A riveting study of Oscar Wilde in his later years

Review by Rory Brennan


Oscar Wilde: the unrepentant years. Nicholas Frankel. Harvard University Press; 382pp; US$29.95 hb; 21cm; 978-0-674-73794-5.

Just as there are people we love to hate, there are those we love to love. This applies to writers too—who, after all, are people, even if they are sometimes treated over-deferentially. We may respect a writer as a weaver and wielder of words while thoroughly disliking him or her as a person. I’ll leave out examples; everyone will have their own list. Conversely, there are those writers we love to love and I strongly suggest that Oscar Wilde is one of these. Why? Firstly, he is seen as deeply wronged and brutally treated. In the century and more since his death he has changed from ogre to a sort of huge, humorous teddy bear, an affable dispenser of quips. These too are reasons he is greatly liked, even loved. His epigrams are sharp, pointed, funny, but never bitter or cynical in the manner of Swift or La Rochefoucauld. They do not excoriate, they do not denounce. His are gentle and often depend on the reversal of common assumptions, like work being the curse of the drinking classes. The grain of truth is there but its taste is not sour. Wilde makes us all Wildeans; we are in the gutter with him but gazing up at the stars as he advised.

This is a finely crafted and riveting study of Wilde. Frankel does not overstress, or, indeed, stress at all, his Irishness. His progenitors—Sir William, the surgeon and antiquarian, and Speranza, the nationalist ‘poetess’—are mentioned peripherally. His nationality is significantly mentioned when Wilde asks an editor of his plays to expunge Irishisms in the dialogue. Dublin, Portora, Trinity may seep through but the settings of this book are London, Paris, Italy, Switzerland and, of course, Reading. Wilde was accused of sodomy by the irate Marquis of Queensberry, father of Lord Alfred Douglas, his handsome, even pretty, lover.[…]

Content is restricted to subscribers – to continue reading please log-in via Exact Editions or contact us about a print or digital subscription.

books ireland logo green
May/June 2018(issue no.379)

Books Ireland is gratefully supported by the following organisations:

March Book Competition

Irish Gothic Fairy Stories: from the 32 counties of Ireland

By Steve Lally and Paula Flynn Lally

Everyone has their own stories about ‘The Good Folk.’ Enjoy this contemporary collection of fairy stories from every county in Ireland, complete with stunning illustrations by Steve Lally and James Patrick Ryan.

for a chance to win:

Irish Gothic Fairy Stories: from the 32 counties of Ireland
By Steve Lally and Paula Flynn Lally
ISBN: 978-0-7509-8698-4
Publisher: History Press



Books Ireland is looking for new writers. Read our full Submission Guidelines


Do you want to Advertise with us? To know more about us and to download our rate card click here

‘Books Ireland provides a breathing space, a garden if you will, where literature may continue to be valued for its own sake and discussed and appreciated in a climate of intellectual freedom and relaxation.’
Eamonn Kelly, playwright and award-winning short-storyist
‘An indispensable institution for reader, writer and bookmaker alike.’
Antony Farrell, publisher at Lilliput
‘Books Ireland is a creative asset for writers, editors, publishing houses and the media, and is a unique record of publishing in Ireland.'
Michael O’Brien, O’Brien Press
‘Books Ireland performs an invaluable service in broadcasting to the wider literary and book-reading world the variety of publishing enterprises in Ireland’
R. F. Foster, Carroll Professor of Irish History, University of Oxford

WP Facebook Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com