Making Oscar Wilde

ISBN : 9780198802372

Michele Mendelssohn
304 Pages
135 x 216 mm
Pub date
Aug 2020
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  • Draws on compelling new archives and rare documents to tell the story of Oscar Wilde's life
  • A gripping and stylish account of Wilde's tumultuous rise, fall, and resurrection
  • A richly-illustrated combination of biography, cultural history, and masterful story-telling
  • Explores the fascinating social trends and controversies that rocked nineteenth century Britain, Ireland, and the United States as they moved towards modernity
  • A provocative and original interpretation that exposes the intimate connections that bind together national histories


  • Shortlisted for the Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Prize 2018
  • Longlisted for the PEN America Biography Prize and LGBT+ Polari Prize 2019

Witty, inspiring, and charismatic, Oscar Wilde is one of the Greats of English literature. Today, his plays and stories are beloved around the world. But it was not always so. His afterlife has given him the legitimacy that life denied him. Making Oscar Wilde reveals the untold story of young Oscar's career in Victorian England and post-Civil War America. Set on two continents, this book tracks a larger-than-life hero on an unforgettable adventure to make his name and gain international acclaim. 'Success is a science,' Wilde believed, 'if you have the conditions, you get the result.'
Combining new evidence and gripping cultural history, Michèle Mendelssohn dramatizes Wilde's rise, fall, and resurrection as part of a spectacular transatlantic pageant. With superb style and an instinct for story-telling, she brings to life the charming young Irishman who set out to captivate the United States and Britain with his words and ended up conquering the world. Following the twists and turns of Wilde's journey, Mendelssohn vividly depicts sensation-hungry Victorian journalism and popular entertainment alongside racial controversies, sex scandals, and the growth of Irish nationalism. This ground-breaking revisionist history shows how Wilde's tumultuous early life embodies the story of the Victorian era as it tottered towards modernity. Riveting and original, Making Oscar Wilde is a masterful account of a life like no other.


List of Plates
Prologue: What's the matter with Oscar Wilde?
PART ONE, 1854-1881

Turning Points
Do You Find the World Very Hollow?
Astonishing the Dons
Not Having Set the World Quite on Fire
PART TWO, 1882-1883

Colonel Morse's Campaign
Oscar Dear
Mr. Wild of Borneo, or The Paddy
Life Imitates Art
Is it Manhood?
The War of Art
Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing
Son of Speranza
Underground Men
Going South
The Confederate
PART THREE, 1883-1900

Success is a Science
You Have Made Your Name
By the Throat
Epilogue: The Private View
Appendix: The Mystery of Wilde's Black Valet

About the author: 

Michèle Mendelssohn, Associate Professor of English, Mansfield College, Oxford
Michèle Mendelssohn is a literary critic and cultural historian. She is Associate Professor of English Literature at Oxford University, earned her doctorate from Cambridge University, and was a Fulbright Scholar at Harvard University. Mendelssohn's previous books include Henry James, Oscar Wilde, and Aesthetic Culture and two co-edited collections of literary criticism, Alan Hollinghurst and Late Victorian Into Modern (shortlisted for the 2017 Modernist Studies Association Book Prize). She has published in The New York TimesThe GuardianAfrican American ReviewJournal of American StudiesNineteenth Century Literature, and Victorian Literature and Culture.

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