Gyles Brandreth, a former MP and an Oscar Wilde biographer, delivers his second mystery to feature Wilde as a Holmesian detective, Oscar Wilde and a Game Called Murder (Reviews, July 7).
How did you become interested in Wilde?
Since I was a boy, I have been an avid admirer of both the works of Oscar Wilde and the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. About 10 years ago, I picked up a copy of the autobiography of Arthur Conan Doyle and discovered that he and Wilde were friends. I was amazed. It would be hard to imagine an odder couple. This inspired me to write the first of the series, Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance.
Conan Doyle is a major character in your new book. Do you have any problem juggling real and fictional characters?
No. They are all real to me, and I quickly forget who is real and who isn’t. That said, everything that the reader would expect to be accurate is accurate, I hope. I want to feel that reading these books, they are getting a true flavor of the people of the era and the era itself.
What was it about Wilde that engaged you?
When I was 13, I was given the Complete Works of Oscar Wilde and read them from cover to cover. I can’t have understood much, but I relished the language and learnt by heart his “Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young.” As a child I felt close to Oscar for another reason. From prep school I went on to Bedales, whose founder, John Badley, was a friend of Oscar’s and was still living in the school grounds when I was a boy. He talked to me a lot about Oscar Wilde.
What did you learn about Wilde from him?
Mr. Badley told me that, while Wilde was the most remarkable raconteur, he was also a wonderful listener. Wilde’s father, a distinguished Irish surgeon and himself a noted wit, allowed his sons to sit in the corner of the family dining room in Merrion Square on the nights when Dublin society came to dine. Sir William Wilde told the boys not to speak, only to “listen and observe.”
What was Wilde’s actual interest in crime and detection?
It was considerable. The Picture of Dorian Gray and “Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime” are both mysteries. Before he began writing fiction, Wilde was interested in social reform and the welfare of offenders. He applied for a job working for a charity in this field when he was in his 20s. After his imprisonment, he was an active campaigner for prison reform.