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Oscar Wilde: A Biography

4.23  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,518 Ratings  ·  110 Reviews
In this long-awaited biography, Wilde the legendary Victorian - brilliant writer and conversationalist, reckless flouter of social and sexual conventions - is brought to life. More astute and forbearing, yet more fallible than legend has allowed, Wilde is given here the dimensions of a modern hero. Based on fresh material from many hitherto-untapped sources, Ellmann depict ...more
Paperback, 632 pages
Published October 4th 1988 by Penguin Canada (first published January 1st 1987)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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MJ Nicholls
Wilde had to live his life twice over, first in slow motion, then at top speed. During the first period he was a scapegrace, during the second a scapegoat. Richard Ellmann’s superlative bio ranks alongside the finest in the genre, with his earlier James Joyce volume already firmly in the pantheon. From Wilde’s unhumble beginnings as the son of two reputable writers, to his college days in the thrall of Ruskin and Pater, to his flowerings as a poet and spokesman for aestheticism, Ellmann presents ...more
David
Feb 15, 2008 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
It seems obvious that this would get a 5-star review. The wit and genius of Oscar Wilde. A scandalous life. The proven track record of Ellmann. What's not to love?

Answer - nothing. Ellmann doesn't make a single misstep in this astonishing biography. Imagine the challenges facing a Wilde biographer: the contradictions of an outrageous, larger-than-life subject whose brittle public persona masked his inner torments; Wilde's enormous drive, which led to success and acclaim, but also set in motion h
...more
Bruce
Jul 18, 2010 Bruce rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a dense and detailed biography. I enjoyed it even if it was slow going. The more one read, the more enchanting the work became, probably because Wilde himself is so much larger than life. From the beginning he was outrageous and deliberately cultivated such a persona. And from the beginning self-destructive tendencies were apparent; he seemed always to be walking on the edge of a precipice, the question being when and how he would tumble. His personality was in some ways like that of Zor ...more
Whitney Milam
Beautiful and devastating. Has given me such a deeper and fiercer appreciation of Oscar, his work, his philosophy, his relationships, and all the infuriating injustices he endured. AVENGE OSCAR WILDE.
Dawn
Feb 21, 2008 Dawn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am not, as I once claimed, Oscar Wilde. I lost the green coat—the one I wore to America, with tufts of fur falling out of the collar, with shapely cuffs. I lost the books (their dedications), shoes (the tipped ones, the ones you lace right up to your britches), and the shape of my wife’s mouth when she said it, when she called my name, even that, even when I didn’t come.

And because I am not Oscar Wilde, because someone’s body is thinning in the dirt, I can still say this. Say, through this blu
...more
Brian Bess
Dec 20, 2012 Brian Bess rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wilde at his wildest and mildest

After reading this book, I cannot help but review Oscar Wilde, the man and his life, as if it were a work of art in itself, as much as I can this biography of Wilde as depicted by Richard Ellmann. Wilde, as much as any historical figure, certainly as much as any creative figure, speaks loudly as an artifact of the age he embodied and from which he was consumed and discarded and as a creative figure whose own life was arguably a greater work of art than anything he
...more
Johnny D
Jan 31, 2009 Johnny D rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a haunting and beautiful biography of the don of the Aesthetic Movement. It traces his life from his early days as the son of a prominent physician father and an eccentric socialite mother (Sperenza) to his competition with Bram Stoker for the hand of Frances Balcombe, to his early homosexual experiments and final death amod disgrace and anonymity in the exile of France.

Richard Ellmann wields his pen with alacrity, grace, and an intense sympathy for his subject that may leave you in
...more
Pesh
Oct 28, 2008 Pesh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Noran
this is one of my dearest treasures for the year 2008.what i have is actually a hardcover, picked at my 'used books' store for the price of my normal dinner at my favourite 'fast foods'. i couldnt believe it!!

it's a great story about a great person.

here is the most important thing about it: it is written with a subjective, condemning tone. and i felt the author should have surpassed the shadows of his subject's sexuality and other personality weaknesses, to simply objectively tell us the story!
...more
Baylee
‘I have lived. Yes, I have lived. I drank the sweet, I drank the bitter, and I found the bitterness in the sweetness and the sweetness in the bitterness.’

