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Oscar Wilde

4.6 out of 5 stars 57 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0394554846
ISBN-10: 0394554841
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Richard Ellmann capped an illustrious career in biography (his James Joyce is considered one of the masterpieces of the 20th century) with this life of Oscar Wilde, which won both the National Book Critics Circle Award and Pulitzer Prize on its original publication in 1988. Ellmann's account of Wilde's extravagantly operatic life as poet, playwright, aesthete, and martyr to sexual morality is notable not only for the full portrait it gives of Wilde, but also for Ellmann's assessment of his subject's literary greatness; both aims are served by a plethora of quotations from Wilde's own work and correspondence. Wilde straddled the line between the Victorian age and the modern world as he did everything in life ... with impeccable style. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From Library Journal

The late Ellmann worked 20 years on this magisterial biography. He tells the fascinating story of Oscar Wildewit and aesthete, poet and playwright, scapegrace and scapegoatmore fully and irresistibly than it has ever been told before. Ellmann captures Wilde's charm and high spirits and also the darker side of his personality, which led to increasingly public homosexual affairs at a time when homosexuality was legally a crime. Ellmann skillfully marshals his material (some of it new), and he writes brilliantly but unobtrusively. A masterpiece to match Ellmann's James Joyce (1959), this work is certain to trigger renewed interest in Wilde. Keith Cushman, Univ. of North Carolina, Greensboro
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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The latest book club pick from Oprah
"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead is a magnificent novel chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. See more

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 680 pages
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf (January 12, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394554841
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394554846
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.8 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #457,306 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
With this volume, Richard Ellmann elevates Oscar Wilde into the select circle of Ireland's other literary giants of whom he wrote so eloquently: William Butler Yeats and James Joyce. (It was left to Michael Holroyd to give George Bernard Shaw his due.) While this volume is a sophisticated, wide-ranging, scholarly biography, it also brims with Wilde's wit and bold life, which, as Oscar himself pointed out, was where his genius lay. The slow, steady accumulation of detail, allusion and anecdote pays off as Wilde reaches his pinnacle--the original production of "The Importance of Being Earnest"--only to plunge into the abyss of imprisonment. As Wilde tempts fate with rough trade dalliances and his ill-conceived challenge to the Marquess of Queensbury, you find yourself almost shouting out for him to stop and save himself. But he doesn't, because Ellmann makes us understand that Wilde's nature led him to that point. The end is sad, but his wit never deserts him, right up until his death throes when he notes that either the wallpaper in the room must go or he must--which he does shortly thereafter. Today, qualities that Wilde pioneered are a part of modern life: camp humor, scathing put-downs, an emphasis on style, an obsession with appearances. In Wilde's day, he was an almost solitary figure in that regard, leading the way into the modern world. The witticisms of "The Importance of Being Earnest" are as humorous and apt today as the day they were first spoken in London in 1895. Richard Ellmann helps us understand why.
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Format: Paperback
If Richard Ellmann had not already written the definitive literary biography (his astonishing JAMES JOYCE), this utterly first-rate biography would be a legitimate candidate for the title. One might initially think that Wilde would be an easy subject for a biography: his life was interesting, eventful, literarily significant, triumphant, and tragic. But the problem is that for many Wilde has become a symbol either of the late 19th century Victorian decadence or the oppressed homosexual. To treat anyone, and especially Wilde, primarily as a symbol or a representative of anything outside himself, is to distort and misrepresent. The genius of Ellmann's biography of Wilde is that Wilde never becomes either more or less than the writer and person Oscar Wilde.
The portrait that emerges of Wilde is absolutely fascinating. If Ellmann's JAMES JOYCE is the greater biography, Wilde emerges nonetheless as the more interesting of the two Irish authors, and perhaps the more brilliant, if not the more productive. Indeed, one of the things that emerges from Ellmann's book is a sense that Wilde might have become a greater writer than he did, and not just if he had not sued the Marquess of Queensbury and had not been sent to prison on sodomy charges. Wilde emerges as even more brilliant than the work he produced, as if he had produced much of his work with a minimum of reference.
Ellmann does a marvelous job of situation Wilde in his time and place, with the cultural and artistic concerns paramount at the time. He also does a fair and just job of depicting the major involvements in his life, beginning with Whistler and his wife Constance and continuing on with his various involvements, especially with Alfred Lord Douglas.
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Format: Paperback
I bought this book after seeing the movie, "Wilde" which is based on it. I have to say that I caught a bit of "Oscar Fever" while reading it. The book is incredibly thorough and well-researched; Ellman definitely knows his stuff. The book is written in an admiring, respectful tone but remains objective. Excerpts from Wilde's works that the author found particularly significant are included, as well as many wonderful pictures.
After reading this book I have a lot of admiration and fondness for Wilde, and I marvel at his fascinating but ultimately tragic life. A couple of months before I read this book I was wandering around the cemetery de Pere-Lachaise in Paris and happened upon Wilde's grave. I didn't think too much of it then but now that I have learned a bit about the man I really do want to go back and pay my respects. Ellman has written a beautiful, loving portrait of Wilde and it is thoroughly enjoyable and poignant. I'd also recommend the wonderful film starring Stephen Fry and Jude Law but to get the whole story, read the book!!!
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Format: Paperback
Oscar Wilde was a man of paradoxes, both a man completely of his time and ahead of his time. He is also one of the most interesting, and tragic, literary figures of all-time. In our age of "information quick" (though it was the same in his own age), Wilde is often misunderstood (both his life and his works.) It's easy to get a one-sided version of Wilde the writer, or Wilde the man. That is why this extremely well-written, Pulitzer Prize-winning, masterpiece of a biography is absolutely essential for the Wilde scholar or the Wilde fan. Ellman skillfully avoids what he could've so easily done, and what so many other have done: write a sensational, tabloidistic account of Wilde's remarkable and scandalous life. Instead, he carefully, skillyfully - and, not least important, lovingly - assembles a neat balance between the sensational elements of Wilde's remarkable life and his literary legacy. Wilde, whose works are often dismissed (despite being probably the most widely quoted source in the world outside of The Bible and Shakespeare, and despite having his works widely and frequently plagarized) because of his lifestyle, and Ellman thankfully gives him his due here. Thanks to people like Ellman, Wilde's literary works rest now, finally, where they are due: at the top of the pantheon. He also goes a long way towards explaining the underlying motives behind Wilde's seemingly self-conscious descent into oblivion. Wilde, to the casual observer, seems almost to have been on a deliberate mission of artistic and personal suicide, and Ellman goes a long way here towards explaining his motives.Read more ›
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