The 100 best nonfiction books: – De Profundis

Robert McCrum in The Guardian:

UntitledIn his cell, between January and March 1897, in preparation for his release from Reading jail in April, Oscar Wilde began to write an extraordinary letter. He wanted to address his notorious relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas, the fin-de-siècle romance that had swiftly become a fatal tragedy. “Bosie” had remained aloof from his former lover throughout the two years of Wilde’s sentence (“with hard labour”), and the 80 pages of manuscript written on 20 folios of thin blue prison paper became Wilde’s tormented bid for some kind of rapprochement. What began as an act of would-be reconciliation blossomed into an excruciating, and utterly compelling, chapter of autobiography, an aesthetic apologia (Epistola: In Carcere et Vinculis – “Letter: from Prison and in Chains”) , and finally a tour de force of prose by a late-Victorian writer of genius.

…“I now see that Sorrow is at once the type and test of all great Art. What the artist is always looking for is that mode of existence in which soul and body are one and indivisible: in which the outward is expressive of the inward: in which Form reveals…” “To the artist, expression is the only mode under which he can conceive life at all. To him what is dumb is dead. But to Christ it was not so…

More here.