THE UNRECORDED LIFE OF OSCAR WILDE by Rupert Croft-Cooke. Published by W.H. Allen. £3.50.
Of the many books written about Wilde, I find Rupert Croft-Cooke’s biography The Unrecorded Life of Oscar Wilde, the most revealing.
The descriptions of Wilde the man have often been confusing and the conflicting accounts of his infamous activities, usually from doubtful sources, have made the truth a difficult thing to find. Croft-Cooke discounts many of the numerous myths that have surrounded Wilde. As a result this book is a truthful, unsensationalised biography and with the details of what brought out the worst of hypocritical Victorian society, it all combines into an enlightening piece of writing.
I disagree with Croft-Cooke’s analysis of Wilde’s plays and other works. To me they are some of the most rewarding, humourous English literature and theatre written. Although the author does not deny Wilde’s obvious talent, he somewhat underrates it. But what is so enjoyable about this book is the honest, comprehensive study of this famous figure, without all the frills and the unsubstantiated stories.
Wilde was a fool, a vain one at that, when he brought Queensbury to the courts for libel, but the course fate took, apart from ruining him, was to show the world a disgusting example of ignorant, inhuman laws and the fickleness and shallowness of people thought to be friends. As a homosexual, Wilde was really no more outrageous than many other gays who lived in that same period. It certainly would not be difficult to find people today who enjoy and seek the same type of sexual fulfilment that he did, and in the same quantity.
The saying ‘you can do what you like as long as you don’t get (publicly) found out’, was as true then as it is today.
Wilde’s story is well known to most people, so there is no need for me to reprint it here. What I can do is praise Croft-Cooke’s book as an important contribution to the wealth of literature already available on him. I know that a number of Wilde-ologists will disagree with my opinions, but I argue that I would rather know about Oscar Wilde than about a mythical, scandalous hero.