Oscar Wilde


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A Long and Lovely Suicide

Melissa Knox

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"I was a problem for which there was no solution."—Oscar Wilde, 1897

During his lifetime Oscar Wilde was praised as a brilliant playwright, novelist, and conversationalist and stigmatized as a dangerous seducer of youth. Ironically, he is perhaps best remembered now for the bravery he exhibited in 1895 during his trial in England for homosexual offenses. In the first full-length psychoanalytic biography of Wilde, Melissa Knox explores the link between little-known childhood events and figures in his life and his psychological development to explain both Wilde's creativity and his self-destructive heroism.

Drawing on new information as well as on recent biographies and studies, Knox sketches the important characters in Wilde's formative years: an adoring and demanding mother, a father whose scandalous life degraded the family, and a beloved sister who died when Oscar was eleven. She describes Wilde's first daring efforts as a young man to challenge British mores; his lifelong battle with his fears of the syphilis he reportedly contracted at Oxford; his marriage and two children; his tempestuous and flamboyant love affair with Lord Alfred Douglas, whose father, the marquess of Queensberry, accused Wilde of homosexual practices; Wilde's libel suit against the marquess, subsequent trial, and two-year imprisonment; and his last years in exile, disgrace, and ill health. Uncovering the unconscious motivations beneath Wilde's surface bravado, Knox is able to explain his often puzzling actions. She also offers new interpretations of some of his works, from Salome, which she calls Wilde's most autobiographical work, to The Importance of Being Earnest, in which she sees Wilde artistically embracing his inability to resolve conflicts, to De Profundis, his attempt to salvage himself as a man and an artist.

Melissa Knox is assistant professor of English at St. Peter's College.

"An original and important book with highly convincing psychoanalytic interpretations of Wilde and his work."—Peter Gay, Yale University

"This book offers new facts about Wilde's medical condition, fresh insights into his character, and original readings of his works. It is an important contribution to our understanding of the man, his situation, and his accomplishment."—George Stade, Columbia University

"An original and important reading of Oscar Wilde's works and life, illuminated by an acute and informed use of psychoanalytic theory and insights."—Steven Marcus, Columbia University

"An intriguing addition to the vast cannon of Wildean literary and personal analysis."—Jonah Seth Disend, American Theatre

"Knox's daring new biography of Oscar Wilde has much in common with its subject: the book is shocking, irreverent, witty, and eloquent. Knox, conscious that she is writing 'the first full-length psychoanalytic biography' of Wilde, probes deep into his past to discover the unconscious origins of Wilde's work. . . . Her sources contain many never-before published letters and papers, and her research . . . is both copious and meticulous. . . . Will enhance any bookshelf."—Susan Belée, Victorian Studies

"A welcome addition to biographical studies of Oscar Wilde. Knox draws upon psychoanalytic theory which she supports with material she has found, particularly heretofore unpublished letters. Contemporary commentary from Wilde and those who knew him is skillfully blended into her thesis. . . . A stimulating account of an individual who believed that 'nothing succeeds like excess'"—William Green, Theatre Research International

"An original, richly textured biograpy, essential to students of Oscar Wilde, with bonus tidbits on the English, the Irish, literary, sexual, and social mores of the times, and the selling of Oscar Wilde. Psychoanalysts will be especially indebted to her for giving them an opportunity to ponder the excruciating psychic realities that shaped the creative powers no less than the tragedy of Oscar Wilde."—Dwarakanath G. Rao, Psychoanalytic Books: A Quarterly Journal of Reviews

"For insight into the tragedy of Wilde's inner life Knox's book is indispensable."—Julia Prewitt Brown, Nineteenth-Century Literature

"In her beautifully written and thought-provoking psychoanalytic biography of Oscar Wilde's life and art, Melissa Knox demonstrates that psychogenetic literary criticism may well become an interpretive mode of the future."—Ellie Ragland, James Joyce Literary Supplement

"Readers will enjoy a rich experience as they follow Knox's adventuresome and insightful psychoanalytic journey through Oscar Wilde's life and work."—Jules Glenn, Psychoanalytic Quarterly

ISBN: 9780300068733
Publication Date: September 25, 1996
212 pages, 6 x 9
21 b/w illus.