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Truly Wilde: The Story of Dolly Wilde, Oscar's Unusual Niece [Paperback]

Joan Schenkar
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

6 Sep 2001
Born a scant three months after her uncle's notorious arrest and raised in the shadow of the greatest scandal of the turn of the twentieth century, Dorothy Irene Wilde was a born writer who never completed the the creative life promised by her famous name and gorgeous imagination. Dolly Wilde made her career in the salons - and the bedrooms - of some of London and Paris's most interesting women and men. Attracting people of taste and talent wherever she went, Dolly drenched her prodigious talents in liquids and chemicals, burnt up her opportunities in flamboyant affairs and created a sensation by apparently reliving the life of her infamous uncle. In this very modern biography, Joan Schenkar provides a fascinating look at what it means to live with the talents but not the achievements of biography's usual subjects. She aslo uncovers never-before-published evidence of the hidden life of the Wilde family and of the extraordianry salon society of Natalie Clifford Barney, Dolly Wilde's longest and most fatal attachment.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Virago; New Ed edition (6 Sep 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1860495575
  • ISBN-13: 978-1860495571
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 12.6 x 3.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,499,082 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

She was lovely, sophisticated, and famous for her witty conversation even in a social circle known for its fabulous talkers. The only child of Oscar Wilde's dissipated older brother Willie, Dolly Wilde (1895-1941) led a life as scandalous and glittering as her uncle's: she too loved her own sex, and her longest romantic relationship was with American heiress Natalie Clifford Barney, host of the most important Parisian literary salon of the 20th century. Unfortunately for Dolly's posthumous reputation, she "was an artist of the spoken word" whose only written legacy was her marvellous correspondence. Quoting liberally and perceptively from those letters, American playwright Joan Schenkar brings Wilde to life in a modernist biography written in prose as sparkling as Dolly's fabled bon mots. Schenkar eschews conventional chronology to consider Wilde's life thematically, from her lesbianism to her taste for smart society to her self-destructive identification with Uncle Oscar. She reminds us just how remarkable and accomplished were the women at Barney's salon (journalist Janet Flanner, novelist Djuna Barnes, and artist Mina Loy among them) and how much they esteemed Dolly Wilde. Yet her biographer downplays neither Wilde's addiction to drugs nor the sad loneliness of her death (possibly from a drug overdose) at the age of 45. This is essentially a tale of "squandered gifts and lost opportunities", Schenkar acknowledges, yet she successfully provokes readers to share her admiration for Wilde's prodigal generosity with both her talent and her affections. --Wendy Smith --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


At last Dolly Wilde has found a biographer with the intelligence, sensitivity and flamboyance to write the work of art that was her life (DAILY TELEGRAPH)

It is Dolly's posthumous good fortune that Schenkar became intrigued by her...She was a beautiful loser, the book is an absolute winner (Simon Callow, DAILY MAIL)

a fascinating account of a largely unexplored corner of High Bohemia between the wars (SUNDAY TELEGRAPH)

