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Robbie Ross: Oscar Wilde's Devoted Friend Paperback – January 9, 2002

4.6 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Fryer (Andr‚ and Oscar: Gide, Wilde and the Gay Art of Living) looks at a minor figure in literary history, Robbie Ross, the object of Oscar Wilde's first homosexual liaison. Wilde's sexual relationship with Ross (1869-1918) began when the latter was a 17-year-old student and Wilde was a 33-year-old married man. Their friendship deepened when Ross moved in with Wilde and his wife, Constance (with whom Wilde was deeply in love and to whom he was still sexually attracted), while Ross was cramming to get into Cambridge. The author also documents the many affairs the two men went on to have both with male members of London's literary circles as well as with lower class "rent boys." Although this biography is ostensibly about Ross, equal or more space is devoted to Wilde's highly successful literary career, as the subtitle suggests, covering such high points as the publication of his then highly sensational novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, as well as his ill-fated compulsive love for "Bosie" Davis. Bosie's father, who despised Wilde, was instrumental in having him tried for sodomy. Throughout Wilde's trial, prison term and release, Ross, who maintained a career as a minor writer and art critic, remained a loyal friend and frequently assisted the somewhat irresponsible Wilde financially. Ross was with Wilde when he died several years later; afterward he became Wilde's literary executor and befriended Wilde's sons. He was frequently subjected to vicious attacks from Bosie, who married and repudiated his former life. Written in a style that is fresh and exuberant but not sensational, Fryer's biography is particularly interesting for its in-depth look at London's late Victorian gay society. Photos not seen by PW. (Jan.)Forecast: 2000 marked the centenary of Wilde's death, and if this is packaged with other recent books on Wilde it might get some sales, but Ross is a minor figure and not likely to attract much attention.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

