cover image Declaring His Genius: 
Oscar Wilde in North America

Declaring His Genius: Oscar Wilde in North America

Roy Morris Jr. Harvard Univ./Belknap, $26.95 (260p) ISBN 978-0-674-06696-0

In this enjoyable biography, Morris (The Better Angel) captures Wilde’s yearlong 1882 North American lecture tour. Month after month, Wilde, already deemed the “public face of the Aesthetic Movement,” filled theaters and halls in 140 cities and towns over some 15,000 miles of the United States and Canada. His lectures were met with mixed reviews, but he was able to socialize with some of the best, including artists and actresses, literary men such as Whitman and Longfellow, senators, and even Jefferson Davis. In this way, the book serves not just as an account of Wilde’s year, but of a year in American cultural history—and thanks to helpful accounts from the droves of newspapermen and journalists that flocked to Wilde’s lectures, dined with him in his hotel rooms, and stalked him on train trips, Morris’s work is well researched and immensely detailed. Wilde may not have yet mastered the art of lecturing at this young age, but he still proved himself a master of the art of self-promotion. In the end, Morris argues: “America changed Wilde more than Wilde changed America.” The press’s interest in Wilde’s pantaloons-wearing, flower-eating persona combined with a hearty dose of Wilde witticisms throughout make this a fun and enlightening read, and the historical snapshot of America through the focused lens of Wilde’s trip also makes it an important one. Agent: Georges Borchardt. (Jan.)