this new bio of the outrageous but likable dramatist and wit. The standard life is by Richard Ellmann, published posthumously in 1987 and nearly twice as long as this one by Belford, biographer of Violet Hunt and Bram Stoker. Belford's major quarrel with Ellmann is whether Wilde at his death was suffering from the final indignities of syphilis acquired in his youth, but that controversy is not enough to make a case for this new biography. Belford's strategic strengthDsince few if any can compete with a masterly stylist such as EllmannDis to exploit Wilde's words whenever possible. She sees Wilde as evading overt homosexual conduct while building a reputation as satirist and social critic, and even marrying for what seemed like love. Yet leading an imaginary life, however obviously precious, was, she says, a tiring role he rejected for a bolder deception. At first his guilty parallel life was craftily reinvented in his writings, becoming the fulcrum of his comedies. When it surfaced, as was inevitable, so did his "intractable nature," and he made a public caseDin courtDfor the absolute freedom of the artist. It cost him two years of hard labor, his health and his career. Out of prison and in exile in France, he insisted, "I must remake my maimed life on my own lines," but by then his life was all but over. His wife was dead, his two sons lived under new surnames, and his plays had been pulled from the stage. Cerebral meningitis, whatever its origin, did Wilde in two weeks after his 46th birthday. With a penchant for overstatement ("Christ had his cult, and Wilde had his"), Belford claims, "Ellman wrote the tragedy of Wilde, not the life." Still, there is more life in what remains the standard biography of Wilde than in what Belford offers. Illus. not seen by PW. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.