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Oscar Wilde Discovers America: A Novel Hardcover – January 28, 2003

3.5 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In spite of its title, this third novel by Edwards (after Ten Seconds) is not so much about the celebrated Irish wit as about the black valet who accompanied him on his 1882 coast-to-coast American tour. Not much is known about the actual valet, but Edwards imagines him as a privileged son of educated New York City servants. William Traquair has recently graduated from college, and his father, with the help of his employer, a generous white banker, arranges for Traquair to accompany Wilde. Traquair is already an admirer of Wilde's work, and as Wilde prefers to dispense with formalities, the two become friends. Wilde even adopts some of Traquair's puns ("travel moves me"). Purists may shudder at the stilted conversations; Edwards's many epigrams are rarely the match of Wilde's, though the book does have its moments of humor, especially when Traquair's starchiness is gently mocked by the more down-to-earth blacks he encounters. Yet while Edwards makes an intriguing attempt to imagine the trip from Traquair's perspective, the effort is uneven and often tedious, slowed by awkward prose with a false, old-timey stiffness ("I was, indeed, mildly annoyed with his remark. But I hope I did not impart that displeasure in any discernible way.... I was, after all, a mere uninvited guest into his small chamber of solitude"). There is a surprising and touching conclusion, but some readers will have lost patience before then.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Critically acclaimed for his previous novels, Ten Seconds and N: A Romantic Mystery, Edwards here offers a historical work set in 1882 after Reconstruction but before Plessy v. Ferguson. His protagonist is the 22-year-old William Traquair, who travels as valet to Oscar Wilde throughout his U.S. lecture tour. African American, Bowdoin-educated, and son of the butler to a wealthy abolitionist family, Traquair has had a relatively sheltered and privileged childhood. Already a follower of Wilde's aesthetic philosophy, he overlooks his distaste for servitude to learn at Wilde's elbow. However conscious of his position as a servant, Traquair does not feel limited socially by his position or his skin color. His experience gives him insight into his family and its history, his confusing parentage, and the twists of fate that have contributed to his destiny. Traquair's recent heritage of slavery and the conditions of being black in America are left to the reader to deduce and comprehend through revelation and the author's subtle narrative technique. This complex novel requires-and deserves-multiple readings to be understood and appreciated fully. Highly recommended for all public and academic fiction collections.
Rebecca Stuhr, Grinnell Coll. Libs., IA
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; First Edition edition (January 28, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743236890
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743236898
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,424,733 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Joseph J. Hanssen on April 4, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This book is a step back in history narrated in the language of the times, which is quite realistic. It is told from a quite different viewpoint, not of Oscar Wilde, but beautifully described by his black valet who accompanied Oscar on his nationwide American tour. The book starts out in January 1882, as Oscar arrives in New York to begin his tour. At the time no mention was made in the press of his black valet named William Traquair, who accompanied him. As Wilde entertains the New World with his lectures and humor, Traquair enjoys what he will always remember as the best year in his life.
This is an engrossing and intriguing story that certainly gives us a much clearer perspective on what it must have been like in America at the turn of the century and especially what impact this time period had on black men.

A story that?s both fact and fiction, and one that will make you fantasize that you are right there on tour with Wilde and Traquair traveling across America at a time when life on this continent was so young and open to suggestion. I enjoyed this story and I feel the author has accomplished what he intended to do by taking us clearly back in time!
Joe Hanssen
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Format: Hardcover
What a great idea -- to focus on the black valet who accompanied Wilde on his great American speaking tour in the early 1880s. Edwards does a passable job explicating this premise, and in the process explores race and class relationships in America, as he takes the reader on a wild ride through late 19th Century America.

Don't buy this historical fiction if you want all Wilde, all the time, the story is really about the valet, a proud, handsome, educated free black who faced withering racism as Wilde's travels took them to the deep South.

It's a wild road novel that would make a fine movie.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Beautifully researched, elegant writing style. As author of the prize-winning The Unauthorozed Letters of Oscar Wilde, I approach the Wilde industry with a keen, slightly jaundiced eye. Mr. Edwards more than met my standards.
I had reservations about several long-winded passages imagining Wilde's speechifying and felt some of the minor characters sounded too erudite and Wildean. However, the final confrontation between Wilde and Traquair ratifies what I've come to believe about Wilde's American odyssey. Altogether an edifying read.
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Format: Hardcover
This novel is actuallly not really about Oscar Wilde as much as it is about a black valet who accompanied him on his tour of America. The story is of an educated black man's discovery of himself in the late nineteenth century. I was intrigued by the concept, which is why I bought the book. Honestly, I didn't have much hope for the writing before I got into it but it was really pretty decent. Edwards to a very good job of capturing Oscar Wilde's quick wit and the characters are well developed. The feel of the time is about right, especially for the type of reaction an educated black man might get at that time.

My only disappointment was that I felt some of the dialogue was a bit overdone. Not so much as to ruin the novel, but at times it was a bit distracting.

On the positive side, Edwards does a good job with the structure of this novel, which has several complex parallel stories. Also, I think it was well researched - the author relied on numerous newspaper accounts of the time to capture the public enthusiasm and scepticism of Wilde's tour. Overall, it is a very worthwhile book. I will be looking for more from this author in the future.
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Format: Hardcover
Louis Edwards does a wonderful job of capturing the America of the late 19th century, particularly as seen through the eyes of Oscar Wilde. Using Wilde's actual lecture tour of America as the basis for his novel, Edwards captures the rhythm and tone of Wilde's speech and his commentaries are very much in character. It is through Edwards' preoccupation with Wilde's valet, Traquair that the novel comes up a bit short. As the story is told through Traquair, we have to participate in his "coming of age" tale, while Wilde proves to be the more fascinating character. Poor Traquair just isn't a strong enough a creation to stand up to Wilde's charisma and the novel suffers for it. I understand that Edwards felt he needed a focus for his work other than Wilde; perhaps concerned that Oscar might wear out his welcome over the course of the novel, but whenever Wilde left center stage I found my attention to Traquair's story wavering and I just couldn't wait for Wilde's reappearance.
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