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The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde Paperback – 5 Feb 2001

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins (5 Feb. 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0002740516
  • ISBN-13: 978-0002740517
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 12.7 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 845,275 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

From the Back Cover

The great poet, satirist and playwright, Oscar Wilde, is as misunderstood today as he was in his own time. Vilified by fellow Victorians for his sexuality and his dandyism, these days he is hailed as a progressive sexual liberator.

But this is not how Wilde saw himself. His actions and pretences did not bring him happiness and fulfilment: his art did. This is where Pearce's search for the man behind the masks is begins.

Rather than lingering on the mistakes which brought him notoriety, this powerful new study of Wilde's brilliant and tragic life explores the emotional and spiritual search of this fascinating literary figure.

It uncovers how his 'heart of stone' was broken by his two-year prison sentence; it probes the deeper thinking behind masterpieces such as 'The Ballad of Reading Gaol' and 'De Profundis'; and it traces his greatest love affair – with the Church.

About the Author

Joseph Pearce is a major author for HarperCollinsReligious.

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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By G. J. Weeks on 20 Feb. 2006
Format: Hardcover
Pearce searches for the real Wilde behind his many masks. He writes well and most movingly, with sympathy for this great tragic man.
Wilde is portrayed as a man for whom his art was everything, but led astray by his love of decadence.
This is not the Wilde that is flaunted as a homosexual icon. There is no evidence of him being anything other than heterosexual until after his wfe is pregnant. Homosexuality led Wilde into the folly of sueing the father of his lover for libel. The lost suit led to crimal prosecution and a sentence of hard labour, bancruptcy, loss of wife and sons, ostracism and exile. How pathetic to see the greatest wit and conversatioanlist of the age reduced to scrounging on the streets of Paris.
Pearce gives us much of the wit and poetry of Wilde. He also traces his on and off love affair with Roman Catholicism ending in death bed reception into the Roman Catholic Church. I would agre with Pearce's view that had Wilde sincerely converted in his youth, his story would have been very very different.
As it is, Wilde seems to be to late 19th century literature what Geoge Best was to late 20th century football, the greatest ever waste of a talent.
One very minor criticism. Pearce is wrong to write that William of Orange usurped power in England. James II was removed for his Roman Catholicism and the throne offered to William and Mary.
A great read. Enjoy and weep.
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By Jocko on 4 Jun. 2015
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I so wish I liked this book more. There are an extraordinary number of bad books about Oscar Wilde, inevitably offering a single line solution to the enigma of this remarkable man. Anyone who has actually read Wilde's works - and I am sure that many of his biographers have not, although Pearce is a very honourable exception - will know that religion played an enormous part in his life. This is routinely ignored by modern biographers, which makes this book all the more important - and disappointing.

Wilde - like his friend Frank Harris - had a profound fascination with the personality of Christ. This was not some casual interest, and his ideas cry out for exploration. Pearce - I think correctly - sees through the masks and mirages modern writers latch onto - the supposed feminism, radicalism, Irish nationalism, syphilis, even homosexuality in the "gay icon" sense. But I felt he never engaged with the underlying Wilde, although making a gallant attempt. Instead we get a rather pallid biography in which the good people are Catholics, the bad people are not and the tone is that of an appalled maiden aunt. This is not without interest. It makes a change to see John Grey and Marc-André Raffalovich depicted as positive figures - but of course they were converts. Even Robbie Ross and Alfred Douglas get an easy ride - but of course they... you guessed it. Incidentally, I have never seen any of Wilde's biographers mention that Ross became a militant atheist, precisely in the Marquis of Queensbury mould, as soon as Catholicism became respectable. The poseur of the pair was not Wilde.

