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Oscar Wilde said of himself, “I put all my genius into my life; I put only my talent into my work.” Now, for the first time, Neil McKenna focuses on the tormented genius of Wilde’s personal life, reproducing remarkable love letters and detailing Wilde’s until-now unknown relationships with other men.McKenna has spent years researching Wilde’s life, drawing on extensive new Oscar Wilde said of himself, “I put all my genius into my life; I put only my talent into my work.” Now, for the first time, Neil McKenna focuses on the tormented genius of Wilde’s personal life, reproducing remarkable love letters and detailing Wilde’s until-now unknown relationships with other men.McKenna has spent years researching Wilde’s life, drawing on extensive new material, including never-before published poems as well as recently discovered trial statements made by male prostitutes and blackmailers about Wilde. McKenna provides explosive evidence of the political machinations behind Wilde’s trials for sodomy, as well as his central role in the burgeoning gay world of Victorian London. Dazzlingly written and meticulously researched, The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde fully charts Wilde’s astonishing odyssey through London’s sexual underworld and paints a frank and vivid psychological portrait of a troubled genius.


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Oscar Wilde said of himself, “I put all my genius into my life; I put only my talent into my work.” Now, for the first time, Neil McKenna focuses on the tormented genius of Wilde’s personal life, reproducing remarkable love letters and detailing Wilde’s until-now unknown relationships with other men.McKenna has spent years researching Wilde’s life, drawing on extensive new Oscar Wilde said of himself, “I put all my genius into my life; I put only my talent into my work.” Now, for the first time, Neil McKenna focuses on the tormented genius of Wilde’s personal life, reproducing remarkable love letters and detailing Wilde’s until-now unknown relationships with other men.McKenna has spent years researching Wilde’s life, drawing on extensive new material, including never-before published poems as well as recently discovered trial statements made by male prostitutes and blackmailers about Wilde. McKenna provides explosive evidence of the political machinations behind Wilde’s trials for sodomy, as well as his central role in the burgeoning gay world of Victorian London. Dazzlingly written and meticulously researched, The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde fully charts Wilde’s astonishing odyssey through London’s sexual underworld and paints a frank and vivid psychological portrait of a troubled genius.

30 review for The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde: An Intimate Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rachael Eyre

    A bit of a slog, to be honest. I love Oscar's writing, but if this book is any indication, wouldn't have cared for him as an individual. It suffers from two major flaws: firstly, repetition (yes, he was a habitual user of Oxonian undergraduates and renters, we've got the message) and secondly, blithe acceptance of unacceptable behaviour. I realise it's a mistake to judge by our standards, but I found Oscar's cold hearted neglect of his wife and family unforgivable. McKenna also seems to be dazzl A bit of a slog, to be honest. I love Oscar's writing, but if this book is any indication, wouldn't have cared for him as an individual. It suffers from two major flaws: firstly, repetition (yes, he was a habitual user of Oxonian undergraduates and renters, we've got the message) and secondly, blithe acceptance of unacceptable behaviour. I realise it's a mistake to judge by our standards, but I found Oscar's cold hearted neglect of his wife and family unforgivable. McKenna also seems to be dazzled by Oscar's 'one true love' Bosie, who was not only the most wretched, spoilt little bitch any great man wasted his time on, but strongly implied to be a paedophile (at one point he has designs on Oscar's nine year old son!) I soon became very tired of reading yet another "exquisite sonnet" by Bosie that was anything but. The best parts of the book deal with Oscar's writing, particularly when examined from a "Uranian" perspective, and assorted gay scandals (I hadn't been aware of Francis Douglas's love affair with the Prime Minister before). The villain of the piece, "the scarlet Marquis", is feelingly invoked- how dare such a grotesque man set himself up as a guardian of public morals? But the book was such a confused, overwritten hotchpotch, smiling upon such dubious morals, it was a chore to get through and I'm thoroughly relieved to have finished it. Indeed, I'll probably have to read Oscar's oeuvre again to have my confidence in him restored.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Joanna

    So. This is exactly the biography of Oscar Wilde I would write if I were to uh, write one. It focuses on the important questions like, "Whom did he have sex with, maybe?" and "Whom did his friends have sex with, maybe?" No matter if in answering these questions he uses the most questionable sources, for example Trelawny Backhouse, who in addition to claiming all sorts of salacious things about Oscar Wilde and Bosie also claimed to have had sex with the Empress of China. Frankly, if there was any So. This is exactly the biography of Oscar Wilde I would write if I were to uh, write one. It focuses on the important questions like, "Whom did he have sex with, maybe?" and "Whom did his friends have sex with, maybe?" No matter if in answering these questions he uses the most questionable sources, for example Trelawny Backhouse, who in addition to claiming all sorts of salacious things about Oscar Wilde and Bosie also claimed to have had sex with the Empress of China. Frankly, if there was anything, anything that had to do with Oscar Wilde and homosexuality and I was writing a book on Oscar Wilde and homosexuality, I would go ALL OUT, too and just put everything I could find in there. If I found out that some guy had sent letters to Oscar and later Oscar had dinner with him then I am writing that, yeah, maybe they had sex, okay? All in the effort to answer the biggest, most important question: "Just how much of a flaming queen was Oscar Wilde?" because the answer is girl, the man was OSCAR WILDE, you could make up all sorts of shit and it wouldn't come close.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mary Pagones

