A Treat for Oscar Wilde Fans

Oscar Wilde fans are in for a treat at this year’s Bridport Literary Festival when writer Matthew Sturgis unveils the first major biography on the poet and playwright in thirty years.

The talk on Oscar: A Life takes place in the ballroom of The Bull Hotel, Bridport, on Thursday 8 November at 2.30pm, and is in addition to the events already lined up in the programme. Tickets, at £10 are, available online at bridlit.com or from Bridport Tourist Information Centre on 01308 424901.

Wilde’s life – like his wit – was alive with paradox. He was both an early exponent and victim of ‘celebrity culture’. Ridiculed and disparaged, his successes were resented. He had a genius for comedy but strove to write tragedies. He was happily married and yet his love of men became his ultimate downfall.

Matthew Sturgis, who was widely praised for his biography of artist Walter Sickert, brings alive the radical ideas, the distinctive characters and the flaring colours of the fin de siècle to write the richest account of Wilde’s life to date.

For example, did you know Wilde’s brother nicknamed him Lawn Tennysonian? That he ardently wished that he had blonde hair? And advocated finely-spun woollen underwear?

Following in the footsteps of Oscar Wilde – from his birthplace in Dublin and walking the literary streets of Paris, to the high altitudes of the Rockies and the discovery of a young woman to whom Wilde ‘lost his heart’, the shadowy corners of Reading and Wandsworth prisons — acclaimed historical biographer Matthew Sturgis uncovers and brings together fascinating new material and recent research to create the first full major biography in thirty years.

Written with the perspective of an historian, rather than a literary critic, Sturgis aims to set Wilde in the context of his times and give a sense of his life as he experienced it, rather than with the foreboding of his final years.

Through extensive research, taking over six years, Sturgis has dug into Wilde’s past and brought a new focus to bear on many areas of his life which have been overlooked, or hurried past, by previous biographers.

These include as his schooldays at Portora, friendships with the heirs to the Pre-Raphaelite tradition, the importance of George Lewis in his early career, the particular dynamics of his relationship with Whistler, his early plays (Vera and The Duchess of Padua) and his editorship of Woman’s World.

Even someone with an expert knowledge of Wilde’s life will find much that is new and unfamiliar in every chapter of this captivating biography.

Matthew Sturgis is a London-based writer with a particular enthusiasm for the cultural world of the late-nineteenth century. He is the author of acclaimed biographies Aubrey Beardsley: A Biography (Flamingo 1999) and Walter Sickert: A Life (Harper Perennial 2011). As well as other non-fiction titles, he is the co-author of The Downton Abbey Chronicles (Collins 2012). He is a member of the Oscar Wilde Society and contributes to their journal The Wildean. He also previously contributed to the TLS, Daily Telegraph and Independent on Sunday.

Oscar: A Life by Matthew Sturgis is published by Head of Zeus on 4 October in hardback at £25.