Oscar Wilde: The Major Works

Oscar Wilde: The Major Works

Oscar Wilde: The Major Works

Oscar Wilde: The Major Works


This authoritative edition was formerly published in the acclaimed Oxford Authors series under the general editorship of Frank Kermode. It brings together a unique combination of Wilde's poetry and prose short stories, plays, critical dialogues and his only novel - to give the essence of his work and thinking. Oscar Wilde's dramatic private life has sometimes threatened to overshadow his great literary achievements. His talent was prodigious: the author of brilliant social comedies, fairy stories, critical dialogues, poems, and a novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. In addition to Dorian Gray, this volume represents all these genres, including such works as Lady Windermere's Fan and The Importance of Being Earnest, 'The Happy Prince', 'The Critic as Artist', and 'The Ballad of Reading Gaol'.


Art is the only serious thing in the world. And the artist is the only person who is never serious.

Perhaps the most unfortunate of Oscar Wilde's memorable remarks is one he made to André Gide--that he had put his genius into his life, and only his talent into his work. Ideal ammunition, that, for critics and commentators only too ready to belittle that work, or to say, as Gide did, that at its best it was only a faint echo of his conversation or his story- telling. The original remark was made in January 1895, just before that public catastrophe with which Wilde has been inescapably linked ever since. Interest in Wilde's private life--in his offences, his trials, and his imprisonment--has not diminished. The interest has sometimes been sympathetic, and often prurient. But the drama of Wilde's life has certainly overshadowed his work, and has often led even literary critics to concentrate too narrowly on themes in his work of guilty secrets, or suppressed confession, or to search in the writings for material suggested by knowledge of the life, material that is most certainly to be found there. So two outstanding imbalances have been perpetuated, Wilde the wonderful talker, too lazy to write down his best work, and Wilde the scandalous pervert, or the sacrificial scapegoat--or even the unjustly accused, though modern biographical evidence has surely disposed of that argument.

The popular perception of Wilde has thus been of the notorious homosexual whose fall was the major scandal of the close of the nineteenth century. And in the popular imagination he has only otherwise survived as a writer of witty stage comedies and the coiner of some memorable and quotable witticisms--'Work is the curse of the drinking classes', 'Nothing succeeds like excess', 'Divorces are made in Heaven'.

I suggest it is time to redress these major imbalances. And we have at last reached a state of things where it should be able to be done. The most important contributor to Wilde scholarship is without a doubt Rupert Hart-Davis, who edited Wilde Letters in 1962, and issued a (generously) Selected Letters in 1979, which is readily available. He followed it in 1985 with More Letters of Oscar Wilde, containing all the notable letters he had been assembling since 1962. And in 1987 the long-awaited definitive biography, Oscar Wilde, by the late Richard Ellmann . . .

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