Comparing Two Biographies of the Genius Oscar Wilde
If someone had told Oscar Wilde during his life that for the next hundred years, people would still be taking the time to write about his life and accomplishments, he probably would have wittily declared it impossible for anyone to try to admire him as much as he admired himself. However, two of his biographers, Frank Harris and Barbara Belford, have done just that. Harris, in 1916, sixteen years after Wilde’s death, published his biography, Oscar Wilde, as a memoir of his own cherished relationship with Wilde, for whom he had served as literary editor and friend. Just this past year in 2000, after a popular film remake of An Ideal Husband, Belford published Oscar Wilde: A Certain Genius, a tribute to the man and the literary works for which he is famous.
Oscar Wilde provides an intimate portrait of the poet, playwright, and self-described aesthete. Born one year after Wilde, in 1855, Frank Harris was much more than a contemporary. He lived in the same London social circles, knew the same people, and participated in the same events as Wilde, often by his side. Harris’ biography, which is much more a recounting of the dialogue between Harris and his subject than a straight-forward narrative of Wilde’s life, is directed to those outside the loop, those Victorians who misunderstood Wilde, viewing his life as just as one controversy after another. By focusing heavily on Wilde’s education and the intense scrutiny of his lifestyle by England’s movers and shakers, he presents Oscar Wilde as an innocent genius whose enthusiastic love of the classics, art, words, and life in general made him a victim in Victorian 1890s London. Harris uses the insight of his …
…erent from the methods of Frank Harris. It is worthwhile to read both accounts, as the two provide an enforced, fuller understanding of who Wilde really was.
One hundred years separate us from the physical presence of Oscar Wilde, and eighty-four years separate the biographies of Frank Harris and Barbara Belford. Though conceived and written independently, they manage to tell the same story. The story told is that of Oscar Wilde, aesthete and artist, writer and wit, a true genius who was, as many great minds are, ultimately misunderstood by the people of his day.
Belford, Barbara. Oscar Wilde: A Certain Genius. New York: Random House, 2000.
Harris, Frank. Oscar Wilde. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc. 1916.