As yet another commemoration of the centennial of Oscar Wilde's death, journalist, broadcaster, and biographer Fryer (Andre and Oscar: The Literary Friendship of Andr Gide and Oscar Wilde) has written a biography of Ross (1869-1918), the writer, critic, and art dealer who as a young man introduced Wilde to homosexual love and later served as his literary executor. Descended from a prominent Canadian family, Ross was raised in England, where he lodged with the Wildes while preparing to study at Cambridge. His friendship with Wilde endured through Wilde's trial and imprisonment resulting from his homosexual relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas. Present at Wilde's deathbed, Ross successfully revived Wilde's works so that the royalties could pay off his many debts. As much about Wilde as Ross, the book reveals the changing attitudes and mores of late 19th- and early 20th-century England and includes a cast of figures well known in the arts, such as Sassoon, Graves, Beardsley, Gide, Shaw, and Whistler. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries.DDenise J. Stankovics, Rockville P.L., Vernon, CT
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Carroll & Graf (January 9, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786709278
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786709274
  • Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 5.2 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,854,383 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on March 9, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Oscar Wilde was author of some of the merriest jests and plays in the English language and subject of one of the saddest banishments and deaths in literature. Oscar was unfortunate in his enemies, and in many of his friends, but he was very fortunate in the friendship of Robbie Ross, a friendship that displayed itself throughout Oscar's successes and worst trials, and for long after Oscar's death. It cannot be said that Ross was a particularly important figure, but as a friend to Wilde, he influenced Oscar in many good ways. Ross is a footnote, but he was an exceptionally good friend and a good man, and now he has a good biography, _Robbie Ross: Oscar Wilde's Devoted Friend_ (Carroll and Graf Publishers) by Jonathan Fryer. It will be a welcome volume for any interested in Oscar's life.
As a youth, Robbie met Oscar and introduced him to homosexual lovemaking. Oscar took other lovers afterward, as did Robbie, and Robbie had not the slightest jealousy about Oscar's affections. Throughout Oscar's life, Robbie was there to give him help and good counsel, although Oscar sadly didn't often take his advice. When Oscar wound up in jail, Robbie came back, and made himself indispensable with visits to the jail and with taking up collections from the friends Oscar still had. Robbie received the deserved admiration of Oscar's friends, and of Oscar: "When I see you, I shall be quite happy, indeed I am happy now to think I have such wonderful friendship shown to me," and "Your love, your generosity, your care of me in prison and out of prison are the most lovely things in my life."
Robbie oversaw the publication of "The Ballad of Reading Gaol" and of _De Profundis_. He was on hand at Oscar's death, and oversaw the temporary internment and the arrangement of the final resting place in Paris.
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Format: Hardcover
Robbie Ross: Oscar Wilde's Last True Friend by Jonathan Fryer is the engrossing story of Oscar Wilde's closest and most loyal friend (excluding of course "Bosie" Douglas who was a more intimate if untrue friend). As well as examining the life of this minor turn of the century writer, Fryer provides insights into the lives of English (and English-Irish) gay men of the comfortable classes in late Victorian and Edwardian society. The story of the Ross/Wilde friendship is very touching and the retelling of Oscar Wilde's odyssey is an engaging one. The years following Wilde's death saw the pathologically immature "Bosie" Douglas descend from selfish lover to vicious loather. His turn to sexual conventionality and his adoption of a shockingly hateful crusade against Ross is a chilling reflection on personal perfidy and the ugliness of social reaction. Douglas was joined in his crusade by horrific anti-gay bigots, and their mad-dog litigation against Ross and others certainly contributed to Ross's ill health and early death at 49.
Ross had a mysogynistic side, which we learn about only in passing: his establishment of a modest scholarship for art students was restricted to males, and Fryer lamely posits an excuse. The retelling of this episode here, and the biography's almost complete absence of comments on Ross's political opinions, leads one to wonder about the broader context of Ross's life that is still left to tell, not that this minor figure will ever get another biography. We get only provocative snippets of another life. We're told that Ross felt very strongly about the intense events in Ireland at the time, but are never informed what these feelings are!
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By A Customer on November 29, 2003
Format: Paperback
Robbie Ross most certainly deserves acknowledgement for demonstrating true friendship to Oscar Wilde when Wilde was in the midst of deepest disgrace and in direst need.
As always with biography there is some special pleading in this book.
It is not accurate to say that Robbie Ross spoke "the first kind words about their father the boys had ever heard." Vvyan Holland, Wilde's youngest son, would disagree with that statement. Vyvan says in his autobiography that Constance, Wilde's wife, said "Don't hate you father. He hated his and that was much of the problem." Also, in fairness to Constance (who seems to get short shrift from the biographers of the men in the scandal) -- her brothers took over. They insisted that she divorce Oscar Wilde and change her name and that of the sons. At that time WOMEN HAD NO RIGHTS and Constance Wilde (who became Constance Holland) had no choice in this decision. Literally, even if she HAD had money she would not have had control of it. That is not the way English law worked. While we are giving Robbie Ross much deserved credit, let's be accurate in re Constance as well.
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By JSB on July 6, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a lovely tribute to Robbie Ross, Oscar Wilde's confidant, soul mate and staunch, stalwart friend. It is a well researched and thoroughly enjoyable read, particularly if you enjoy biographies. The author does not impart judgment or opinion, but provides the facts of Ross's interesting, and at times tumultuous, life in a compelling manner allowing the reader to formulate their own opinion. The book is an easy read and a conduit into the social, political and aesthetic nature of the late 1800's and early 1900's.

I would recommend this book to any lover of wit, aesthetics and literature. It provides an intimate portrait of not only Ross, but of the many great minds and artists of the period. It celebrates Ross the nonconformist; one who chooses not to bend his ideals to the social rules and regulations defined by "modern" society, but rather defines his life by his own thoughts and passions.

It also paints a lovely picture of true love between men for modern man to examine. Not necessarily in the romantic sense, although it does pay tribute to the brief physical love affair between Ross and Wilde. More importantly, it reminds us of the unfailing and unfaltering capabilities of true friendship.

In essence, the book tells the tale of a man that in the stead of great hardships, and at the risk of being utterly ostracized by society, remained true to himself and his friendships.

Ross was a man who deeply understood the meaning of humanity; the power we have the capacity to either wield or deny, and the deep and profound effect of kindness and generosity on our fellow man.
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