Oscar: A Life by Matthew Sturgis - review by Jad Adams

Jad Adams

Wilde at Heart

Oscar: A Life


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Do we really need another biography of Oscar Wilde? Actually, despite what you might imagine, there have not been so many books that aspire to provide a definitive womb-to-deathbed account.

There are three major contenders: Hesketh Pearson’s of 1946, H Montgomery Hyde’s of 1975 and Richard Ellmann’s of 1987. The last is not recent, taking into account the speed at which modern scholarship progresses, and its deficiencies are so glaring that an academic, Horst Schroeder, has compiled a book of ‘Additions and Corrections’ that now runs to 311 pages, half the length of the work it critiques. To be fair to Ellmann, he was seriously ill at the time he was finishing his book (it was published posthumously). Matthew Sturgis, who has previously written a creditable biography of Aubrey Beardsley, calls as justification for his work the considerable research that has taken place since then.

The Wilde who emerges is brilliantly witty, of course, but also insufferably affected, a show-off whose first critical appraisal came from his mother, comparing him to his older brother: ‘Oh, Willie is all right, but as for Oscar, he will turn out something wonderful.’ Wilde spent his whole

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