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Outside Swan and Edgar’s

Matthew Sweet: The life of Oscar Wilde, 5 February 1998

The Wilde Album 
by Merlin Holland.
Fourth Estate, 192 pp., £12.99, October 1997, 1 85702 782 5
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Cosmopolitan Criticism: Oscar Wilde’s Philosophy of Art 
by Julia Prewitt Brown.
Virginia, 157 pp., $30, September 1997, 9780813917283
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The Cambridge Companion to Oscar Wilde 
edited by Peter Raby.
Cambridge, 307 pp., £37.50, October 1997, 9780521474719
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Wilde The Novel 
by Stefan Rudnicki.
Orion, 215 pp., £5.99, October 1997, 0 7528 1160 6
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Oscar Wilde 
by Frank Harris.
Robinson, 358 pp., £7.99, October 1997, 1 85487 126 9
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Moab is my Washpot 
by Stephen Fry.
Hutchinson, 343 pp., £16.99, October 1997, 0 09 180161 3
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Nothing … except My Genius 
by Oscar Wilde.
Penguin, 82 pp., £2.99, October 1997, 0 14 043693 6
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... Oscar wilde is one of literature’s most bankable brand-names. As the illustrations in Merlin Holland’s The Wilde Album demonstrate, this was as true in his fin de siècle as in ours. During Wilde’s lifetime, his celebrity was used to sell Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience, Madame Fontaine’s Bosom Beautifier, Straiton and Storm’s cigars and, lastly and mostignominiously, copies of the Illustrated Police Budget ...

Oscar and Constance

Tom Paulin, 17 November 1983

The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde 
by Peter Ackroyd.
Hamish Hamilton, 185 pp., £7.95, April 1983, 0 241 10964 7
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The Importance of Being Constance: A Biography of Oscar Wilde’s Wife 
by Joyce Bentley.
Hale, 160 pp., £8.75, May 1983, 0 7090 0538 5
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Mrs Oscar WildeA Woman of Some Importance 
by Anne Clark Amor.
Sidgwick, 249 pp., £8.95, June 1983, 9780283989674
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... In the spring of 1882, Oscar Wilde travelled to a huge mining town in the Rocky Mountains called Leadville, where he lectured the miners on the ‘secret of Botticelli’. A fortnight later, he gave a lecture at the State University of Nebraska. Afterwards the students took him out to the State penitentiary where he saw: Poor odd types of humanity in hideous striped dresses making bricks in the sun, and all mean-looking, which consoled me, for I should hate to see a criminal with a noble face ...

It’s Only Fashion

James Davidson, 24 November 1994

The Wilde Century: Effeminacy, Oscar Wilde and the Queer Moment 
by Alan Sinfield.
Cassell, 216 pp., £10.99, July 1994, 0 304 32905 3
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Cultural Politics: Queer Reading 
by Alan Sinfield.
Routledge, 105 pp., £25, November 1994, 0 415 10948 5
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Hellenism and Homosexuality in Victorian Oxford 
by Linda Dowling.
Cornell, 173 pp., £21.50, June 1994, 0 8014 2960 9
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... know would know enough already. Others assumed that a lacuna would be explicit of indecency: ‘“Oscar Wilde posing as —”’ was how the Marquess’s offending calling-card appeared in the Evening Standard. Lord Queensberry’s ‘Somdomite’ was displaying his characteristic ineffability by causing the tongue to stumble and producing gaps in ...

Raison de Mourir

Peter Ackroyd, 21 January 1982

The Mad Bad Line 
by Brian Roberts.
Hamish Hamilton, 319 pp., £15, July 1981, 0 241 10637 0
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... in achievement, who relied upon ferocity rather than feeling. Without the light which the falling Oscar distributed upon them, they would have remained in obscurity. Brian Roberts may well have stumbled upon them by accident. Four of his previous biographies have been set, wholly or partly, in Africa; perhaps it was while he was examining the records of ...

The Road to Reading Gaol

Colm Tóibín, 30 November 2017

... that promotes the showing of art in odd and unexpected places. I had agreed to be locked in Oscar Wilde’s cell, the cell known as C.3.3, on the third floor of Block C, for an entire Sunday afternoon, to read an almost complete version of his De Profundis, which would take five and a half hours. It would be streamed onto a screen in the prison ...

Mauve Monkeys

William Fiennes, 18 September 1997

Wilde’s Last Stand: Decadence, Conspiracy and the First World War 
by Philip Hoare.
Duckworth, 250 pp., £16.95, July 1997, 0 7156 2737 6
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... It’s hard to believe, but people were taking it in turns to recite Swinburne. Philip Hoare’s Wilde’s Last Stand is concerned with a more energetic strain of hedonism. By the end of 1915 it was estimated that there were 150 nightclubs in Soho alone: haunts such as the Cave of the Golden Calf, where aristocratic bohemians like Diana Manners and her ...

The Straight and the Bent

Elaine Showalter, 23 April 1992

Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault 
by Jonathan Dollimore.
Oxford, 388 pp., £35, August 1991, 0 19 811225 4
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Inside/Out: Lesbian Theories, Gay Theories 
by Diana Fuss.
Routledge, 432 pp., £40, March 1992, 0 415 90236 3
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... In 1895, at a café in Algiers, Oscar Wilde procured a young Arab musician for André Gide, and thereby launched the French writer into a new life. It probably wasn’t Gide’s first homosexual experience, but it was the one he credited in his journals with the initiation into his real sexual nature, the moment, he recalled, in which he began ‘to discover myself – and in myself the tables of a new law ...

