Move on

Attempting to tell an author's life through the books he read is a risky enterprise. In this remarkable new biography of Oscar Wilde, Thomas Wright makes a convincing start with his claim that books were the greatest single influence on his subject's life. Wilde's first reading of some of his favourites was, says Wright, 'as significant as his first meetings with friends and lovers'. Indeed, he later used gifts of books to seduce young men.
Wilde, born in 1854 and raised in a well-to-do, book-filled house in Dublin's Merrion Square by a literary mother who called herself Speranza and performed public recitations of poetry, devoured the printed word from an early age. At his Enniskillen boarding school, Portora, he ran up a staggering book-bill of £11 5s 9d. The autograph and date (2 September 1865) on his copy of Voltaire's L'Histoire de Charles XII make it the one book known to have been in his possession at the age of eleven, and mark his excellence in French. At Portora he also mastered the King James Bible, won a prize for Scripture and became a fine classical scholar, preferring Greek to Latin.
The most unconventional aspect of Wilde's adolescent taste, in Wright's view, was his love of French fiction. His passion was Balzac. He later said he wept 'tears of blood' when he read of the death in prison of the poet Lucien de Rubempré: 'I was never so affected by any book.'

College, Oxford. There, in 1874, Walter Pater's Studies in the History of the Renaissance struck him with the force of a revelation and he claimed never to travel without this book 'which has had such a strange influence over my life'.
When disaster struck in 1895 and he was tried and found guilty of 'gross indecency', it struck his books too. Auctioneers descended on the house in Tite Street, Chelsea that Wilde shared with his wife Constance and their two sons. His cherished book collection was sold at auction to pay his creditors. According to Wright, who has consulted the 'Tite Street Catalogue', Lot 114 included 'about' 100 unidentified French novels. [...]
[Brenda Maddox at the Literary Review]

Oscar's Books, by Thomas Wright



Post a Comment

Copyright 2006| Templates by GeckoandFly modified and converted to Blogger XNL by Blogcrowds and tuned by Bloom * Creative Network.
No part of the content of the blog may be reproduced without notice and the mention of its source and the associated link. Thank you.