    A multiple reread for me, and I'm still using it for research, but quite simply one of the best books on queer m/m culture of British 19th century society and fiction. My only criticism is that the title is all too accurate--it is about Wilde's sex life, and while it gives valuable context to his fiction, sometimes the greatness of his writing can fade a bit into the background because it's primarily interested in his activities with Bosie, rent boys, and other gay men of the period. But exhaust A multiple reread for me, and I'm still using it for research, but quite simply one of the best books on queer m/m culture of British 19th century society and fiction. My only criticism is that the title is all too accurate--it is about Wilde's sex life, and while it gives valuable context to his fiction, sometimes the greatness of his writing can fade a bit into the background because it's primarily interested in his activities with Bosie, rent boys, and other gay men of the period. But exhaustively researched, engagingly written, and an absolute MUST READ for Wilde obsessives like myself. Gift it to the person in your life determined to give too much focus to Wilde's marriage as well.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Edmund Marlowe

    Irrefutable evidence Wilde was a lover of boys. Thoroughly researched, well written and gripping, this account of Wilde’s sex life is full of fascinating revelations. It is astonishing that so much new information essential to our understanding of him should emerge more than a century after his death. I feel bound to devote most of this review to explaining a serious flaw, so I should first stress that it is a good book, very well worth reading. Its most obvious weakness is being overdone in terms Irrefutable evidence Wilde was a lover of boys. Thoroughly researched, well written and gripping, this account of Wilde’s sex life is full of fascinating revelations. It is astonishing that so much new information essential to our understanding of him should emerge more than a century after his death. I feel bound to devote most of this review to explaining a serious flaw, so I should first stress that it is a good book, very well worth reading. Its most obvious weakness is being overdone in terms of the homoerotic assumptions McKenna makes about both Wilde’s friendships and his writings. When combined with his failure to supply proper footnotes, this is severely damaging to his credibility, a great shame considering the importance of his work. Similarly unfortunate are factual errors glaring enough to shake one’s faith in his knowledge and therefore understanding of the period. For example, he says the Duke of Cambridge in 1893 was the brother of the Prince of Wales. People then would have been just as familiar with their true relationship as people now are about the present incumbents of those titles. McKenna’s narrow sexual focus has debatably helped him to delve deep into Wilde’s psyche, but at the cost of ignoring important aspects of his emotional and intellectual life that hold no erotic interest, such as his rapport with his sons. The flaw in both this biography and the popular sexual perception of Wilde that requires far greater attention is the idea he was an apostle for the modern gay cause. In McKenna’s view, his life was “an epic struggle for the freedom of men to love men” and the story is concluded on an upliftingly triumphant note: “A hundred years and many monstrous martyrdoms later, Oscar’s men are outcast men no more and the love that dared not speak its name has at last found its joyful voice.” I shall try to demonstrate what nonsense this is. The given ages of Oscar’s lovers ranged from 13 or 14 if one counts “indecent liberties” taken with Herbert Tankard or “about 14” (the testimony of a Savoy chambermaid) to 24 (but only if one accepts McKenna’s assertion that Frank Miles was one). Fitting neatly into the middle of this, we have Bosie’s word that 19 was “just Oscar’s style” when he was 40. So was he like today’s gays or was he a pederast, a lover of boys? A vital precursor to any discussion of this is verifiable dismissal of the falsehood still widely perpetuated that there is no evidence for Oscar’s liaisons with boys. These have often centred on the age of Alphonso Conway whom McKenna admits Oscar fellated at 15 in 1894, but others have claimed may have been much older. Let me finally consign the latter claim to the dustbin. Anyone caring to look at the 1891 census will find that the only boy in England with a remotely similar name was “Alphus. Conway” living in Worthing (matches) with his widowed mother (matches) and aged 12 (proves the point). To get this in better perspective, be aware that the average Victorian boy reached puberty at 16. More important than quibbling over exactly how young Oscar’s boys were is understanding the ethos that underlay his liaisons. Were they relationships between equals, and so socially-correct in today’s terms, or were they age-structured affairs to which the older and younger lover contributed different but complimentary things? Here we need go no further than Oscar’s applause-rousing explanation to the jury of “the love that dare not speak its name” delineating precisely the disparate contributions to mutual affection contributed by an elder and younger man. The diplomatic use of “younger man” instead of “boy” should fool no one familiar with Oscar’s incessant praise of “paiderastia” or “Greek love” or his private self-designation as “a poet in prison for loving boys.” . Even McKenna frequently admits boys were what Oscar was about, as when he calls him “the champion not just of the legitimacy – but more importantly, the superiority – of sex between men and boys”. Any notion that Oscar might have respected the law by abstaining from boys if he had lived in today’s Britain, legally tolerant of sex between men (though still socially intolerant of the age gap always present in his liaisons), runs counter to all he said and stood for: “I am one of those who are made for exceptions, not for laws.” It was anyway every man’s duty to have “the courage” to commit “what are called sins.” Sex with boys was “like feasting with panthers. The danger was half the excitement.” Let us now return to the claim that “Oscar’s men” are outcast no more, and how better than by examining what would happen today to Oscar himself as soon as suspicions of his sexual antics became public? The police would begin a massive trawl for “victims” which would bring in every boy who had met Oscar besides many others tempted by the financial inducements of victimhood and low burden of evidence required. His friends would soon be extradited where necessary and arrested, with Bosie and Robbie in particular headed for far worse fates than Oscar due to their firm preference for younger boys. Instead of waiting for his first trial, there would be an immediate public outcry against celebrity perverts and his plays and books would disappear from theatres and shops overnight. Instead of claiming him as their patron saint or even just standing up for him, the gay community would be at the forefront of the outrage, desperately anxious to repudiate him as one of them and furious with him for giving homosexuality a bad name. Far from being applauded, his speech at his trial defending misunderstood love would be fiercely denounced by all for its callous indifference to the “suffering” of his paramours, sorry, victims, as indeed would any dissenting or sympathetic voice. In the unlikely event that Oscar survived the much longer prison sentence he would be given today, he would spend the rest of his life on the sex offenders’ register, while a SOPO would ensure he couldn’t move to a gentler land and alleviate his misery by having some fun with French and Italian boys. Instead he would eke out his last years hiding in some British backwater and living in daily terror of being found and murdered by a virtue-loving vigilante. Meanwhile society would never have stopped smugly congratulating itself on a handling of Oscar that showed how much more enlightened it was than those barbaric Victorians. “The love that dare not speak its name” was the love between men and adolescent boys and has nothing to do with today’s gays. Despite Wilde’s martyrdom and all he did to remind the world of its noble past, it is spoken of today in ever more terrified whispers. Edmund Marlowe, author of Alexander’s Choice, an Eton boy’s love story, http://www.amazon.co.uk/Alexanders-Ch...