Se amate questo scrittore, non potete assolutissimamente perdervi questa biografia. Sappiate che quando avrete voltato l'ultima pagina, saprete quasi quante volte andava in bagno Mr. Wilde. Il lavoro svolto da Ellmann, infatti, è certosino e accurato, oltre ad aver coperto quasi un ventennio della sua vita.

Detto questo, sappiate che ho impiegat
...more
Suzanne Stroh
Lady Wilde almost runs away with the first half of this dense, beautifully written biography that won Ellmann a Pulitzer prize.

I agree with reviewers who commented that perhaps there was a bit too much detail for entry-level readers. The sheer competency of this treatment of Oscar Wilde's brilliant, sad and troubled life means that we may never get the kind of definitive work I'd like.

Ellmann, writing to midcentury literary tastes, treats Wilde's sexuality too obliquely for young audiences toda
...more
Vijeta
Nov 15, 2012 Vijeta rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
I finally finished it and although it took me a year to read it, I finally did it. Now, this comment is representative of the fact that it is slow-going, but that mustn't deter any future readers and fans of Oscar Wilde. It took me so long because I was reading a hard copy and these days I find Ebooks much easier to navigate. Oscar Wilde by Richard Ellmann is a very detailed biography which brings out Wilde's enormous generosity and his boundless intellect. Wilde lived a life of tremendous fame ...more
Sonia
May 23, 2011 Sonia rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: have
Honestly this book was mostly just "ok" for me, but I'm giving it a slightly higher rating because I think Ellman deserves it.

I picked this up thinking it was going to be filled with super tawdry details of Wilde's life, but mostly it was literary criticism paralleled by events that occurred during the writing of each of his works.

So it was okay. I wish it would have been a little more Wilde and a little less Wilde's contribution to literature.
Kaethe
Jul 08, 2014 Kaethe rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
I read it and I thought it was the best biography of all time. It helps that I love Wilde I guess.
Theresa Leone Davidson
Jul 08, 2016 Theresa Leone Davidson rated it it was amazing
A wonderful biography of Wilde's life and everything that was happening to him while he wrote his many great works, like The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest, as well as his short stories, like my favorite, The Happy Prince. I knew some facts surrounding his arrest and imprisonment before reading this but didn't know a lot, like how it started with his libel suit against his lover's father, the Marquess of Queensberry, so that was of particular interest, as was Wilde's ...more
Walter Spence
Feb 06, 2015 Walter Spence rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An exhaustive biography; reading it exhausted me.
Nancy
May 30, 2015 Nancy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A 4 for the level of research but probably a 3 in overall enjoyment, this is a densely written and researched book, at times a bit overwhelming. Having read Wilde's stories and plays (skipping the poetry), I was aware of the broad outlines of his life but not much more (besides having stayed in a charming little hotel in Halifax, NS, where he had once stayed).

It was difficult to keep track of the many friends and aquaintances as they appeared and reappeared through the book, but with such a busy
...more
David B
Jul 27, 2014 David B rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Richard Ellman's fascinating biography follows Wilde from his beginnings as a brilliant student to his tragic end, when he haunted European locales that had delighted him in better times like a living ghost. The early part of the book is the least interesting. Wilde was one of the first useless celebrities-figures who gain notoriety simply because something odd or appealing about them keeps them in the public eye apart from any actual talent (although Wilde was, by all accounts, an excellent spe ...more
Klytia
Oct 29, 2012 Klytia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Per molti Oscar Wilde è quello scrittore inglese omosessuale che si esprimeva per aforismi: “posso resistere a tutto tranne alle tentazioni”.

I lettori e appassionati sanno invece che la citazione è tratta dal romanzo “Il ritratto d Dorian Gray” così come molti degli aforismi usati e abusati sono tratti dalle commedie dello scrittore irlandese.
Ma soprattutto coloro che ammirano Wilde sanno che era un uomo di brillante intelligenza, un acuto osservatore della società della sua epoca che poi ritr
...more
David Hill
Lately it seems I'm never happy with the length and level of detail of biographies. This one was a bit too long and detailed for me. I was curious about Wilde, but not to the degree that I wanted to read the letters he wrote his mother. I think I'd have enjoyed it more at 400 pages than 600. But this quibble is more about me than the book.

