Built of Books: How Reading Defined the Life of Oscar Wilde

Built of Books: How Reading Defined the Life of Oscar Wilde

Thomas Wright

Language: English

Pages: 384

ISBN: 0805092463

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


An entirely new kind of biography, Built of Books explores the mind and personality of Oscar Wilde through his taste in books

This intimate account of Oscar Wilde's life and writings is richer, livelier, and more personal than any book available about the brilliant writer, revealing a man who built himself out of books. His library was his reality, the source of so much that was vital to his life. A reader first, his readerly encounters, out of all of life's pursuits, are seen to be as significant as his most important relationships with friends, family, or lovers. Wilde's library, which Thomas Wright spent twenty years reading, provides the intellectual (and emotional) climate at the core of this deeply engaging portrait.

One of the book's happiest surprises is the story of the author's adventure reading Wilde's library. Reminiscent of Jorge Luis Borges's fictional hero who enters Cervantes's mind by saturating himself in the culture of sixteenth-century Spain, Wright employs Wilde as his own Virgilian guide to world literature. We come to understand how reading can be an extremely sensual experience, producing a physical as well as a spiritual delight.

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wonder at all the beautiful things that are left to me: loyal and loving friends: good health’ and ‘books’ – ‘one of the greatest of the many worlds God has given to each man’.16 Yet Wilde had countless hardships to endure. At Dieppe he was frequently insulted by English tourists, and cut by some of his former friends. ‘I staggered as though I had been shot,’ he said of one such encounter, ‘and went reeling out into the street like a drunken man.’17 Around three months into his stay, the

reading public because of their ‘pretentiousness, affectation, false English’ and charlatanism.3 True to form, Wilde’s mother begged to differ, ranking Disraeli way above George Eliot and recommending him, along with Plato, as the ideal guide for those who wished to talk brilliantly in society. Speranza literally passed her passion on to her youngest son by lending him several Disraeli novels.4 Wilde was ravished by the books, declaring them infinitely superior to anything produced by Dickens.

years at college, a deep and catholic knowledge of classical literature.* Trinity’s University Calendar, which was handed to Wilde on his arrival, outlined the details of the course and the various examinations that lay ahead. His ‘minute and critical knowledge’ of ancient texts would, it informed him, be rigorously tested; he would be assessed, too, on his ‘power of expressing the full meaning and force of an ancient author by writing such a translation of a given passage as may deserve

wondering eyes into “the younger day” and to find the path “to the shores of old Romance”’.25 Irish folk stories and Ossianic legends had pointed the way. In adulthood, he re-traced his steps to those shores using, as his guide, The Vision of MacConglinne.26 The medieval ‘Irish wonder tale’, which Wilde read in a parallel Gaelic-English text edition, tells the colourful story of MacConglinne, a wandering Bard who suffers terrible injustices at the hands of a vindictive clergy. Through the

which the author sent along with numerous volumes by other authors.28 Bosie had spectacularly fallen out of Wilde’s favour during his imprisonment. Yet, typically, although their rift was dramatic, it also proved to be short-lived. A week after his release Wilde was again addressing Douglas as ‘My dearest Boy’; by the end of the month ‘dearest’ had blossomed into ‘darling’. Wilde’s darling boy, who was desperate to get back into his lover’s good books, dispatched a copy of his verse collection

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