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tocotin

    I read this book less for Oscar (okay, I like him, reasonably), more for the general picture of the Victorian morality & sexuality, and of the murky underworld, without which the existence of Oscar et cohortes would have been very hard indeed. No disappointment here. The “secret life” of the title is of course sexual life, and the author tries to upturn every stone imaginable to find some evidence of yet another of Oscar’s sexual conquests – and if there are no stones, he’ll sure place something I read this book less for Oscar (okay, I like him, reasonably), more for the general picture of the Victorian morality & sexuality, and of the murky underworld, without which the existence of Oscar et cohortes would have been very hard indeed. No disappointment here. The “secret life” of the title is of course sexual life, and the author tries to upturn every stone imaginable to find some evidence of yet another of Oscar’s sexual conquests – and if there are no stones, he’ll sure place something that looks like a stone when you’re not watching. I love gossip and I loved this book, couldn’t wait to get back to it whenever I had a spare minute, but – and it’s a huge BUT – I felt that the author was a little bit too accepting of certain things, and just swept past them in his gallop after Oscar, maybe even covering his eyes. Wilde and his friends exploited young boys who were, most of them, poor, uneducated, and socially in much lower position. Some of them were not even adolescents, but children plain and simple. It seems that Oscar was generally decent… generally, but his beloved Bosie – what an useless, destructive parasite. I wonder if Oscar knew that the person he loved the most was planning to "seduce" his 9-year-old son. Maybe he didn’t care? After all, he and Bosie went around the Middle East to have fun with little boys, who were supplied by their more than willing fathers, right? The whole world at that time was full of well-to-do white gentlemen on an endless safari in the colonies, hunting for little girls and boys. Gide’s best sexual memory was of a night spent with a 12-year-old Egyptian boy, and the five orgasms he had. (Gide, not the boy – don't be silly, no one gives a shit about the boy.) Five! Just think about it. So – yeah. Oscar was not exactly the martyr for the cause of LGBT rights. It is a complicated thing, because he was a victim of a political cover-up to some extent, and because the law didn’t care much for minors of any gender, but that doesn’t change the fact that he was all about “love” between older men and boys. He didn’t deserve the treatment he got – especially when you think of other horrible specimens like Bosie who were allowed to go free – but he did deserve a good smack on the head.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Aitziber

    It is quite difficult for me to make out which parts of this biography are facts, and which are one-line historical records enlarged to full-blown scenes by McKenna's prurient pen. I like that this biography seeks to do away with the vision that Wilde was a bisexual family man who only occasionally was attracted to men. That portrayal appears to exist only so that Wilde can keep appealing to the straight and narrow. Wilde was a man who was exclusively attracted to men, and in seeking to prove hi It is quite difficult for me to make out which parts of this biography are facts, and which are one-line historical records enlarged to full-blown scenes by McKenna's prurient pen. I like that this biography seeks to do away with the vision that Wilde was a bisexual family man who only occasionally was attracted to men. That portrayal appears to exist only so that Wilde can keep appealing to the straight and narrow. Wilde was a man who was exclusively attracted to men, and in seeking to prove his sexuality was legitimate and provided him with what the relationship with his wife lacked, overshot it by a mile, so that every single female character in his oeuvre became an awful harpy. Men in Wilde works are, if not virtuous, fed up with the females in their lives, and forced to seek refuge in male friendships. It is a way to make homosexual relationships understandable to the general public at a time where gay pride parades were unthinkable. McKenna's biography paints Wilde as fairly unlikable, but he, after all, tried to adjust his violently heterodox life to the confines of his time. It is not always possible to conquer such a feat in a way that makes one likable to subsequent generations.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Gerry

