"Oscar Wilde" by Melissa Knox

Oscar Wilde A Long and Lovely Suicide Melissa Knox

Publication date:
25 Sep 1996
Yale University Press
212 pages: 229 x 152mm
21 b-w illus.

"I was a problem for which there was no solution."—Oscar Wilde, 1897

During his lifetime Oscar Wilde was praised as a brilliant playwright, novelist, and conversationalist and stigmatized as a dangerous seducer of youth. Ironically, he is perhaps best remembered now for the bravery he exhibited in 1895 during his trial in England for homosexual offenses. In the first full-length psychoanalytic biography of Wilde, Melissa Knox explores the link between little-known childhood events and figures in his life and his psychological development to explain both Wilde's creativity and his self-destructive heroism.

Drawing on new information as well as on recent biographies and studies, Knox sketches the important characters in Wilde's formative years: an adoring and demanding mother, a father whose scandalous life degraded the family, and a beloved sister who died when Oscar was eleven. She describes Wilde's first daring efforts as a young man to challenge British mores; his lifelong battle with his fears of the syphilis he reportedly contracted at Oxford; his marriage and two children; his tempestuous and flamboyant love affair with Lord Alfred Douglas, whose father, the marquess of Queensberry, accused Wilde of homosexual practices; Wilde's libel suit against the marquess, subsequent trial, and two-year imprisonment; and his last years in exile, disgrace, and ill health. Uncovering the unconscious motivations beneath Wilde's surface bravado, Knox is able to explain his often puzzling actions. She also offers new interpretations of some of his works, from Salome, which she calls Wilde's most autobiographical work, to The Importance of Being Earnest, in which she sees Wilde artistically embracing his inability to resolve conflicts, to De Profundis, his attempt to salvage himself as a man and an artist.

Melissa Knox is assistant professor of English at St. Peter's College.

"An original and important book with highly convincing psychoanalytic interpretations of Wilde and his work."—Peter Gay, Yale University

"This book offers new facts about Wilde's medical condition, fresh insights into his character, and original readings of his works. It is an important contribution to our understanding of the man, his situation, and his accomplishment."—George Stade, Columbia University

"An original and important reading of Oscar Wilde's works and life, illuminated by an acute and informed use of psychoanalytic theory and insights."—Steven Marcus, Columbia University