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Description - The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde by Neil McKenna

Neil McKenna argues that our view of Oscar Wilde, even after Ellman's magisterial biography of the great author and playwright, is determined by Victorian sentimentality. In his own much more modern version of Wilde's story, McKenna portrays the literary genius as being not only extremely promiscuous but also a sort of campaigner for sexual freedom. He reveals, for example, that Wilde's relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas, which provided the inspiration for the classic novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, was not an idealistic doting on a beautiful boy, but that Lord Douglas was the more dominant and experienced of the pair, who used to go out hunting together for young boys. Wilde's last days in Paris were not, McKenna shows, miserable and defeated; Paris was for him an idyllic, sensual and intellectual playground free from the narrowness of London. A groundbreaking book on Victorian sexuality, this unique biography reassesses the stereotypical views of Oscar Wilde and thoroughly embraces his sexuality, as Wilde did himself.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780099415459
ISBN-10: 0099415453
Format: Paperback
(198mm x 129mm x 38mm)
Pages: 736
Imprint: Arrow Books Ltd
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publish Date: 5-Sep-2002
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Other Editions - The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde by Neil McKenna

Book Reviews - The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde by Neil McKenna

UK Kirkus Review » To London Society, at the end of the 19th century, there was no greater playwright than Oscar Wilde. On 14th February 1895 The Importance of Being Earnest, possibly his most famous play, opened to a rapturous reception, and Oscar, recently returned from Algiers was the toast of the town. Society knew Wilde as a happily married man, the father of two boys, although it was also noticed that he had a predilection of the company of young men. His preferred companion was Lord Alfred Douglas, commonly known as Bosie. By May 1895, Society had shunned Wilde, shocked and horrified at what had been revealed in a scandalous court and Wilde was sentenced to two years hard labour because he refused to 'repudiate his love for Bosie and his love for men.' What Society found acceptable behind closed doors was not acceptable in the open. How and why this change of fortune happened has been explained in many previous biographies of Wilde. But in The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde, Neil McKenna goes beyond the usual level of biography to argue that Wilde was driven creatively by his desires for sex with young men. He discusses for the first time the connection between the works and the sexual life of Wilde. This is not an easy read; some people may find the descriptions of homosexual activity off-putting. But there is no doubt that with unprecedented access to many papers, letters and photographs in the possession of Merlin Holland, Wilde's grandson, many of them previously unpublished, McKenna has written a compelling, if somewhat unsettling, account of the life of Oscar Wilde. (Kirkus UK)

US Kirkus Review » A tedious slog through the English author's sexual romps at the expense of his literary achievements. Wilde's "secret life" isn't exactly secret anymore, but British journalist McKenna aims to chronicle, in salacious detail, his relations with every boy from the time he arrived at Oxford's Magdalen College in 1874 through his imprisonment for "gross indecency" in 1895 and beyond. While reading classics at Oxford, the talented Irish poet was conflicted about his sexuality. His biographer charts Wilde's growing enchantment with "Greek love" in the form of flirtations with choirboys, artist Frank Miles and his "sodomite" circle, and many others. His reading of and friendship with Walter Pater, who urged followers to "grasp at any exquisite passion," helped convert Wilde to the Aesthetic Movement and the more "cultivated taste" of loving men. He also, however, attracted women, and his marriage seems to have been instigated by genuine feelings of love and protectiveness toward young Constance Lloyd, as well as the desire for some kind of stability to offset his erratic and dangerous cruising, blackmail by "rent boys," and police raids of pick-up places. Becoming a father did not dissuade Wilde from "playing with fire"; he proclaimed in his letters a "daring manifesto of amorality" and wrote to one young lover, "I myself would sacrifice everything for a new experience." The dizzying parade of transient bedfellows ended only when he met the love of his life, young Lord Alfred Douglas ("Bosie"), whose outraged father, the Marquis of Queensberry, eventually goaded Wilde into a libel suit and brought on his ruin. McKenna treats Wilde's work secondhand and only as "autobiographical prefigurations" of his homoerotic double life. In this author's hands, reading Wilde is reduced to a hunt for clues to his homosexuality; it's as titillating but trivial as finding "indiscreetly inscribed cigarette cases given to young men." Exhaustively documented, but ultimately reductive and incomplete. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - Neil McKenna

Neil McKenna is a freelance journalist, particularly for the Guardian and the Independent and a freelance producer and researcher for Channel 4. He is a notable campaigner for gay rights - the Clause 24 debate being largely a result of his work.

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