cover image The Critical Writings of Oscar Wilde: An Annotated Selection

The Critical Writings of Oscar Wilde: An Annotated Selection

Edited by Nicholas Frankel. Harvard Univ, $29.95 (416p) ISBN 978-0-674-27182-1

Frankel (The Invention of Oscar Wilde), an English professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, gathers a remarkable collection of Oscar Wilde’s critical writings. As Frankel notes Wilde’s criticism extends beyond just essays or treatises as he pioneered a style of criticism in forms not typically associated with critical thought, including “the dialogue, the epigram, [and] the personal letter.” Included here are book reviews, letters to the press, dialogues, and excerpts from Intentions (1891), the only book of criticism Wilde published during his lifetime. Wilde minces no words in his review of A Handbook to Marriage, writing that “in spite of its somewhat alarming title this book may be highly recommended to every one,” while of Coleridge by Hall Caine, he quips, “So mediocre is Mr. Caine’s book that even accuracy could not make it better.” But it’s in his striking aphorisms that Wilde shines—combining profundity with cleverness, Wilde declares in “Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young,” for example, that “the well-bred contradict other people. The wise contradict themselves.” Frankel adds an impressive amount of historical and social background, highlighting the circumstances under which each included work was composed. Students and scholars of literature will relish these witty, acerbic outings. (Dec.)