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'.
O tempora! O mores! A century later, and Wilde has risen to the rank of secular saint, a queer martyr ... as Matthew Sturgis demonstrates in his exhaustively researched, enlightening and lively new biography of Wilde—a 'definitive' biography if there ever was one—Wilde behaved with consistent recklessness and self-indulgence ... Mr. Sturgis, an expert on the fin de siècle who has penned engrossing biographies of Walter Sickert and of Wilde’s partner in decadence Aubrey Beardsley, cites deficiencies in Ellmann’s chronicle, including inaccuracies (a point that has long been made by Wilde’s grandson and keeper of the flame, Merlin Holland) and a tendency to take the mythology that has accrued around Wilde at face value ... a great deal of new material and research has appeared in recent decades, such as the complete transcript of the trial of Wilde’s libel action against the Marquess of Queensberry, and detailed witness statements ... Mr. Sturgis felt that by integrating all this material into the story, he could 'return Wilde to his times and to the facts. To view him with a historian’s eye, to give a sense of contingency, to chart his own experience of his life as he experienced it.' In this he has succeeded remarkably well ... Mr. Sturgis does not pretend to be a critic—one of his gripes against Ellmann is that he approached his biography as a literary critic rather than a historian—and he does not essay any overarching judgments.
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.