The Fall of the House of Wilde (Hardcover)

Oscar Wilde and His Family

By Emer O'Sullivan

Bloomsbury Press, 9781608199877, 512pp.

Publication Date: October 4, 2016

List Price: 35.00*
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The first biography of Oscar Wilde that places him within the context of his family and social and historical milieu--a compelling volume that finally tells the whole story.

It’s widely known that Oscar Wilde was precociously intellectual, flamboyant, and hedonistic--but lesser so that he owed these characteristics to his parents.

Oscar’s mother, Lady Jane Wilde, rose to prominence as a political journalist, advocating a rebellion against colonialism in 1848. Proud, involved, and challenging, she opened a salon and was known as the most scintillating hostess of her day. She passed on her infectious delight in the art of living to Oscar, who drank it in greedily.

His father, Sir William Wilde, was acutely conscious of injustices of the social order. He laid the foundations for the Celtic cultural renaissance in the belief that culture would establish a common ground between the privileged and the poor, Protestant and Catholic. But Sir William was also a philanderer, and when he stood accused of sexually assaulting a young female patient, the scandal and trial sent shockwaves through Dublin society.

After his death, the Wildes decamped to London where Oscar burst irrepressibly upon the scene. The one role that didn’t suit him was that of Victorian husband, as his wife, Constance, was to discover. For beneath his swelling head was a self-destructive itch: a lifelong devourer of attention, Oscar was unable to recognize when the party was over. Ultimately, his trial for indecency heralded the death of decadence--and his own.

In a major repositioning of our first modern celebrity, The Fall of the House of Wilde identifies Oscar Wilde as a member of one of the most dazzling Irish American families of Victorian times, and places him in the broader social, political, and religious context. It is a fresh and perceptive account of one of the most prominent characters of the late nineteenth century.

About the Author

Emer O'Sullivan graduated from Trinity College, Dublin, and has a master's degree in life writing and a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of East Anglia, where she also lectured. This is her first book. She lives in London.

Praise For The Fall of the House of Wilde: Oscar Wilde and His Family

"Emer O'Sullivan has made an indispensable contribution to Wildean literature. She goes back to the beginning and finds out where Oscar came from. Where he really came from. O'Sullivan's detailed portraits of Wilde's father, mother and brother are, at every page, compelling, informative and fascinating--especially to one who made the vain mistake of thinking he just about knew it all. The meticulous scholarship and insight she brings are fantastically valuable. This is a book that reminds us how very unlikely it is that a genius will be born in a vacuum: Oscar was, O'Sullivan demonstrates, every inch his parents' child." - Stephen Fry

"[A] success worthy of celebration . . . O’Sullivan’s impressively comprehensive biography is equal parts political history, literary criticism, and Shakespearean tragedy." - Starred Review, Publishers Weekly

"Deeply researched . . . O’Sullivan’s book is strongest when she positions the Wildes within the larger framework of Irish history; many Wilde biographers glide over not only his mother but also his Irishness." - New York Times Book Review

"It is perhaps Emer O'Sullivan's greatest achievement that her characters come to life, bringing with them the world and culture in which they lived. She is generous with her details, putting her fingers down on many maps and tracing them for us, enlightening us about the politics of the day, and the way that the world seemed to those about whom she is writing. In short, Emer O'Sullivan's The Fall of the House of Wilde: Oscar Wilde and His Family seems the Oscar. And isn't that the greatest thing that any biographer can achieve?" - New York Journal of Books

"[O’Sullivan] has an eye for good details . . . and she renders memorable scenes." - The Wall Street Journal

"Without Wilde’s very modern genius for self-promotion, conceivably, there would have been no David Bowie or, indeed, Kim Kardashian . . . Absorbing." - The Observer

"A lively biography . . . A brisk narrative of the family's, and Ireland's, troubles. A familiar portrait of Oscar with a fresh look at his eccentric relatives." - Kirkus Reviews

"Another Oscar Wilde biography may seem supererogatory, but it isn’t. Indeed anyone interested in Wilde should find it as fully fascinating as any of its predecessors. . . . A book to be wild about." - starred review, Booklist

"Meticulously researched . . . Her extensive journey into Wilde’s family background is . . . a necessary, even vital one . . . Considering the fascinating new material it unearths in every chapter, this book’s understated tone is striking . . . . Brilliant." - The Times Literary Supplement

"What makes O'Sullivan's narrative so intriguing is how she cleverly links the Wildes' story against the historical background of fin-de-siècle Dublin and London . . . This is a remarkable piece of work. And the best non-fiction book I’ve read all year." - J.P. O'Malley, Sunday Independent

"Sumptuous and perceptive . . . This richly detailed, smoothly readable and suspenseful biography is mesmerizing and tells old tales in a wider, broader context that fascinates." - Providence Journal

"The glory of Emer O'Sullivan's new family biography The Fall of the House of Wilde is that at last we see the shiny icon Oscar as part of the constellation Wilde. . . . wholly absorbing." - The Bay Area Reporter

"A valuable addition to the scholarly reclamation of the Wilde name . . . The Fall of the House of Wilde does justice to the name of Wilde." - The Irish Times

"Thoroughly researched and rich with scholarship . . . O'Sullivan's narrative opens onto a glittering, fractious, endless argument. The subject is art and artists, the world of literary and dramatic criticism, the Pre-Raphaelites, poetry, Ruskin, Whistler and the aesthetic influences and pretensions of a world in which Oscar not only flowered but eclipsed most of his contemporaries. O'Sullivan's observations brighten in a spirited and authoritative commentary." - Irish Examiner