    Neil McKenna presents us with a quite different view of Oscar Wilde, concentrating on Wilde's astonishing erotic odyssey through Victorian London's (and elsewhere) erotic underworld. It is truly a tour de force, drawing on a wide range of sources, many of them previously unpublished (perhaps not surprisingly!). It all begins so sedately, even though, as the author points out, 'There was something different, even remarkable about Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde when he arrived at Magdalen Col Neil McKenna presents us with a quite different view of Oscar Wilde, concentrating on Wilde's astonishing erotic odyssey through Victorian London's (and elsewhere) erotic underworld. It is truly a tour de force, drawing on a wide range of sources, many of them previously unpublished (perhaps not surprisingly!). It all begins so sedately, even though, as the author points out, 'There was something different, even remarkable about Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde when he arrived at Magdalen College, Oxford in October 1874. Despite his sexual preferences, he met and married Constance Mary Lloyd and they had two sons, living a happy life in their early days. But Wilde could not suppress his desires and he pursued his interests outside his marriage. This put an enormous emotional strain on the marriage and eventually the couple became more distant. By that time Wilde had encouraged friendships from male prostitutes, blackmailers and other undesirables. And many of them were later to re-emerge to speak against him at his subsequent trials. Considering many letters were destroyed there is a plentiful supply of correspondence which describes Wilde's way of life, some of it to come back to haunt him. And it was his friendship with 'Bosie', Lord Alfred Douglas, that brought him down, as Bosie's father, the Marquis of Queensberry took exception to the friendship and pursued Wilde diligently. The case went to court and Wilde, despite being urged to flee, remained to face the consequences - and they were severe for once the case against Queensberry was dismissed, he was charged with gross indecency and had to stand trial on his own behalf. As is well known he lost and ended up in gaol, where at least he wrote two major works, 'De Profundis' and 'The Ballad of Reading Gaol'. Neil McKenna magnificently captures his final days in Paris and on the continent, showing that as well as being lonely and depressed, he also had a memorable time, looking markedly better, slighter and younger than he had two years previously, rediscovering his attraction to other men and the attraction of Uranian love. And, quite rightly, he felt that he was a victim of discriminatory laws again men who loved men and that those laws were 'wrong and unjust laws'. He wrote endless letters while in exile but his literary writing was over for as he replied when asked why he no longer wrote, 'Because I have written all there was to write. I wrote when I did not know life; now that I do know the meaning of life, I have no more to write. Life cannot be written; life can only be lived. I have lived.' And he lived life to the full to the very end, even though at times he was penniless and hungry. McKenna states that he died an outcast, 'mourned by outcast men', but Wilde, in his heart, knew that he was a martyr in the epic struggle for the freedom of men to love men and he was happily confident in his view that Uranian love would, in time be seen as 'noble'. On that issue he said, 'Yes, I have no doubt we shall win, but the road is long, and red with monstrous martyrdoms.' How right he was!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Denis

    This is riveting and heartbreaking biography of the wonderfully talented Oscar Wilde that tells all about the writer's life in a vivid way. At the heart of the book is the trial that broke down Wilde and ended up in his outrageous incarceration. McKenna has left no stone unturned, and you almost feel, reading those pages, as if he was not only in the courtroom, but also in Wilde's bedroom, in his friends and nemesis' houses, in the cell where he was locked down. That, of course, makes for a fasc This is riveting and heartbreaking biography of the wonderfully talented Oscar Wilde that tells all about the writer's life in a vivid way. At the heart of the book is the trial that broke down Wilde and ended up in his outrageous incarceration. McKenna has left no stone unturned, and you almost feel, reading those pages, as if he was not only in the courtroom, but also in Wilde's bedroom, in his friends and nemesis' houses, in the cell where he was locked down. That, of course, makes for a fascinating read - and McKenna is clever enough to show all of Wilde's faces, revealing a complex and tortured man behind the facade. But more than that, this book is also a passionate cry for compassion, justice, and tolerance, three things that, sadly, Wilde was denied in his lifetime. The humiliating treatment he had to endure for just being gay is, for us in this day and age, really horrifying. And there are few things sadder than Wilde's last year.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    What a read! The authentic flavour of the fin de siecle world - at once both thrilling and appalling - and a chance to learn some picturesque period euphemisms such as 'like a hyacinth', irrumination, pollution labiale, pedicatio, coitus inter crura (Latin is such a useful language!), to quote but a few....! Also a good summary of the Cleveland Street scandal. And at the end of it all is the inevitable inference that, whatever the mess, the English ruling classes have always closed ranks to look What a read! The authentic flavour of the fin de siecle world - at once both thrilling and appalling - and a chance to learn some picturesque period euphemisms such as 'like a hyacinth', irrumination, pollution labiale, pedicatio, coitus inter crura (Latin is such a useful language!), to quote but a few....! Also a good summary of the Cleveland Street scandal. And at the end of it all is the inevitable inference that, whatever the mess, the English ruling classes have always closed ranks to look after their own. The only irritation of the book is the bizarre annotation, sans footnotes.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Laura Lee