Joan Schenkar has lifted a veil to reveal a sophisticated, overheated lesbian world in Paris in the first decade of the twentieth century. At the centre is Oscar Wilde's niece Dolly- self-destructive, self-dramatising, magnetic. This is a great story, be (Edmund White)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars NOT JUST FOR WILDE FANS 3 Nov 2000
By A Customer
Surely one of the most interesting and attractive "unknown" women of the twentieth century and one of the most daring. Dolly Wilde had her uncle Oscar'intelligence and wit,her father's sense of failure,and the extreme recklessness and terrifying talent for self destruction that made all the Wildes so wild.Though I never heard of Dolly before,I live in Paris,and so was aware of the legendary Natalie Barney and her salon circle of defiant women and famous men.What I didn't know and what this book tells so beautifully is how much Dolly Wilde contributed to the lives and works of all the famous writers and painters in London who came to the Barney salon and took their impressions of Dolly back to England.The method of the book which is to make each chapter a separate way to meet Dolly Wilde,is fascinating in itself,the prose is wonderful,and the whole style seems to be a new way to write biography.I like very much how Schenkar weaves in other people's lives as they react on Dolly(they are many fascinating stories here) and Dolly herself appears extraordinarily touching and charming and doomed in a way we can learn from.For those who like Oscar Wilde,it is fascinating to see how his niece recapitulated his life,first by looking and sounding like him,then by living around the corner from the hotel he died in Paris,and then by dying at Oscar's age across the street from the hotel he was arrested in London.The chapter called"Living up to Oscar" about his disastrous effect on her life is a very interesting take on what happens to relatives of famous people.And how disconcerting is the repetition of the Wilde tendencies of life! Read more ›
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3.0 out of 5 stars Truly a missed opportunity 5 Nov 2012
This biography was a chance to rescue Dolly Wilde from relative obscurity, instead the portrait is still hazey. We are told, several times, that she was related to Oscar and that some people felt they looked alike. We are unable to judge for ourselves because apart from the photo on the dust cover there are no illustrations. She lived recklessly and took drugs, which may have led to her death. She had several affairs with women, although apart from her ongoing relationship with Natalie Barney we are told surprizingly little about her affairs and why they ended. She drove an ambulance during the war, a fact that is mentioned but not explored. She said witty things but nobody recorded them. She traveled extensively but discussion of her travels is limited to a few paragraphs.
Her life is presented as a missed opportunity and I feel the biography is too. Huge chunks of the person are missing. For an excellent book on Natalie Barney and her circle try Diana Souhami's Wild Girls, a really good biography of Dolly has yet to be written.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Wilde by name and nature 3 Sep 2010
By theTramp VINE VOICE
An interesting read. I espied this book in a Dublin bookshop and didn't buy it at the time, despite being quite fascinated by the idea of Wilde's neice being wild by name and nature, and a true heir apparent. Eventually I could resist no longer and purchased the book; I can't say I was disappointed. Dorothy Wilde was indeed a fascinating, contradictory, witty, brilliant woman whom it seems was much loved and also much despaired of. The book does a very good job of trying to bring her to life, and to baring. A woman well remembered by friends, but forgotten by the world, largely because she chose never to cast down her witticisms for posterity write as her infamous Uncle had done. The biographer does a good job of casting Dorothy as a woman raised in the shadow of one quite great, quite similar and quite of another time. The cast of characters who surrounded her life are offered more than mere supporting roles, explored as much as possible and offered the praise the author feels they deserve. It's certainly an eccentric and interesting cast. For all that, I couldn't shake the feeling that the cast were burning so bright that they couldn't fail to engage despite, rather than thanks, to the biographers skill. Hats off to Schenkar for a well researched biography, but perhaps not the best written. Which is why this is a 3 star and not a 4 star review.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.3 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating life, scattered writing 30 Mar 2006
By ESM517 - Published on Amazon.com
I have read numerous books by and about Oscar Wilde and received this book as a Christmas gift. I was excited to learn about Oscar Wilde's niece, and they do have an eerily similar face. I have to agree with the previous reviewer: the writing is all over the place and topics are repeated over and over. I don't think, however, that Oscar was overdone. The best parts of the book were when Schenkar describes Clifford Barney and Berthe Cleyrergue. And Schenkar did extensive research and spoke to many many people who were in the circle of friends. My hat off to her for the very thorough research. Altogether, fascinating life, but writing that could have been tighter and less repetitive.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Contradictory messages about an interesting woman 20 Jan 2006
By Sarah Borkowski - Published on Amazon.com
I have read some books/plays by Oscar Wilde, and I very much enjoyed them. So I thought, Heck, I bet his niece was just as interesting. And she was. However, even though Schenkar tries mightily to separate the two and to show Dolly for her own merits, she fails to tell Dolly's story without huge stretches of Oscar showing up. And yes, Oscar is important to Dolly's life story, but Schenkar takes so much time painstakingly explaining why Dolly is amazing in her own right it makes one think, "Couldn't she have just talked about Dolly and not even brought up Oscar...?"

Also, Schenkar's somewhat clumsy writing detracts from Dolly's story. The book could have been about 2/3 the size it is if Schenkar had stated her facts one time each. It comes back to her constant introduction of Oscar into the book - every time she tried to contrast the two, she reiterated another fact or tidbit. The facts are interesting, but only the first couple of times you hear them. Plus it doesn't leave much to the reader's imagination. She alludes to a point, and the reader has an "Aha!" moment, the she rams the point home which takes some of the novelty of the intellectual discovery away.

I will say, the pictures in the book were wonderful. I'm glad there was a wide array of people shown in the pictures to give a face to all of the names that show up in the book.

It doesn't seem like there's too much information out there about Dolly Wilde. So if you're intersted in her, I would read the book. If you're looking for an interesting biography, I would try something else.
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterful Biography 14 Jun 2011
By C. R. Holloway - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Joan Schenkar's Herculean research sets the standard for future biographers. Elegance and wit in every paragraph. An evocative recreation of the hot-house world of Parisian/Lesbian literati of the roaring 20's and 30's and Dolly Wilde's incautious place in it. Her elusive, charming, exasperating, ultimately heart-breaking story is so beautifully told, I couldn't put it down. I liken it to a gift box of exquisite bonbons, hand-dipped in Paris, perhaps sent by one of Dolly's wealthy, super-literate friends. So sinfully delicious, despite my dietician's warning, I'm about to read it a second time.
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