On Some Days of the Week

Colm Tóibín: Mrs Oscar Wilde, 10 May 2012

Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs Oscar Wilde 
by Franny Moyle.
John Murray, 374 pp., £9.99, February 2012, 978 1 84854 164 1
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The Picture of Dorian Gray: An Annotated, Uncensored Edition 
by Oscar Wilde, edited by Nicholas Frankel.
Harvard, 295 pp., £25.95, April 2011, 978 0 674 05792 0
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... In May 1895, the day before Oscar Wilde’s trial began, W.B. Yeats called at Wilde’s mother’s house in London to express his solidarity and that of ‘some of our Dublin literary men’ with the family. He later wrote of ‘the Britisher’s jealousy of art and artists, which is generally dormant but called into activity when the artist has gone outside his field into publicity of an undesirable kind ...

Pal o’ Me Heart

David Halperin: Jamie O’Neill, 22 May 2003

At Swim, Two Boys 
by Jamie O'Neill.
Scribner, 572 pp., £6.99, July 2002, 0 7432 0714 9
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... because he does not feature in the standard martyrology of Irish nationalism. He is, of course, Oscar Wilde. By the time this satirical scene occurs, two-thirds of the way through At Swim, Two Boys, Jamie O’Neill’s novel of the Easter Rising, the reader has already been forced to make some major adjustments to the canonical definitions of Irish ...

Love in a Dark Time

Colm Tóibín: Oscar Wilde, 19 April 2001

The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde 
edited by Merlin Holland and Rupert Hart-Davis.
Fourth Estate, 1270 pp., £35, November 2000, 1 85702 781 7
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... The first two months of 1895 were busy for Oscar Wilde. In late January he was in Algiers with Alfred Douglas. He wrote to Robert Ross: ‘There is a great deal of beauty here. The Kabyle boys are quite lovely. At first we had some difficulty procuring a proper civilised guide. But now it is all right and Bosie and I have taken to haschish: it is quite exquisite: three puffs of smoke and then peace and love ...

Looking away

Michael Wood, 18 May 1989

First Light 
by Peter Ackroyd.
Hamish Hamilton, 328 pp., £12.95, April 1989, 0 241 12498 0
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The Chymical Wedding 
by Lindsay Clarke.
Cape, 542 pp., £12.95, April 1989, 0 224 02537 6
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The Northern Lights 
by Howard Norman.
Faber, 236 pp., £4.99, April 1989, 0 571 15474 3
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... or wish we knew better, agents of prodigious but incomplete hauntings. From The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde to Chatterton, Ackroyd has shown himself an adept in the speech of such ghosts. Indeed his gift for their speech is so great that it can be distracting: we forget to wonder if the ghosts have anything to say. They do have things to ...

Pretending to write ‘Vile Bodies’

Christopher Hitchens, 9 January 1992

Lost Property: Memoirs and Confessions of a Bad Boy 
by Ben Sonnenberg.
Faber, 217 pp., £14.99, November 1991, 0 571 16545 1
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... tolerably sure that he would reply, ‘To have tried everything once,’ and then make one of his Oscar Wilde gestures. But to be familiar with him, and with his library and his circle and his anecdotes, was to see how apt was Murray Kempton’s description of Grand Street as a magazine arranged like a dinner party – a dinner party, moreover, that has ...

Peter Conrad’s Flight from Precision

Richard Poirier, 17 July 1980

Imagining America 
by Peter Conrad.
Routledge, 319 pp., £7.50, May 1980, 0 7100 0370 6
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... and Charles Dickens (gathered in Chapter Two under the heading ‘Institutional America’), Oscar Wilde and Rupert Brooke (‘Aesthetic America’), Kipling and R.L. Stevenson (‘Epic (and Chivalric) America’), H.G. Wells (‘Futuristic America’), D.H. Lawrence (‘Primitive America’), W.H. Auden (‘Theological America’), Aldous Huxley ...

Lost Youth

Nicholson Baker, 9 June 1994

The Folding Star 
by Alan Hollinghurst.
Chatto, 422 pp., £15.99, May 1994, 0 7011 5913 8
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... Alan Hollinghurst is better at bees than Oscar Wilde. On the opening page of The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde has them ‘shouldering their way through the long un-mown grass’. A bee must never be allowed to ‘shoulder’. Later that afternoon, Dorian Gray, alarmed by Lord Henry Wotton’s graphic talk of youth’s inevitable degeneration, drops a lilac blossom that he has been ‘feverishly’ sniffing ...

Liberated by His Bite

Andrew Delbanco, 19 September 1996

Our Vampires, Ourselves 
by Nina Auerbach.
Chicago, 238 pp., £17.50, November 1995, 0 226 03201 9
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... to an actor) by petrifying himself and his Lyceum into attitudes of patriotic grandeur’, while Oscar Wilde radiated energy into the English theatre by mocking ‘everything that was supposed to inspire Irving’s audiences’. Stoker’s Dracula, in Auerbach’s reading, was a counterattack on behalf of his master. Noting that Irving was knighted on ...

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