The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde – Joseph Pearce

22 Jun

I read this book on my Kindle at the gym while surrounded by sweating people on ellipticals.  I think that Oscar Wilde would have been appalled to know that I could read about him while wearing mismatched socks and a shirt that reads “More Cowbell”. 

Wilde was a poet, an author and a personality.  He knew the value of publicity; good, bad and ugly.  He was born an Irish boy, schooled as a English lad and died as a Parisian.  His life was a work of art and he lived a life that still captivates us today over a hundred years after his death.

In his early adulthood he wore knee breeches and silk stockings with lace cuffs in an age when others wore sedate pants and staid collars.  And even with this flashy style of dress he didn’t realize he was gay yet.  Add to this that he was 6’3″ and able to hold his own in a fight and he’s quite a complex fellow.

He was married and had two children, Cyril and Vyvyan.  Yes, Vyvyan.  It’s pronounced Viv-yin.  Contemporaries insist that he married because he was in love with his wife.  He was a devoted father but during his wife’s pregnancy he was revolted by her body.

Then in 1889 Oscar was introduced love with men by a student he was tutoring.  It would only be two years until he met the love of his life and began a downward slant to his career and a quick end at 46.  Lord Alfred Douglas was much younger and beautiful and Wilde called him Bosie.  The two often sought the company of young boys.

This behavior and his relationship with Bosie put Wilde directly in hot water.  Douglas’s father would seek to ruin Wilde’s reputation.  When Wilde took some bad legal advice and sued him for libel all his questionable activities were aired in the open.  In the late 1800s being gay was considered a crime.  Oscar was sentenced to two years hard labor in Reading Gaol.  Once released he would spend some years in Paris, bankrupt and alone, before his eventual death.

Oscar Wilde was the century’s most talented wit.  Even from the grave his plays and quoted remarks are still pleasing us.  Someone said that Oscar’s talent was in making the listener, the reader, the audience member feel smart.  I think the necessity of having the open secret of his homosexuality drove him to treat his life as if it was two sides of coin.  That’s where the masks in the title comes in. 

Lastly, I don’t think that I’ve captured Wilde in this post at all.  I just shared a bunch of information about him.  The main to describe about him was that he defied description.  Or labels.  And this book was fantastic, sweatpants and all.


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