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Declaring His Genius

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Who else could have made up his mind to become a literary genius and accomplished it? There’s only one Oscar Wilde. But for all his brilliant showmanship, wrote one of his friends, “Those who have known him as I have since he was a child at my knee know that beneath the fantastic envelope in which his managers are circulating him there is a noble, earnest, kind and lovable man.”

In the dozen years after his return from his whirlwind 1882 tour that Roy Morris, Jr., covers in Declaring His Genius: Oscar Wilde in North America, Wilde married, had children, and became about the most renowned playwright of the century. Then, as he pushed both his luck and his idealistic confidence in justice, the roof caved in. After a series of ugly lawsuits, Wilde found himself jailed for two years for his homosexual relationship with one of the most abhorrent young men in literary history. At the age of 46, Wilde, broken and ill, died in Paris.

On his tour of the US and Canada, Wilde delivered 140 lectures; the one-man media sensation was sometimes a trooper and occasionally a prima donna. He addressed audiences of hundreds and of handfuls. He does not seem to have been a dynamic speaker, however, or to have made a special effort to engage his particular audiences. In Chicago, a journalist remarked, “Oscar spoke of the ‘beautiful in art,’ and the ‘joy in art,’ and it was all Greek to the men and women who listened to him.”

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