The real problem for me was that Pearce seems to have absolutely no sense of humour. There is never a suggestion that he understands Wilde's irony or Zen-like use of paradox.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 11 reviews
94 of 104 people found the following review helpful
A valuable second opinion on Wilde's life 3 Feb. 2002
By Boson - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This very readable book is very useful corrective to what's become the "standard" view of Wilde. It's especially good at exposing the weaknesses of Richard Ellman's now-standard biography of Wilde. For example, the claim that Wilde contracted (and later died of) syphillis is pretty much taken apart by Pearce.
Pearce has also very closely read Wilde's works, so he offers some very valuable readings of Wilde's writing in order to better understand Wilde's inner life--a life, according to Pearce, that was marked by inner loathing and a self-rebuffed desire to embrace the Church.
Ellman's book remains the standard biography in terms of prose quality (Ellman wrote with uncommon beauty and grace, and Ellman's enthusiasm for Wilde's work and personality is truly infectious). However, Pearce's book really should be must reading for all fans of Wilde's work. It doesn't merely trot out all the old information and anecdotes, but actually offers a fresh view of Wilde.
43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
an essential 11 Dec. 2005
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
There seem to be two types of Oscar Wilde biographies. One, treats him like a sexual martyr and hardly gets into his huge talents at all. The other talks only about his career and treats the episode with Lord Alfred Douglass like a spot on an otherwise pristine carpet. Jospeh Pearce refuses to take either path. He looks at Oscar Wilde, the man, the artist and the broken soul. Wilde had some ideas about himself and was like Herod, fascinated by religion but was unable to stir himself to change. He a genius and was spoiled, pampered and protected by his class and talent but that left him totally unprepared for a brute of a man like the Marquiss of Queensbury.

Pearce is gentle with Wilde but he doesn't excuse him. Wilde failed his wife and his sons miserably and the nameless, faceless rent boys of London weren't just props, they were shabbily used human beings. Pearce makes this all clear but he also discusses the hope of Wilde's life, his last minute conversion. Give this well written book a try. It is a completely different and fresh look at Oscar Wilde.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Another great biography from Joseph Pearce 14 Feb. 2010
By Paul J. Testa - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Pearce provides an insightful and penetrating analysis of Wilde as both man and artist. Pearce's research is impeccable and his prose makes for a pleasurable read. Pearce's Wilde is engaging, sympathetic, and complex as his various masks are stripped away. I have read several of Pearce's books, but this one is perhaps his best. I was thankful for a complete portrait of Wilde that did not reduce him into a flippant purveyor of bon mots or a figurehead for the gay-liberation movement. Through Pearce's portrait, we learn that Wilde was so much more.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Oscar was definitely his mother's son 1 Jan. 2015
By Clare - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As school-teachers wisely say, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree." Pearce does both Oscar Wilde and us readers a favor by starting this book with a discussion of Wilde's nut-job mother. Talk about wearing a mask! The woman clearly was a fake through and through, and her stubborn refusal to look in a mirror (metaphorically speaking) and honestly acknowledge who and what she was is a flaw that she obviously taught her son. If he had been raised by different parents, would we even be having this discussion?

Not five stars, however, because throughout the author keeps making maddening attempts to be precious, inserting wannabe-witticisms into the text almost as if he's trying unsuccessfully to write like Wilde himself. (Catholic author George Rutler does the same sort of thing, although Rutler's far worse.) I kept tripping over Pearce's attempted cleverness, because it detracts from the narrative--it's kind of like trying to look through a very dirty window, when you can't help focusing your eyes more on the glass than on the view outside. E.g., "Art for art's sake is only an agnostic substitute for art for God's sake" (214). Huh? Well, maybe so, but I was constantly forced to stop and re-read these sorts of clever lines several times, a frustrating interruption of an otherwise fascinating story.
23 of 34 people found the following review helpful
The author is maybe a little too forgiving, but thorough... 9 Dec. 2004
By A. Calabrese - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Before reading this biography all I knew about Oscar Wilde was that he was oversexed and the author of The Picture of Dorian Gray. Joseph Peace does a good job of revealing Wilde's upbringing, studies, and career. In fact I am now reading and pondering other works of Wilde's like, De Profundis.

The author seems harsh to Wilde's lovers and most forgiving of the "Wilde Life." The book paints a picture of Oscar Wilde as a gifted artist who, as his life progressed, became a moral degenirate and a drunkard, in that order. Wilde apparently felt and even expressed remorse, but seemed incapable of acting on it. Yes, "We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." But, that said, Oscar Wilde was predatory in his pursuit of and obsession with younger men. As Pearce points out, Wilde's sin destroyed his family and destroyed him. Wilde died almost friendless and a pauper. Wilde didn't seem so much interested in love as he did in pleasure. What Wilde expressed on paper he was not capable of in himself. The book is an interesting study of the decadent movement of the 19th century in art and literature, and will open the reader up to lesser known writers and artists, who were Wilde's contemporaries. Pearce does make the reader feel sad for Wilde as he was brilliantly talented, but morally a train wreck. Over all, not a bad read and a good introduction to the life of Oscar Wilde.
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