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The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde [Hardcover]

Oscar Wilde , Merlin Holland , Rupert Hart-Davis
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Amazon Review

Wilde's brilliant career is a modern myth; the sparkling life, the love lavished on the beautiful but unworthy Alfred Douglas, the downfall and years of hard labour in gaol. This large, handsome collection of letters, dressed in strikingly bright purple livery, is an appropriate monument to its subject. The editor, Merlin Holland, building on Rupert Hart-Davies' 1960 first edition of Wilde's correspondence, has done an immaculate job; the annotation is copious and helpful, the letters embellished with many of Wilde's original sketches and doodles, and the whole thing is an addictive pleasure to read. One rationale for the volume is that, as Holland puts it, "it is in his letters that we come closest to the legendary verbal, conversational wit of Wilde". He himself claimed that he put his genius into his life not his work, and these letters are certainly closer to his life and his suave ad-libbing than his other published work. Actually, in practice this is true only for part of the volume: necessarily, a large proportion of these letters is mundane business and day-to-day communication ("Dear Aleck. I beg to acknowledge with thanks your cheque for £50 on account of fees for my play", and so on). But there are hundreds of more delightful, sparkling and hilarious letters too.

The jewel in the crown of this collection is undoubtedly the cleanest text in print of the lengthy letter Wilde wrote to Lord Alfred Douglas from Reading Gaol in early 1897. It was this letter that was published in 1905 as De Profundis, although that version constituted less than half the original text. Holland and Hart-Davies present the whole thing, reedited from manuscript. Reading this extraordinary and moving letter in its entirety (it takes up nearly 100 pages), while being able to compare it with the usual tenor of Wilde's letter writing, is breath-taking. Most striking is the transition from the heartfelt but rather cloying earlier letters to the Douglas ("my dear boy ... It is really absurd. I can't live without you. You are so dear, so wonderful"), to the depth of expression from Reading Gaol: "Most people live for love and admiration. But it is by love and admiration that we should live. If any love is shown us we should recognise that we are quite unworthy of it. Nobody is worthy to be loved". But one thing--Wilde's sheer style--was unaffected by his downfall. "Everything about my tragedy has been hideous", he wrote from prison, "mean, repellent, lacking in style. Our very dress sense makes us grotesques. We are the zanies of sorrow". The most tragic aspect of the collection is the wilderness of rather undignified begging letters with which it ends ("Will you now send me £10? Please do this"; "Can you wire me £5 on account tomorrow?"), as Wilde lives out his last years in France. More immediate and vivid than even Ellman's classic Oscar Wilde, this is a wonderful book. --Adam Roberts --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


'The year's unputdownable joy.' Jonathan Keates, Spectator

'Almost like living his life with him… One puts down the letters heavy with mixed emotions – admiration, sorrow and exasperation.' Peter Lewis, Daily Mail

'You get a wonderful sense, such as even the best biography couldn't quite give, of Wilde in action from day to day – living in the thick of society, hustling his career forward. A monument to his great personality.' John Gross, Sunday Telegraph

'The long serpentine line of Oscar Wilde's career is traced here like some fiery scarlet thread. This is a marvellous volume, fully worthy of Wilde's own genius.' Peter Ackroyd, The Times

'These letters give us the human side of Wilde's legend and its human cost.' Philip Hoare, Observer

'A whole world is here. *****' Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday

'The most comprehensive collection yet of Wilde's correspondence, charting his development from ambitious young man about town to literary dandy and tortured outcast.' Guardian

'Oscar Wilde writes his own life in the newly revised and expanded Complete Letters. The one essential book on the subject.' The Independent Books of the Year

'The scholarship of Holland and Hart-Davis is as impeccable as their subject's wit, while the letters themselves bear comparison with any more conventional form of literary art. They are filled with the terror and the pity of Wilde's extravagant career, not untouched by pathos, and irradiated always by perpetual and wilful laughter.' Times Literary Supplement

'Meticulously edited, intelligently annotated, the letters were a biographer's dream.' Irish Times

'These 1,500 letters are always candid, always humorous (even in adversity) and add substantially to Wilde's reputation not only as a wit but as an intellectual heavyweight.' The Times Books of the Year

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Back Cover

Of all nineteenth-century letter writers Oscar Wilde is, predictably, one of the most sparkling. Wonderfully fluent in style, the letters bear that most familiar of Wildean hallmarks – the lightest of touches for the most serious of subjects. He knew and corresponded with many leading political, literary and artistic figures of the time including William Gladstone, George Curzon, W. B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Frank Harris, Aubrey Beardsley and Max Beerbohm.

Wilde’s letters show him at his informal best. They comment openly on his life and his work from the early years of undergraduate friendship, through his year-long lecture tour in America as a striving and ambitious young ‘Professor of Aesthetics’, to the short period of fame and success in the early 1890s followed by his disgrace and imprisonment. The last and most poignant section covers the five long years between his downfall and his early death in exile at forty-six. Even in adversity his humour does not desert him and he is able to share with his readers that greatest of gifts – the ability to smile at one’s own misfortune.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Merlin Holland is Oscar Wilde’s only grandson. He is a journalist and the author of The Wilde Album (published by Fourth Estate) and the executor of the Wilde estate.
Sir Rupert Hart-Davis was well regarded as an editor, and was executor to various literary figures of the mid-century. In 1962, he compiled a collection of Oscar Wilde’s letters.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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