Oscar Wilde: The Unrepentant Years

Eleanor Fitzsimons in The Irish Times:

ImageAdditions to the extensive Wilde canon have found new perspectives on a well-examined, but by no means exhausted, subject by paying particular attention to distinct periods in Wilde’s life; David Friedman’s Wilde in America and Antony Edmonds’s Oscar Wilde’s Scandalous Summer are recent examples. The most successful of these I have encountered is Nicholas Frankel’s Oscar Wilde: The Unrepentant Years, which examines in fascinating detail Wilde’s prison years and the short time that remained to him after he completed his sentence in May 1897.

Frankel, who is professor of English at Virginia Commonwealth University, is highly regarded as a Wildean scholar. Although his starting point is 1895, when Wilde was 41, the clarity of his prose, his sympathetic approach, and his talent for building tension ensures that his book will appeal to anyone with even a passing knowledge of Wilde’s life. Until “his swift and fatal decline in 1900”, Frankel contends, “the keynote of Wilde’s exile was . . . laughter”. Biographers who frame Wilde’s later life in the context of “decline and martyrdom distort the truth of those final years”.

To open, Frankel exposes the harshness of the Victorian prison system and examines how Wilde’s experience of a regime “designed to break the spirit of even the toughest offenders” almost provoked his “complete breakdown”. Fearing he was losing his brilliant mind, he would ask visitors if ‘”his brain seemed all right”.

More here.