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Book review: Oscar Wilde's life and genius continues to fascinate

It was low on anglofiler in 1890s Sweden. The cultural fanboys that did appear in the Oscar II:s Stockholm dreamed of Paris boulevards, Copenhagen wine taverns or Berlin's decadent restaurants. It took something really special to a british writer would attract attention, and when the young Hjalmar Söderberg, in the autumn of 1895, reviewed the newly-published the drama ”Salome” was he aware that this specific not necessarily spoke to the author's advantage. The piece, he explained, had its merits, but also an error which was so hard that it completely put the virtues in the shade – ”We know all, ladies and gentlemen, of which it is composed. It consists therein, that the author named Oscar Wilde.”

Yes, in part, that Wilde actually – in programskrifter as ”False maturity”, translated to Swedish by Söderberg's crony Edward Alkman – managed to summarize all of the challenging ideas that floated around in the passage of Europe. Art for art's own sake, freedom from morality, and realism, all the things that stirred up the young rebels of the Söderberg type. But above all, it was quite obvious that Wilde made the reality of their ideas. In the spring of 1895, he had been sentenced to two years ' hard labor for ”gross indecency”, or homosexuality: a very English scandal that resounded all over Europe.

And have continued to do so. The interest in Wilde's life has, ever since it went, has been at least as great as that of his works (a relationship that Wilde himself would have been the first to appreciate: ”I gave my genius to my life, but only my talent for my work”, is one of his many one liners). He got the English-speaking world's most renowned biografiförfattare to tackle him, Richard Ellmann also wrote about Yeats and Joyce and the great Wildebiografi from 1987 also translated into Swedish. One may ask if there is so much to add.

Yes, says Matthew Sturgis, the author of a newly published biography with the appropriate familial title of ”Oscar”. The last thirty years of cultural currents in the west have hardly made Wilde less current, whether, with Sturgis's words, seeing him as the ”counterculture rebel, gaymartyr, victims of british colonial oppression, protomodernist, protopostmodernist, or a precursor for ’cool’”.

Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas, in 1894. Photo: Classic Image/Alamy

has also come into light since Wilde's time, including the full domstolsprotokollen from the trials that led to his imprisonment. You can in excruciating detail part of the cross-examination where Wilde's casually brilliant response wears down the skoningslöse lawyer, Edward Carson, a reminder that humor always lose in a confrontation with humorlösheten (an experience that Wilde could very well suffer even today, in the court which is called social media).

Sturgis is betting at all on the broader research rather than escalated interpretation in its depiction of Wilde's life. As a specialist in the late-victorian environment – he has previously written the biographies of the contemporary artists Aubrey Beardsley and Walter Sickert – he has his strength in the is to paint the social and ideational context, Wilde came out, which means wider scene and more references, but fewer of the brilliantly concentrated summaries Ellmann excellerade in.

It also means that language itself is the culmination, the trial led to Wilde's case, emphasized something different. The essentials that makes it so fascinating is left: how the Wilde, at the absolute height of his fame, manages to become embroiled in a conflict in what may well have been one of history's most dysfunctional families.

bortskämde, labile and general outhärdlige lord Alfred Douglas (”Bosie”), was at feud with his father, the even thirty? tuber of the marquis of Queensberry. Queensberry pursued the couple with harassment and public accusations of ”sodomy” and Wilde had at last excite of Bosie to prosecute the father for defamation. It was the beginning to the end, because the Queensberrys private investigators had been rooted out details of Wilde's illegal gay shops (of which Wilde, naively or arrogantly, believed would be able to be kept secret).

But Ellmann put the emphasis on the classically tragic in the drama: Wilde's hubris, pride, or hubris, led him to challenge the victorian society in a battle he was doomed to lose (it was inevitable that the details of his business would come forward). Sturgis stresses on their side, the political dimensions, which helped to trap Wilde.

the Prime minister, Wilde's old umgängesvän lord Rosebery, was also of homosexrykten and had received his name mentioned at the trial. It contributed to the remarkable severity of the case: it received absolutely does not look as if they were protecting another member of the decadent upper class. Wilde was sacrificed, not in spite of that, but to secret homosexuality was so common in the small aristocratic circles, who ruled England.

Oscar Wilde the film ”Wilde” in 1997. Photo: ©Sony Pictures/Everett Collection / Everett Collection/IBL

make it that there is a risk that turning Wilde into a martyr in the fight against heteronormen. It would be, as Sturgis biography recalls, to make him a significantly less multidimensional figure than he in reality was. You can have a lot of comments on Wilde's life, his addiction to the societetsliv (”I hang out only with the dukes”), his nonchalant treatment of his wife Constance, his penchant for male prostitutes out of the sub-class, and his related and some larviga tendency to romanticize criminals.

The most damning expression of the fact of the matter is when he was in Paris, during the height of the Dreyfusaffär, hang out with the villain in the story, major Esterhazy, who forged the documents done to the innocent Dreyfus was deported to devil's island. Guilty people is simply more interesting than the innocent, " explains Wilde. Where it will probably assume that dandyns ”challenging we have amorality” becomes too challenging for most people.

But it is just the dark corridor in a story that continues to fascinate. If nothing else, by their concentrated energy. You become still as amazed by that Wilde was only 46 when he died – all that he was before! Here you do not need to split up life and literature, genius, or talent: they are linked together. It can still get a to lystra as far away in Stockholm.

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