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Book Reviews Robert Ross and Oscar Wilde Maureen Borland. Wilde's Devoted Friend: A Life of Robert Ross. Oxford: Lennard Publishing, 1990. Distributed by Seven Hills Books, Cincinnati. 319 pp. $29.95 WHEN ROBERT ROSS DIED in 1918, he was widely regarded as a journalist and art critic. His passing saddened many friends and acquaintances. Obituaries in such publications as the Times, the Daily Telegraph, and the Manchester Guardian summed up his life rather nicely. "It was his foible," the Times noted, "to pretend to be a trifler in all things and to gibe at the greatest reputations; but he knew more and did more than many solemn people and, in acts of kindness, he was always in earnest." Companion to numerous painters and poets, he had been on the best of terms with such artists as Aubrey Beardsley, Charles Ricketts, Roger Fry, and William Rothenstein; such writers as Edmund Gosse, H. G. Wells, Siegfried Sassoon, and Arnold Bennett. The essence of his life, however, was the role he played as Wilde's devoted friend and dedicated literary executor. Much to her credit, the author of this first complete biography of Ross has tackled the many questions that swirl about a figure who has remained an enigma, despite the tantalizing cameos of him in biographies of Wilde and other figures of the Transition. Borland successfully refutes several baseless allegations and fully supports most of her own contentions. Did Oscar and Robbie actually meet in 1886 when the latter was seventeen and the former thirty-two, and was it in a public lavatory where their relationship began as an act of importuning? Did Ross ever boast that he was "the first boy" to corrupt Wilde? To what extent did Ross sour inwardly when Wilde fawned over Lord Alfred Douglas and virtually ignored him? And, even more important, why did Ross handle Wilde's De Profundis the way he did? The relationship of Wilde, Ross, and Douglas has produced more hyperbole than reasoned argument can sustain. Where there is evidence, Borland adduces it. Where there is only speculation, she weighs all possibilities and invariably reasons to acceptable conclusions. She proposes, for example, that there were at least three different ways and times that Oscar and Robbie could have met, and that their paths could have crossed as early as 1882 when Wilde was in Toronto, where the Ross family had established itself. Borland succinctly covers Ross's Canadian background, commenting on his grandfather, Robert Baldwin, 341 ELT: Volume 34:3,1991 who was the first Prime Minister of Upper Canada; his father, John Ross, who was an Attorney General; and Ross's seven siblings, in particular his favorite brothers Jack and Alex. In proper detail, Borland covers all the pertinent facts of Ross's early life. At the age of two he is brought to England by his widowed mother. Later, in 1888, he attends King's College to read History. Although he rows in the college second boat, he creates a stir, is thrown into the Fountain and contracts pneumonia. Because of the disgrace associated with the "dunking incident" (Borland labels it an "act of hooliganism") he leaves Cambridge abruptly in 1889. His family sends him off to Edinburgh with the hope that removing him from pursuits in London will curtail his homosexual escapades; additionally, they delude themselves into thinking that the Protestant atmosphere of Scotland's capital city will snuff out his interest in Roman Catholicism. Working as a journalist for the Scots Observer for a pittance brings him little pleasure. After a bout with peritonitis, his family consents to his return to London. Once again he is able to enjoy and share Wilde's company and his growing reputation. Then, in 1891, Lionel Johnson introduces Douglas to Wilde, the consequence of which leads ultimately to Wilde's trials and imprisonment. Fearful at first that Robbie would be unwilling to play a subordinate role, Wilde does not introduce Ross to Douglas until 1893. Ross, it seems, was kept in a particular compartment of Wilde's life, welcomed there and treated with affection, but not allowed to participate in Oscar's social whirl. Bosie was an aristocrat and poet; Robbie, a...


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