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85 To survey once more Miss Griest·s book as a whole, one must conclude that such a volume is a worthy contribution to literary history, one which provides quantities of useful information and simultaneous genuine great pleasure in the reading. Her presentation is much more deftly and gracefully handled than in many of the other statistically cluttered, graph-oriented publishing histories of past years. Those of us interested in English fiction of the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries owe a great debt to the labors of Guinevere Griest. University of Pennsylvania Benjamin Franklin Fisher IV 3. Croft-Cooke·s Wilde Rupert Croft-Cooke. The Unrecorded Life of Oscar Wilde. NYs David McKay Company, 1972~ $6.95. In I895 an outcry against Oscar Wilde was heard throughout the world. Even before he came to trial he was condemned by public opinion. Two of his plays, An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest, running simultaneously in London, were withdrawn. His books were removed from booksellers· shelves. When adjudged guilty and sentenced to two years at hard labor, he was a broken, discredited, and defeated man. The story of Wilde's rise to fame and his catastrophic fall has been told many times from several points of view; indeed, it is likely that more studies have been written, in more languages, about him than about any other literary figure who lived during the past hundred years. Books innumerable have been written by those who knew him and those who never knew him, by those who respected him and by those who hated him. This latest volume is a questionable addition to an ever-increasing bibliography; yet it is not that its author does not know his subject. In his Introduction, Croft-Cooke claims that his book is "the result of a lifetime study of the character of Oscar Wilde and the events of his life." One would expect, therefore, that The Unrecorded Life of Oscar Wilde would be a model of accuracy; for not only has Croft-Cooke devoted much time to his subject, but over the years he actually had opportunities to verify facts with Lord Alfred Douglas, Frank Harris, Vyvyan Holland, and other prominent figures in the Wilde circle. Unquestionably, Croft-Cooke knows his facts; it is his interpretations of the facts that provoke a negative response. In his opening chapter, Croft-Cooke takes Wilde's previous biographers to task. He starts by making some severe statements about Wilde's first biographers, Robert Harborough Sherard and Frank Harris. Not one to avoid name calling, Croft-Cooke labels Sherard "an honest fool" and Harris "a clever rogue"; and both are castigated for writing biographical studies that "should be discounted as dangerously bad fiction." As for Lord Douglas· Oscar Wilde and Myself, this, too, is dismissed as "yet another spurious and altogether unreliable book"; so also the treatment Wilde received in the volumes of André Gide, Arthur Ransome , Stuart Mason, and all the others who wrote of him from personal acquaintance. Everywhere Croft-Cooke looks he finds myths, legends, distortions. The most recent studies of Wilde are no better: "however much documented ," they are still guilty of "inaccuracy, flighty and unbelievable narrative." Implicit in his attack on earlier and recent books on Wilde is Croft-Cooke·s swollen opinion that he alone has mastered the subject and that he can put everyone and everything straight. Accordingly , he dutifully unfolds "the truth" chapter by chapter. Lacking information about the childhood and boyhood of his subject, Croft-Cooke begins with Wilde's days at Oxford. Next, he focuses on Wilde in London after his graduation. Then on to Wilde's lecture tour throughout America. Ten more chapters relate the remaining circumstances of its subject's life, from his marriage to Constance Lloyd to his first meeting with Lord Douglas, from his trial and imprisonment to, as Croft-Cooke puts it, "the frivolous last years." The portrait that emerges is closer to that of the leprous canvas of Dorian Gray than to the better known depiction of Wilde as one of London's most brilliant wits and respected playwrights, who, because of folly and insolence, brought about his own downfall. To destroy...


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pp. 85-87
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Will Be Archived 2021
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