    Entertaining and reminiscent of a tell-all biography of a modern rock star. Wilde himself comes across as the rock star of his era surrounded by groupies. In many ways it is more a history of the underground culture of men who loved men, especially those of an artistic bent who surrounded Wilde, than a straightforward biography. At times it goes off on great tangents on history not related directly to the main characters. McKenna knows the cultural context well. As biography it speculates wildly Entertaining and reminiscent of a tell-all biography of a modern rock star. Wilde himself comes across as the rock star of his era surrounded by groupies. In many ways it is more a history of the underground culture of men who loved men, especially those of an artistic bent who surrounded Wilde, than a straightforward biography. At times it goes off on great tangents on history not related directly to the main characters. McKenna knows the cultural context well. As biography it speculates wildly, maybe this is necessary given his focus on the necessarily private and hidden sex lives of these Victorian men. It is well-paced and entertaining. There is a tell-all voyeuristic quality to the book in places, and if you ever found yourself wondering what Oscar Wilde's favorite sexual positions were, this is the book for you. If you don't really feel the need to know who enjoyed doing what with which body part among the series of lovers and playthings in Wilde's life, you may have a sense of TMI with this book. That said, as I continue to read about these historic personages, I keep coming back to things that I learned in this book. There is quite a bit more to it than it might seem on first read through.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    McKenna is trying to redress what he might be correct in seeing as our blinkered view of Wilde's sexuality and its role in his life and writing. But in doing so he has painted Wilde more as a homosexual campaigner who every now and then put something down on paper, rather than the writer, wit, poet, playwright, lover, husband, father and man that he was. In trying to expand and alter our view on Wilde, he seems to have narrowed it. There is interesting material in here, and he certainly examines McKenna is trying to redress what he might be correct in seeing as our blinkered view of Wilde's sexuality and its role in his life and writing. But in doing so he has painted Wilde more as a homosexual campaigner who every now and then put something down on paper, rather than the writer, wit, poet, playwright, lover, husband, father and man that he was. In trying to expand and alter our view on Wilde, he seems to have narrowed it. There is interesting material in here, and he certainly examines a side of Wilde's character and life that can sometimes be glossed over, but also he seems to make assumptions without evidence, and leaps of logic. He throws in the word 'definititely' or its equivalent when he has not earned it. This is a worthwhile read, but Ellman is probably still the standard.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Rosina Ayala Pfister

    Being a fan of Oscar Wilde, I was excited to start reading this book. It was great at first, but just became a bit repetitive and slow as it went on. The same ideas, quotes and scenarios were repeated and it just felt longer than it needed to be. I did enjoy the insight on some hidden and some not so hidden "Uranian" themes in his poetry and other writings. As another reviewer stated before, my favorite part of this book was the analysis of Wilde's literary works. At the end, it was a bit of a d Being a fan of Oscar Wilde, I was excited to start reading this book. It was great at first, but just became a bit repetitive and slow as it went on. The same ideas, quotes and scenarios were repeated and it just felt longer than it needed to be. I did enjoy the insight on some hidden and some not so hidden "Uranian" themes in his poetry and other writings. As another reviewer stated before, my favorite part of this book was the analysis of Wilde's literary works. At the end, it was a bit of a disillusionment as I've always romanticized Wilde and I'm not quite sure I would have liked him as a person.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Martina

    This is a wonderful biography of Oscar Wilde and really captures his tortured commitment to his lifestyle: tortured by his love for Constance and more awfully by the marquis of Queensbury. His determined commitment to his lifestyle as recounted by McKenna demonstrates how Wilde Politicised the personal and was probably the first to blaze a gay pride trail. The book is witty and erudite and captures the tragedy that was Oscar's trial in the dock. Read it and respect this legend. This is a wonderful biography of Oscar Wilde and really captures his tortured commitment to his lifestyle: tortured by his love for Constance and more awfully by the marquis of Queensbury. His determined commitment to his lifestyle as recounted by McKenna demonstrates how Wilde Politicised the personal and was probably the first to blaze a gay pride trail. The book is witty and erudite and captures the tragedy that was Oscar's trial in the dock. Read it and respect this legend.

  14. 4 out of 5

    msjoonee

    A fascinating look at the social climate of Oscar Wilde's time, when you could actually get imprisoned for being homosexual. It describes the rise and fall of one of the world's wittiest writers from an angle that the other biographies tend to skim over and it shows another, much more vulnerable side to this formidable man. It took me a lot shorter than i expected to get through this one! A fascinating look at the social climate of Oscar Wilde's time, when you could actually get imprisoned for being homosexual. It describes the rise and fall of one of the world's wittiest writers from an angle that the other biographies tend to skim over and it shows another, much more vulnerable side to this formidable man. It took me a lot shorter than i expected to get through this one!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Davidberlin

    A highly readable biography of the man and writer which puts his sexuality centre stage - which is essentially what the man himself did! Other - more 'authoritative' biographies like Rich Ellmann's - tend to gloss over Wilde's sexuality. There is an occasional tendency to speculate but this is an essential book on Wilde. A highly readable biography of the man and writer which puts his sexuality centre stage - which is essentially what the man himself did! Other - more 'authoritative' biographies like Rich Ellmann's - tend to gloss over Wilde's sexuality. There is an occasional tendency to speculate but this is an essential book on Wilde.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Lord Beardsley

