If, like me, you’re a life long Oscar Wilde fan and you think you already know everything about him – think again, and pick up a copy of Making Oscar Wilde by Michèle Mendelssohn. It will completely change the way you think about Oscar.
The book takes us back to the start, right when Oscar was making the journey from Ireland to come and study in Oxford. It details his rather unimpressive academic career, and paints an entirely different picture than the one many (Oscar included) would have us believe of the impact he made during his time there. We then travel to America, to the real heart of the journey this book is taking us on, through Oscar’s now infamous tour of America. You may be aware of the highly quotable things he said on his lecture tour of America, but perhaps less aware of the anti-Irish, racist sentiment that followed him around. The book explores how Oscar stumbled through a less than successful tour, plagued by dubious promoters that were as keen to see him succeed as they were to make money from parodying him.
This book will show you an Oscar unlike any you’ve read about before. It primarily focuses on his American tour, and therefore the final few chapters exploring his return to England, and his eventual arrest, imprisonment and death, are quite rushed and lacking in the rich, vivid, detail the rest of the book has. Don’t let that put you off, this is a book worth every moment of your time.
If you want more Oscar to follow on from that, I’ve got a few more recommendations of excellent books detailing more about his life.
The Wilde Album by Merlin Holland is a veritable treasure trove of Oscar photographs, art, and artefacts, with the life of Oscar told by his grandson Merlin. It is a brilliant little book for any Wilde fan, which is why it’s totally devastating that it is no longer in print. Published in 1997 by Fourth Estate, you get still get hold of second-hand copies of this book online, and it’s definitely worth hitting up your local library to see if they have a copy.
Another excellent Merlin Holland edited work is The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde. Reading the full transcript of what happened in Oscar’s own words is gripping and heartbreaking. This edition gives the full details of both cases that resulted in Oscar’s eventual imprisonment.
And finally, no list of Oscar Wilde recommendations would be complete without recommending some of his work. There are great editions of The Picture of Dorian Gray available now, I especially like this Penguin clothbound edition (you know I love a fancy hardback book!) If you haven’t yet read any of Oscar’s short stories, check out The Happy Prince and other stories from Macmillan.
But my top recommendation has to be the Penguin classics collection De Profundis and other prison writings. This is a brilliant selection of Oscar’s poetry and letters from his time in Reading Gaol and isn’t an easy read, but I can’t recommend it more highly.
Let me know if you’ve read Making Oscar Wilde, or your thoughts on anything else Oscar related. Leave a comment here or come find me on Twitter. I was going to finish off with the ultimate cliche and give you an Oscar Wilde quote but instead here’s a tiny part of one of my favourite Oscar poems: