Oscar Wilde: the aftermath, by H. Montgomery Hyde (Methuen 30s.).
The Importance of Being Oscar, by Micheal Maelsiarnmoir (Dolmen Press and O.U.P.. (is.).
WHICH gives the better portrait of Wilde-the "depth" analysis of his two years in jail. or the virtuoso treatment of most of his life and work in about three hours?
Mr. Hyde's hook wavers, not unattractively between objective biography and social crusade. His portrait of Wilde in prison is the fullest we are likely to get.
What is meant by the "aftermath" remains unclear, The no less tragic and at the same time fascinating period between Wilde's release from prison and his death is very scantily treated. This, if anything, was the "aftermath", and not the prison sentence itself.
His attempt to spend six months in retreat at Farm Street, how, ever. is noted, together with the Jesuit fathers' reply that he had better first of all consider the matter for at least a year.
The theme of the book and most books about Wilde are usually devoted to improving or disproving something is penal reform. and this probably accounts for its lop-sidedness. But it is a fine, authoritative and readable work for all that.
Aesthetic Mr. MacLiammoir's colourful rodomontade is far better value for money. Embellished with a suitably aesthetic cover by the author himself, it is a beautifully-produced little book, and will be doubly enjoyed by anyone who has had the good luck to see "The Importance" on the stage.
The juxtapositions of text and events cover the entire period of Wilde's literary life in a dramatic and satisfying way. It is devoid of distracting footnotes. and the linking narrative might, in many places, have been written by Wilde himself.
It is not an apologia: nor are there any recriminations Wilde is presented fairly as a man and an artist without any of the special pleading or snide abuse that has characterised many of the biographies.