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Thread: Biography of Oscar Wilde?

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    Biography of Oscar Wilde?

    I am reading "De Profundis" and am struck. That seems the only word I can conjure. I can't express his suffering; only he.
    Has one of you read a balanced biography of his life? I fancied him such a sick, perverse, twisted artist after completion of "The Picture of Dorian Gray," but I see now that he's more heart than most men. Words can't express my pity for the shame brought upon his life by a narcissistic brat.

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    The best biography of Wilde I have read is Richard Ellmann's work simply entitled Oscar Wilde

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    Yes Ellmann's biography is the most extensive and usually the most respected, though H. Montgomery Hyde's biography is also very good and more to the point. Neil McKenna's biography I feel has other agendas.
    Last edited by Neely; 01-09-2010 at 08:52 AM.

    Oscar Wilde (1854-1900).

    I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.
    Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.

    Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.

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    Registered User JackieGinger's Avatar
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    I'm always so deeply astounded and annoyed when people consider Him simply as a cruel hedonistic homosexual, yes He was hedo and homo, but He has so many qualities that make His personality (and by the way, to have the two above-mentioned characteristics is not necessarily bad) so colorful, versatile and ADMIRABLE! His masterpieces as simply overwhelmingly pleasant and entertaining to read or listen to. His entire life is in fact a work of art, considering that He followed His "rules", so to say, of aestheticism, and that He bore everything with DIGNITY!

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    I suspect people who still find The Picture of Dorian Grey to be a shocking and perverted novel are probably a tad bit sheltered.
    "If the national mental illness of the United States is megalomania, that of Canada is paranoid schizophrenia."
    - Margaret Atwood

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    If you are familiar with George Bernard Shaw, you know that he gave very few compliments in his life to anyone, but he gave one to Oscar Wllde. Shaw stated this about Wilde: "He was the supreme comedian of his age." I think that is pretty high praise--especially coming from Shaw.

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    Registered User neilgee's Avatar
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    I read the Neil McKenna one just because it's straightforward about Oscar's sexual encounters and his marriage. I don't know what Neely means about "other agendas" because this is the only one I've read, but I didn't want to end up reading one of the older school biographies that still pretend there is something shameful, something unmentionable about Wilde's tastes.

    I read the blurb of a huge Lord Alfred Douglas biography in the library once and was amazed to read about his "exemplary" life apart from "one youthful encounter". The implication was that he wasn't actually homosexual at all. Then in the middle of the book there was a photograph of Douglas with a tiny Chiwawa [sorry, spelling] on a lead that just made me roar laughing as it undid all of the biographer's elaborate pretence. What stuff and nonsense!
    What are regrets? Just lessons we haven't learned yet - Beth Orton

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    I must say that I have not read all of McKennaís biography so I am a little in the dark (and perhaps shouldn't have been so dismissive,) but from what I have read I just felt that he was trying to make Wilde into some kind of homosexual martyr or homosexual freedom fighter, which was just not really an accurate portrayal of Wilde. I've read a load of material on Wilde including all his work, letters, biography, criticism and lesser work which is not in his collected works, and I just felt that the impression I got from McKenna didn't accurately depict the Wilde that I know. I got the feeling, rightly or wrongly, that the author was using Wilde's life as a political platform into gay rights and perhaps bending material to fit in with the author's own ideology. This is the impression I got from reading parts of McKenna. If you think I am dead wrong though, tell me and it will force me to buy this biography and reassess my original impression.

    I certainly don't feel though that either Hyde or Ellmann are particularly old school or gloss over Wilde's sexuality particularly. Ellmann's biography is always the first to be mentioned by any critical essay as a solid piece of biography. It is certainly more in depth than Hyde's, but Hyde's is more direct as Ellmann goes into detail where the general reader with a passing interest may lose interest. On the whole though Ellmann's is easily regarded as the best biography on Wilde and is very well written.

    I'm not surprised to hear Lord Alfred Douglas's take on his relations with Wilde, he soon distanced himself from the whole affair for whatever reason or reasons, though later in life he did open up a little more on their relations. I suppose that you could hardly blame him of course what with the social pressures against homosexuality, which was still a crime in the UK right up until 1967!

    Oscar Wilde (1854-1900).

    I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.
    Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.

    Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.

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    There is no doubt that Lord Alfred Douglas was a troubled person. I think a case can be made that he was mentally unstable. At Wilde's funeral Douglas made a scene and got into a loud verbal argument. Later in his life he was prone to sue people and initiate lawsuits over trivial incidents. All the evidence makes one suspect that in his youth Douglas was nothing but a spoiled brat, and in his later life he was an embittered s.o.b.

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    Registered User neilgee's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jermac View Post
    There is no doubt that Lord Alfred Douglas was a troubled person. I think a case can be made that he was mentally unstable. At Wilde's funeral Douglas made a scene and got into a loud verbal argument. Later in his life he was prone to sue people and initiate lawsuits over trivial incidents. All the evidence makes one suspect that in his youth Douglas was nothing but a spoiled brat, and in his later life he was an embittered s.o.b.
    He does seem to have been a monster, Jermac, but his Father was even worse. It was the feuding between Father and Son thta lead to Wilde's arrest.


