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March 15, 2004 | by  | in Books |
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The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde

First of all, don’t read this book unless you are VERY interested in the life of Oscar Wilde. This is a painfully detailed, step by tiny step account of Wilde’s adult life, and fascinating though it surely was, Neil Mckenna’s biography just goes on and on. Parts of it are also frustrating and unconvincing as they contain a few too many “probablys” and “most likelys” giving the book a speculative and at times gossipy feel to it.

On the bright side it does contain a lot of sex. I don’t just say that because I personally am some kind of nymphomaniacal sex fiend, but because it really was the only interesting side of the story. However, by the end, even the sex was exhausted and I had truly had enough of sodomy.

Wilde was, as Mckenna has led me to believe, quite a slut. All well and good, unless you happen to be a homosexual in the 19th Century. The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde shows how society viewed and reacted to homosexuality back then. It was regarded by many as a crime worse than murder, and was punishable with life imprisonment. To create a cover many men would marry and have families, keeping their true loves hidden behind this social requirement for normalcy. Wilde did exactly this but to no avail, and ended up ruining the lives of his family in the process as well as his own.

The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde offers insights into some of his works, the truths behind the stories and poems and who he based some of his characters on, which is interesting and makes it almost worthwhile. Mostly, it seems, they were to do with sex. Mckenna believes that Wilde was a man motivated in all aspects of his life by his sexual desires (not something completely unheard of), and that to truly understand his works you must appreciate his sexuality.

The biography is also an excellent historical depiction of homosexuality. It shows how ideas that seem absurd and barbaric to most of us nowadays were the undisputed norm only a century ago. It’s quite scary really and does make you think. So good on Mckenna for getting it out there, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. For the persistent only.

Neil Mckenna
Random House

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