I didn't know much about Wilde. I hadn't read any of his poems and wasn't familiar with his plays and his other work. I probably learned what I knew about him
...more
Vasilina Smirnova
Since Oscar Wilde is my all time favorite writer, reading his biography was a great pleasure full of excitement. I fell in love with the content instantly. Reading it made me very satisfied with the content due to the fact that I got to look into the life of someone whose writing I greatly enjoy. It involved interesting images of his life, even his childhood. Controversial topics from his youth and adult hood as well. It made me interested in his work more than I already was. This book was a lot ...more
Lucy
Jan 01, 2012 Lucy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The unreadable in pursuit of the dislikeable.
Turgid prose that doesn't know when to stop, at times awkward construction, and far too little about the effect this ghastly man had on his wife and children. One has to feel sorry for OW but if ever a man was author of his own downfall, he was the man. I know things now about the late nineteenth century that I wish I didn't. In fact, I wish I hadn't read this book at all.
Virginia Arthur
Jan 31, 2016 Virginia Arthur rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I feel it is best if you understand this is a history book not only about a brilliant intellectual narcissist but a portrait also of the time in which Wilde lived. It is, as others have described it, dense, detailed, footnoted out the wazoo...oops, should perhaps put this another way...

The sexual habits of Wilde and his consorts made me uncomfortable (they would go off "in search of boys") so I quickly moved on through these portions but by today's standards, Wilde may have qualified as a pedoph
...more
Candy Wood
Published in 1988, just after Ellmann's death, this biography manages to be sympathetic to Oscar Wilde (though not to Lord Alfred Douglas, "Bosie") while still detailing his many faults. In his late-Victorian world before social media, Wilde helped create the now-prevalent cult of celebrity, thoroughly enjoying and profiting by it before it destroyed him. I'm not entirely convinced by the efforts in the early chapters to connect youthful experiences to specifics in Wilde's later writings (qualif ...more
Barbara Rice
Sep 22, 2012 Barbara Rice rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
No doubt that Oscar Wilde was a tortured genius, but he was also a narcissist and egotist, and in the end that may have contributed to his spectacular downfall. Well, that and Lord Alfred Douglas. This book is sympathetic to Wilde without pandering or making him to be grossly misunderstood. Worthwhile.
Caitlin
Sep 12, 2010 Caitlin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A meticulously researched book, a true lover of Wilde. A hard read at times because it seems that you must be very familiar with Wilde's work, even more obscure pieces, and his contemporaries. But he writes about the tragedy of Wilde's unjust imprisonment with great sensitivity.
Rhonda
Nov 03, 2015 Rhonda is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
I added this book to my 'To Read' list in 2009 and still haven't gotten to it. It won the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography and is about the man I most love to quote.

Guess I'd better get on with it.
MrsPeel
Great biography, but I had to make an effort to keep going.
To my way of reading, is a bit too academic, too much info which at times made me feel lost, but beautiful account of Wilde's life.
Jonathan Rimorin
Lord Alfred Douglas was a trifling little bitch. Ellman knows and loves his Irishmen, bringing to Wilde the same detailed attention he had brought Yeats and Joyce. Wilde's rocket-like ascent and almost immediate downfall is described in carefully impersonal free of any hint of libel, though Ellman's distaste for the wilful Lord Douglas and his brutish father ldMarquess of Queensbury shines through. That Wilde thought himself impervious from the wrack of his amour fou while cresting at the celebr ...more
Jonathan Fryer
Apr 05, 2016 Jonathan Fryer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This monumental biography is indisensable for anyone wanting to know in detail about the life of Oscar Wilde. It does include a few errors (which have been meticulously annotated by a German scholar) and Ellmann was a sick man when he was finishing the book, which means that Wilde's final two years after prison get less full coverage than they deserve. I do believe (on the evidence of OW's devoted friend and former lover, Robbie Ross) that Oscar really enjoyed himself during most of those two ye ...more
Janet Ashley
Mar 04, 2016 Janet Ashley rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of those rare circumstances when *everyone* loves a (good quality, ie won a Pulitzer) book and I can't finish it. I really tried, got up to about page 150, feeling all along that if I just stuck with it that it would get interesting. It should be interesting. But the downfall for me was the page after page of descriptions of every book he read, every exam he took (and his answers!), every professor he had, every object he bought, and every letter he wrote during his student days. The ...more
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Richard David Ellmann was a prominent American literary critic and biographer of the Irish writers James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, and William Butler Yeats. Ellmann's James Joyce (1959), for which he won the National Book Award in 1960, is considered one of the most acclaimed literary biographies of the 20th century and the 1982 revised edition of the work was similarly recognised with the award of the ...more
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