cover image The Fall of the House of Wilde: Oscar Wilde and His Family

The Fall of the House of Wilde: Oscar Wilde and His Family

Emer O’Sullivan. Bloomsbury Press, $35 (512p) ISBN 978-1-60819-987-7

O’Sullivan describes this debut as “an attempt to put Oscar [Wilde] in the context of his family and the family in the larger context of the history of Ireland.” Her “attempt” is a success worthy of celebration. She follows Wilde from his earliest writing efforts to his star-making lecture tour through the U.S. and Canada, then on to the triumphs of The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest. She also explores how Wilde’s family influenced his life and works. Included are his father, a surgeon who championed Irish culture; his mother, a “fiercely independent” poet and intellectual who died a pauper; and his older brother, a lawyer turned journalist who was destroyed by alcoholism. Then there were Wilde’s lovers, including Lord Alfred Douglas, and Wilde’s wife, Constance Lloyd, an acclaimed beauty whom O’Sullivan describes as loving, forgiving, and naive. Central to the portrait are two court cases. In one, Wilde’s father was cleared of having raped a former patient but nevertheless had his reputation destroyed. In the other, Wilde himself was found guilty of “indecent acts” and served two years in prison. O’Sullivan’s impressively comprehensive biography is equal parts political history, literary criticism, and Shakespearean tragedy. (Oct.)