    Better Book Title: "Anal Sex 101 By Way of Downton Abbey" I think of this book as the queer bookend to the definitive biography of Wilde written by Ellmann. This one chiefly investigates Wilde's life as a queer man, most specifically his relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas and his involvement in the Uranian (queer male) demimonde of the late 19th century. McKenna expertly weaves an unputdownable narrative of (REALLY KINKY - put that one in yer spank bank) Bosie and Oscar's life together before a Better Book Title: "Anal Sex 101 By Way of Downton Abbey" I think of this book as the queer bookend to the definitive biography of Wilde written by Ellmann. This one chiefly investigates Wilde's life as a queer man, most specifically his relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas and his involvement in the Uranian (queer male) demimonde of the late 19th century. McKenna expertly weaves an unputdownable narrative of (REALLY KINKY - put that one in yer spank bank) Bosie and Oscar's life together before and after his imprisonment. It's salacious AF, and also fascinating as the author breaks down the coded language of the queer men moving through life on the margins. To say that this is a vast education in queer male history would be a vast understatement. McKenna doesn't mince details about the transgressive elements of Wilde and Douglas's peccadilloes (namely Bosie's pederasty and the fact that he was without a doubt a prolific sexual predator, which goes far beyond a peccadillo). That being said, I was particularly impressed by his nuanced treatment of the fascinating and extraordinarily fucked up Bosie. It's easy to purely paint him as an evil person, but that is painting with extremely broad brushstrokes. He was fascinating, and an excellent subject for someone writing a character diagnosis in Psych 101. While reading, I kept saying to myself: "The fuck was WITH that asshole?". I still can't figure it out. Have at it, you tell me. I'm at a loss. This takes me back to the better book title. For this confirmed gender non-binary dyke, this book was a crash course in all the sordid details of bodily functions post anal coitus. I applaud all who celebrate this sexual act because we all party in our own ways. No judging here. That being said, I'll never be able to envision Oscar Wilde's bed linen and nightshirts the same way ever again.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ana B

    The Secret Life Of Oscar WildeI want to start this review by saying that I loved this book. I think it's a wonderful biography of an exceptionally talented man, written by someone who not only did his research but also infused every word with that particular sense of excitement that takes hold of both writer and reader while they're immersing themselves in something - or in this case someone - they profoundly adore. I enjoyed the excerpts taken from the letters Oscar's many lovers wrote to him i The Secret Life Of Oscar WildeI want to start this review by saying that I loved this book. I think it's a wonderful biography of an exceptionally talented man, written by someone who not only did his research but also infused every word with that particular sense of excitement that takes hold of both writer and reader while they're immersing themselves in something - or in this case someone - they profoundly adore. I enjoyed the excerpts taken from the letters Oscar's many lovers wrote to him immensely; Clyde Fitch really did have a way with words, and I quote his 'brown-eyed fawn' metaphor often. I also adored the way in which McKenna talked about Oscar's final years; most biographies tend to take a gloomier approach to it all, insisting that Oscar was miserable after his release from prison, from the moment he stepped foot out of his cell until the moment he died looking at that god-awful wallpaper. While McKenna doesn't for a second deny that prison took its toll on both Oscar's mental and physical health, he also insists that those last few years of his life he spent enjoying Paris and Naples and Rome were far from miserable, and that "His life on the boulevards was far from a journey through Hell, more a kind of louche Heaven". I also smile fondly whenever I remember this one bit, where McKenna tells us that after his release from prison Oscar would sometimes refer to himself as "Saint Oscar of Oxford: Poet & Martyr". It's such a little thing and yet it makes me feel closer and closer to Oscar every time I read it. I love how McKenna managed to not only re-gay Oscar, but also humanize him in such a way I haven't seen anyone else do before. There's all this talk about Oscar the aesthete and his eccentricities and excesses and his lovers and his seemingly endless stream of witticisms, and I love that, I do; but in this biography we are Also shown his more vulnerable side, that side of him that he probably didn't want anyone to see, the side of him that took a little bit of Myth away from the celebrity and gave a bit of rawness back to the man. Oscar wasn't always good; in fact a lot of the time he was questionable at best, and a bunch of other, less polite yet probably more accurate adjectives at worst. And that's good. I'm not interested in admiring someone who's sitting on a pedestal so tall I can barely look at him without breaking my neck; I like my idols real and I like them from this world, at least most of the time. Back to the biography in question, and putting all my sentimental mumbo-jumbo aside, another thing I am extremely grateful to McKenna for is the focus on Robbie Ross and his relationship with Oscar (and Constance as well); Robbie was truly the best friend Oscar ever had, and I can't help but feel a great deal of gratitude whenever I read (and re-read) some of the letters he wrote to Oscar, in which it is made clear that Robbie, for the most part, always had Oscar's best interests in mind. Robbie Ross, although also not without fault, was a very gentle, very generous, Very Forgiving man, and every time something about him popped up in the book I couldn't help but smile. On the other hand, we have Bosie, whom I have a hate-love relationship with. I like how McKenna didn't seem, like most people, to be so biased as to write him off as a petulant, selfish, good-for-nothing narcissist who ruined Oscar's life and drained him of his creativity or whatever. I mean, don't get me wrong, Bosie was definitely petulant, and selfish, and immature and narcissistic and all those things, but it's also important we understand that 1) He had a very abusive childhood, followed by years of having to live with his very abusive asshole of a father, the same father who drove Bosie's brother to suicide and promptly sent Bosie's boyfriend to prison. I mean, Bosie was by no means perfect, and a lot of the things he did are inexcusable, but let's cut him some slack perhaps? And 2) No one put a gun to Oscar's head and forced him to sue Queensberry. No one forced him to stay and ignore his friends and family when they told him to run away until everything died down. Oscar was a grown man, and thus could think for himself and make his own decisions, thank you very much. They were both terrible people and they were both good people they were both selfish and immature and both intelligent and passionate and kind. They were terrible together and miserable apart. I think we would be doing Oscar a disservice if we acted like he was just some weak-willed puppet wrapped around Golden Boy Bosie's finger. So that's pretty much what I loved about this book. That and about a thousand things more. That being said... Jesus Christ Neil, can I call you Neil? Not everything is a metaphor for anal/oral sex. As a bisexual woman I'm all for re-gaying Wilde; fuck, re-gay every single one of my favourite writers for all I care, the more the merrier, but seriously? Maybe when Oscar says that Bosie is laying "like a Hyacinth on the sofa" and "[he] worship[s] him" he actually means that... I don't know... Bosie is laying on the sofa and Oscar is admiring how pretty he looks? I often felt like McKenna was bending over backwards to try to find a hidden sexual meaning under every layer of Oscar's identity. Neil, mate, let Oscar be romantic every now and then; sometimes it's okay to take things for what they are and seem to be and not make inhuman efforts to try to somehow link everything - and I mean Everything - back to Greek Love. I'm pretty sure I've said all I wanted to say. Long (long long long) story short: Oscar Wilde, to quote his make-out buddy Walt Whitman, contains multitudes, and Neil McKenna does a remarkable job here reminding us of that.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sophie

