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The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde Hardcover – April 1, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

In his new book, Joseph Pearce asserts that the great poet, satirist, and playwright Oscar Wilde is as misunderstood today as he was in his own time. Vilified by his fellow Victorians for his sexuality and dandyism, these days he is hailed as a sexual liberator. Yet this is not how Wilde saw himself. His lifestyle and pretenses did not bring him happiness and fulfillment: his art did. And this is where Pearce's search for the man behind the masks is centered. Rather than lingering on the actions that brought him notoriety, Joseph Pearce explores the emotional and spiritual search of this fascinating and complex figure. The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde reveals how his "heart of stone" was broken by his two-year prison sentence, while it probes the deeper implications of his masterpieces. Along with a discussion of The Ballad of Reading Gaol and the posthumously published De Profundis, it also traces his fascination with Catholicism through to his eleventh-hour conversion. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Joseph Pearce is the author of numerous acclaimed biographies of major Catholic literary figures.

He is a Writer in Residence and Professor of Literature at Ave Maria College in Michigan, Editor-in-Chief of Ave Maria University Communications and Sapientia Press, as well as Co-Editor of the The Saint Austin Review (or StAR), an international review of Christian culture, literature, and ideas published in England by the Saint Austin Press.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 412 pages
  • Publisher: Ignatius Press (April 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586170260
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586170264
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #180,503 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

94 of 104 people found the following review helpful By Boson on February 3, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This very readable book is very useful corrective to what's become the "standard" view of Wilde. It's especially good at exposing the weaknesses of Richard Ellman's now-standard biography of Wilde. For example, the claim that Wilde contracted (and later died of) syphillis is pretty much taken apart by Pearce.
Pearce has also very closely read Wilde's works, so he offers some very valuable readings of Wilde's writing in order to better understand Wilde's inner life--a life, according to Pearce, that was marked by inner loathing and a self-rebuffed desire to embrace the Church.
Ellman's book remains the standard biography in terms of prose quality (Ellman wrote with uncommon beauty and grace, and Ellman's enthusiasm for Wilde's work and personality is truly infectious). However, Pearce's book really should be must reading for all fans of Wilde's work. It doesn't merely trot out all the old information and anecdotes, but actually offers a fresh view of Wilde.
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43 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on December 11, 2005
Format: Hardcover
There seem to be two types of Oscar Wilde biographies. One, treats him like a sexual martyr and hardly gets into his huge talents at all. The other talks only about his career and treats the episode with Lord Alfred Douglass like a spot on an otherwise pristine carpet. Jospeh Pearce refuses to take either path. He looks at Oscar Wilde, the man, the artist and the broken soul. Wilde had some ideas about himself and was like Herod, fascinated by religion but was unable to stir himself to change. He a genius and was spoiled, pampered and protected by his class and talent but that left him totally unprepared for a brute of a man like the Marquiss of Queensbury.

Pearce is gentle with Wilde but he doesn't excuse him. Wilde failed his wife and his sons miserably and the nameless, faceless rent boys of London weren't just props, they were shabbily used human beings. Pearce makes this all clear but he also discusses the hope of Wilde's life, his last minute conversion. Give this well written book a try. It is a completely different and fresh look at Oscar Wilde.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Paul J. Testa on February 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Pearce provides an insightful and penetrating analysis of Wilde as both man and artist. Pearce's research is impeccable and his prose makes for a pleasurable read. Pearce's Wilde is engaging, sympathetic, and complex as his various masks are stripped away. I have read several of Pearce's books, but this one is perhaps his best. I was thankful for a complete portrait of Wilde that did not reduce him into a flippant purveyor of bon mots or a figurehead for the gay-liberation movement. Through Pearce's portrait, we learn that Wilde was so much more.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Clare on January 1, 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As school-teachers wisely say, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree." Pearce does both Oscar Wilde and us readers a favor by starting this book with a discussion of Wilde's nut-job mother. Talk about wearing a mask! The woman clearly was a fake through and through, and her stubborn refusal to look in a mirror (metaphorically speaking) and honestly acknowledge who and what she was is a flaw that she obviously taught her son. If he had been raised by different parents, would we even be having this discussion?

Not five stars, however, because throughout the author keeps making maddening attempts to be precious, inserting wannabe-witticisms into the text almost as if he's trying unsuccessfully to write like Wilde himself. (Catholic author George Rutler does the same sort of thing, although Rutler's far worse.) I kept tripping over Pearce's attempted cleverness, because it detracts from the narrative--it's kind of like trying to look through a very dirty window, when you can't help focusing your eyes more on the glass than on the view outside. E.g., "Art for art's sake is only an agnostic substitute for art for God's sake" (214). Huh? Well, maybe so, but I was constantly forced to stop and re-read these sorts of clever lines several times, a frustrating interruption of an otherwise fascinating story.
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23 of 34 people found the following review helpful By A. Calabrese on December 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Before reading this biography all I knew about Oscar Wilde was that he was oversexed and the author of The Picture of Dorian Gray. Joseph Peace does a good job of revealing Wilde's upbringing, studies, and career. In fact I am now reading and pondering other works of Wilde's like, De Profundis.

The author seems harsh to Wilde's lovers and most forgiving of the "Wilde Life." The book paints a picture of Oscar Wilde as a gifted artist who, as his life progressed, became a moral degenirate and a drunkard, in that order. Wilde apparently felt and even expressed remorse, but seemed incapable of acting on it. Yes, "We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." But, that said, Oscar Wilde was predatory in his pursuit of and obsession with younger men. As Pearce points out, Wilde's sin destroyed his family and destroyed him. Wilde died almost friendless and a pauper. Wilde didn't seem so much interested in love as he did in pleasure. What Wilde expressed on paper he was not capable of in himself. The book is an interesting study of the decadent movement of the 19th century in art and literature, and will open the reader up to lesser known writers and artists, who were Wilde's contemporaries. Pearce does make the reader feel sad for Wilde as he was brilliantly talented, but morally a train wreck. Over all, not a bad read and a good introduction to the life of Oscar Wilde.
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