Drawing on material that has come to light in the past 30 years, including newly discovered letters, documents, first draft notebooks, and the full transcript of the libel trial, Matthew Sturgis portrays the key events and influences that shaped Oscar Wilde's life, returning the man to his times, and to the facts, giving us Wilde's own experience as he experienced it.
Tragedies make the best stories, and Matthew Sturgis makes the most of Wilde's in his new biography ... Sturgis' clear-eyed understanding of Wilde is acute, his narrative assured. Drawing on new material, including the full transcript of the libel trial that set Wilde on the path to prison, he assembles an indelible portrait of a confounding and complex man ... Sturgis captures Wilde's contradictions: generous but erratically cruel, brilliant but careless. He doesn't fully analyze Wilde's wanton streak, but the evidence is abundant: Wilde opined that 'nothing is good in moderation'.
With almost 900 pages at his disposal, including extensive references and notes, Sturgis has ample space to explore the importance of Wilde’s Irish childhood, adolescence and early adulthood. The significance of his mother, the towering Speranza, is handled particularly well ... A key strength of Sturgis’s account is his acknowledgement of the importance of women in Wilde’s life ... Sturgis is unflinching in his description of Wilde’s life of 'sybaritic abandon' in underworld London, teeming with rent boys, blackmailers and pimps at a time when paranoia concerning sexual relationships between men prevailed ... Meticulous.
The purpose of Sturgis’ exhaustive scholarship is that the prosaic may better inform the poetic ... Although Sturgis is able to annotate Wilde’s professional progress, his sexual self-understanding, both before and after his marriage to Constance Lloyd, remains obscure ... But for all Sturgis’ diligent researches, we still don’t know by what process and in what circumstances Wilde met his first male lover, Robbie Ross ... Sturgis is unwise in his introduction to criticize Richard Ellmann’s great 1987 biography for seeing the dramatist not just through artistic, but through overly modern eyes.