    Dnf after 160 pages. I just can’t. There is so much speculation and conjecture here that doesn’t hold up, as well as factual mistakes - and then I reached the interpretation of “Dorian Gray” that uses phrases like “spiritual sodomy” and just couldn’t take it any longer. I deserve to read better books than this, and so do you. I did like the bits about the gay culture of the time, but the more I read the more I was losing trust in the author, so even that didn’t make up for the rest.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Dale Bates

    This man was a true hero and the book shows us a brave lamb to the slaughter. It reveals the secret gay world of Victorian London in vivid detail. Unputdownable.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Shamail Aijaz

    Wowsome...

  21. 4 out of 5

    Travicodiro

    Interesting, however a little bit too long in my opinion!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Faten Eassa

    The book lacks evidence and credible references to back its info. A biography should not speculate. I'm stopping halfway. Don't recommend it at all.. It's a big fat waste of time The book lacks evidence and credible references to back its info. A biography should not speculate. I'm stopping halfway. Don't recommend it at all.. It's a big fat waste of time

  23. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    All about the infamous Oscar Wilde and the trial that led to his imprisonment. He wasn't quite as blameless as one might think. The romance with Lord Douglas was not the reason he was imprisoned. In fact it was never even mentioned in the trial. It was his encounters with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of 'rent boys' between the ages of 14-17 that got him in trouble. Ironically it was not statutory rape, nor prostitution, that was Wilde's legal problem, but sodomy. Nonetheless he was kind to these un All about the infamous Oscar Wilde and the trial that led to his imprisonment. He wasn't quite as blameless as one might think. The romance with Lord Douglas was not the reason he was imprisoned. In fact it was never even mentioned in the trial. It was his encounters with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of 'rent boys' between the ages of 14-17 that got him in trouble. Ironically it was not statutory rape, nor prostitution, that was Wilde's legal problem, but sodomy. Nonetheless he was kind to these unfortunate teenagers and had many good qualities, aside from his brilliance as a writer. And the conditions of his imprisonment were barbaric and inhumane. Sadly, he paid the price for the same misdeeds committed by many Victorian men, including Lord Douglas, whose rank probably kept him away from the scandal that destroyed Wilde's reputation.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Samantha Stemler

    Author Neil McKenna illustrates the brilliant Victorian artist unconditionally and divulges the aft shaded truths of Wilde's life that helped to sculpt his art. Through rigorous, painstaking research, obvious passion, uncensored truth, possible reverence and beautiful storytelling, McKenna makes an authentic, human portrait of an literary and cultural icon. His historical compilation and connections bring brilliant new definition to Wilde's art as well as his impact. The Secret Life of Oscar Wil Author Neil McKenna illustrates the brilliant Victorian artist unconditionally and divulges the aft shaded truths of Wilde's life that helped to sculpt his art. Through rigorous, painstaking research, obvious passion, uncensored truth, possible reverence and beautiful storytelling, McKenna makes an authentic, human portrait of an literary and cultural icon. His historical compilation and connections bring brilliant new definition to Wilde's art as well as his impact. The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde is as much a real, heart-wrenching tale of a tragically misunderstood artist as it is a fascinating historical exposition of Oscar Wilde and Victorian culture. This book compels the soul through real experiences and offers a flesh-and-blood connection and inspiration that aspiring and, especially, lost artists will cherish.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Adrienne

