Robbie Ross: Oscar Wilde's Last True Friend
Jonathan Fryer. Carroll & Graf Publishers, $25 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-7867-0781-2
Fryer (Andr and Oscar: Gide, Wilde and the Gay Art of Living) looks at a minor figure in literary history, Robbie Ross, the object of Oscar Wilde's first homosexual liaison. Wilde's sexual relationship with Ross (1869-1918) began when the latter was a 17-year-old student and Wilde was a 33-year-old married man. Their friendship deepened when Ross moved in with Wilde and his wife, Constance (with whom Wilde was deeply in love and to whom he was still sexually attracted), while Ross was cramming to get into Cambridge. The author also documents the many affairs the two men went on to have both with male members of London's literary circles as well as with lower class ""rent boys."" Although this biography is ostensibly about Ross, equal or more space is devoted to Wilde's highly successful literary career, as the subtitle suggests, covering such high points as the publication of his then highly sensational novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, as well as his ill-fated compulsive love for ""Bosie"" Davis. Bosie's father, who despised Wilde, was instrumental in having him tried for sodomy. Throughout Wilde's trial, prison term and release, Ross, who maintained a career as a minor writer and art critic, remained a loyal friend and frequently assisted the somewhat irresponsible Wilde financially. Ross was with Wilde when he died several years later; afterward he became Wilde's literary executor and befriended Wilde's sons. He was frequently subjected to vicious attacks from Bosie, who married and repudiated his former life. Written in a style that is fresh and exuberant but not sensational, Fryer's biography is particularly interesting for its in-depth look at London's late Victorian gay society. Photos not seen by PW. (Jan.) Forecast: 2000 marked the centenary of Wilde's death, and if this is packaged with other recent books on Wilde it might get some sales, but Ross is a minor figure and not likely to attract much attention.
Reviewed on: 12/04/2000
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