    Quote Originally Posted by Neely View Post
    I must say that I have not read all of McKenna’s biography so I am a little in the dark (and perhaps shouldn't have been so dismissive,) but from what I have read I just felt that he was trying to make Wilde into some kind of homosexual martyr or homosexual freedom fighter, which was just not really an accurate portrayal of Wilde. I've read a load of material on Wilde including all his work, letters, biography, criticism and lesser work which is not in his collected works, and I just felt that the impression I got from McKenna didn't accurately depict the Wilde that I know. I got the feeling, rightly or wrongly, that the author was using Wilde's life as a political platform into gay rights and perhaps bending material to fit in with the author's own ideology. This is the impression I got from reading parts of McKenna. If you think I am dead wrong though, tell me and it will force me to buy this biography and reassess my original impression.

    I certainly don't feel though that either Hyde or Ellmann are particularly old school or gloss over Wilde's sexuality particularly. Ellmann's biography is always the first to be mentioned by any critical essay as a solid piece of biography. It is certainly more in depth than Hyde's, but Hyde's is more direct as Ellmann goes into detail where the general reader with a passing interest may lose interest. On the whole though Ellmann's is easily regarded as the best biography on Wilde and is very well written.

    I'm not surprised to hear Lord Alfred Douglas's take on his relations with Wilde, he soon distanced himself from the whole affair for whatever reason or reasons, though later in life he did open up a little more on their relations. I suppose that you could hardly blame him of course what with the social pressures against homosexuality, which was still a crime in the UK right up until 1967!
    I don't read it that way, Neely, although you may have read better biographies that put this one into perspective I just didn't get that "Gay Martyr" agenda because the writer does stick at the job of a chronilogical description of Wilde's life pretty efficiently.

    It describes all his known sexual encounters with historical detachment but the author does make me feel sorry for Oscar's wife and then sorry for Oscar in turn as he hounded from house to house by bullies, seeking sanctuary, after his attempt to sue the Marquis of Queensbury collapsed.

    I honestly didn't get a gay martyr vibe from this book, but then maybe I don't see it because I wasn't looking for that? There's some interesting stuff about the government too particularly as the then Primeminister Lord Roseberry is now known to have been gay, and he resigned in mysterious circumstances not long after Wilde's imprisonment. Was it in some politician's interest for Wilde to go to prison?

    All in all it's not a great biography but it does the job if you want the details of Wilde's sex life.
    Last edited by neilgee; 01-11-2010 at 05:03 AM.
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    It is true that the feud between Alfred Douglas and his father was the cause of the entire Wilde debacle. Douglas seems to have hated his father with an almost irrational intensity. Wilde's big mistake was initiating a lawsuit against a member of the nobility. But it seems that Alfred Douglas egged on Wilde to do it. It is clear that Wilde was "under the influence" of Alfred Douglas, that he was infatuated to say the least with him.

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    OK, thanks. Yes I donít think that you can help both feeling sorry for Wilde and his wife and kids into the bargain whatever you read. Iíve read Vyvyanís account in Yyvyan Holland Son of Oscar Wilde, and he has nothing but fond memories of his father though, with no bitterness on his behalf.

    Iím not sure about the connection between Roseberry and Wilde or if it is in any politicianís interest to have Wilde imprisoned particularly. Wildeís later flamboyant behaviour was becoming increasingly talked about, so maybe he was becoming a bit of an irritation, but I wouldnít buy any conspiracy further than that.

    Iíd certainly like to read the book, though I donít think it would be of much importance towards my dissertation, of course anything interesting on Wilde interests me; though I still have a few reservations based upon the parts I read a while ago and the fact that much about Wildeís sex life (or voyeurism) will never really be known.

    Oscar Wilde (1854-1900).

    I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.
    Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.

    Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.

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    Registered User Sebas. Melmoth's Avatar
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    I think that the biography of Oscar Wilde by Frank Harris is pretty balanced. He was a close friend of Oscar Wilde, so he knew him well. But he didn't try to shield Wilde; he said the whole truth so that some of Wilde's friends even objected to the book being published. This book is there on Project Gutenberg. Wilde was terriby misunderstood by his own age, and grossly underrated in our own.
    As for the 'De Profundis', it IS really striking. It is the great symphony of sorrow by the Hellenic tragic poet of modernity. If Wilde had never gone to prison he would have been incomplete as an artist; for one of the first lessons of the artist is that 'by sadness the countenance of the heart is made better'.
    I used to hate Bosie too, until I read his poems. I simply couldn't make out till then, why a poet like Wilde should have loved, adored someone who was apparently nothing more than a pretty 'gold and ivory' boy. But he was really a great poet, and some of his poems are as great as Wilde's own poems.Read specially his' Dies Amara Valde', 'Rejected' ,'Not all the singers of a thousand years', 'Two loves' and 'Rewards'. They can be found at (collectedpoemsof00dougrich). Of course, that doesn't excuse his later attitude towards Wilde. But he was an important and necessary part of Wilde's life as an artist.More important, Alfred Douglas was an artist in his own right.

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