    I love Oscar Wilde. His plays, his writings, his epigrams...the self proclaimed Lord of Language's wit dazzles and delights more than a century after his death. So I expected to enjoy this book. I expected to be amused and entertained and maybe even enthralled by this book, but I didn't expect it to be heartbreakingly beautiful in sections. That I would sit there, staring at the page with tears in my eyes, completely overcome by the transcending power of Love. A beautiful, surprising, and above I love Oscar Wilde. His plays, his writings, his epigrams...the self proclaimed Lord of Language's wit dazzles and delights more than a century after his death. So I expected to enjoy this book. I expected to be amused and entertained and maybe even enthralled by this book, but I didn't expect it to be heartbreakingly beautiful in sections. That I would sit there, staring at the page with tears in my eyes, completely overcome by the transcending power of Love. A beautiful, surprising, and above all, moving portrait of a man who was never perfect, but always interesting. Oscar and all his loves are brought to vivid, sparkling life, with all the virtues and all their failings, and McKenna's words are almost as beautiful crafted as Oscar's own.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Anna Maria

    This is, without a doubt, my favourite biography. Someone (whose name I really should remember) once said that biographies of an author should enhance your reading of their works. This has not just enhanced my reading of Wilde, but revolutionised it. It is hard to underestimate the importance of McKenna's meticulous research. It is not just Wilde's life that makes this book so interesting (as fascinating as it was) but McKenna's exploration of the homosexual community in Victorian London. Some of This is, without a doubt, my favourite biography. Someone (whose name I really should remember) once said that biographies of an author should enhance your reading of their works. This has not just enhanced my reading of Wilde, but revolutionised it. It is hard to underestimate the importance of McKenna's meticulous research. It is not just Wilde's life that makes this book so interesting (as fascinating as it was) but McKenna's exploration of the homosexual community in Victorian London. Some of his anecdotes are truly extraordinary. The only criticism I can make is that I wish it was clearer where he got some of his information. Some of it is so outrageous and personal, I am intrigued to know where, when and why it was ever recorded!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Amber

    I loved this book. I had really no idea all that Oscar Wilde went through in his life, and it was both beautiful and tragic to see his great triumphs and the eventual tragedy of his life. And inspiration, to be sure, but it is good to learn from his mistakes as well. There is such a thing as being too sure of oneself. His love affair with Bosie is detailed in this book and is extremely beautiful, but it's really too bad that Bosie denied ever having loved Oscar later. Oscar Wilde took hedonism t I loved this book. I had really no idea all that Oscar Wilde went through in his life, and it was both beautiful and tragic to see his great triumphs and the eventual tragedy of his life. And inspiration, to be sure, but it is good to learn from his mistakes as well. There is such a thing as being too sure of oneself. His love affair with Bosie is detailed in this book and is extremely beautiful, but it's really too bad that Bosie denied ever having loved Oscar later. Oscar Wilde took hedonism to its logical--and illogical--extreme, and I think it's important for any former, current, or prospective modern hedonists to read, so as to gain a bit of perspective.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Bloody

    A very critical look at Oscar Wilde's life, while still written with affection to his works. Makes watching Mike Tyson Mysteries weird now that I know the Marquis of Queensbury was an asshole who ruined Oscar's life. A very critical look at Oscar Wilde's life, while still written with affection to his works. Makes watching Mike Tyson Mysteries weird now that I know the Marquis of Queensbury was an asshole who ruined Oscar's life.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Elaine

    This is the best biography of Wilde I have read. Less subjective than Harris',yet much more fascinating than others McKenna weaves Oscar's poems and other works through the book showing how his sexuality, passions and character went into his work. McKenna has had access to some very personal letters and documents and at no time do you doubt that is a factual account of his life and feelings with so much evidence to support it. A very enjoyable read and in fact, a page turner This is the best biography of Wilde I have read. Less subjective than Harris',yet much more fascinating than others McKenna weaves Oscar's poems and other works through the book showing how his sexuality, passions and character went into his work. McKenna has had access to some very personal letters and documents and at no time do you doubt that is a factual account of his life and feelings with so much evidence to support it. A very enjoyable read and in fact, a page turner

  30. 4 out of 5

    Olivia

    I liked this book, though at some points, I was wondering what was going on because the narration was going off into a tangent. This book gives light to the secrecy of the "love that dare not speak its name", as well as going more in depth to Oscar Wilde's life, as well as the lives of his lovers. I found this book highly interesting, and recommend it to anyone who is a fan of Oscar, or wants to know more about his life and the time period he was in. I liked this book, though at some points, I was wondering what was going on because the narration was going off into a tangent. This book gives light to the secrecy of the "love that dare not speak its name", as well as going more in depth to Oscar Wilde's life, as well as the lives of his lovers. I found this book highly interesting, and recommend it to anyone who is a fan of Oscar, or wants to know more about his life and the time period he was in.

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