Introduction: A Twenty Year-Old
by Michèle Mendelssohn

Richard Ellmann’s biography of Oscar Wilde came before the world in 1987, the same year Ellmann himself left it. But Ellmann’s untimely death has not prevented the biography from living on.

Oscar Wilde is now twenty years old and, like some twenty year-olds I’ve known, it is a bundle of contradictions: brilliant but flawed, fascinating but awkward, challenging and contestative, energetic and full of promise but still limited in parts. It is perfectly imperfect, and imperfectly perfect. It is a lot like Wilde himself.

Although the biography has been subject to criticisms and revisions, it remains a testament to Ellmann’s remarkable powers as a scholar. Two decades on, the landscape of Wilde studies has shifted considerably, however. My own work has taken issue with the biography’s treatment of same-sex relationships and considered the connection between Ellmann’s diagnosis and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s famous panacea for the explication of difficult relationships, “homosexual panic”.[1] Yet Oscar Wilde remains a tremendous achievement to which I gladly pay tribute. This sentiment is echoed by many of the contributors to this supplement.

The purpose of this supplement is to revalue and re-evaluate Ellmann’s biography. The activating principle behind it is the belief that to engage with its legacy – whether to laud or criticise it – is to celebrate Ellmann’s achievement. The views expressed by the contributors (all of whom have published on Wilde and some of whom knew Ellmann personally) are, I believe, representative of the consensus among the Wilde community.

The brief essays collected here cast a backwards glance but they are also forward-looking, pointing out how future research might supplement the biography. And while some contributors may disagree with Ellmann (and with each other), they are in agreement that the biography remains pertinent and controversial.

After all, isn’t this the very best thing we can say about a book – that it makes us want to read it, argue with it, think about it, and engage with it?

1. See Henry James, Oscar Wilde and Aesthetic Culture. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2007.

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There is No Such Thing as an Accurate or an Inaccurate Biography
by Neil Sammells

When Malcolm McLaren convinced the Irish Times that he was making a movie with Steven Spielberg about Wilde discovering rock ‘n’ roll in America he recognised that our first duty to history is to rewrite it. Wilde’s deconstructive aesthetic and his championing of the inauthentic sanctions the self-consciously inauthentic ways we have come to reproduce him: from Eagleton’s Saint Oscar to Todd Haynes’s movie Velvet Goldmine in which the infant Wilde is deposited on a Dublin doorstep by an alien spaceship.

Where does this leave the biographer who tries to tell the truth? Perhaps the worst criticism we can make of Ellmann’s biography lies not in the factual inaccuracy he is accused of, but that he spawned the ploddingly unWildean naturalism of Brian Gilbert’s film starring Stephen Fry and its portrait of Oscar as part of the heritage industry, rendered as decorative and unthreatening as a Merchant-Ivory E.M. Forster.

Not that I agree with everything I have just said. There is much with which I entirely disagree. In aesthetic criticism attitude is everything, and the contradictory is also true.

I had been teaching Wilde to university students for three years before the biography appeared, and only then did many finally get him, because they were gripped by its masterly and compelling narrative. Ellmann’s harrowing account of the prison years, in particular, confirmed for them the human price his values exacted. There is no such thing as an accurate or an inaccurate biography, just biographies that are well-written or badly written, that is all. Ellmann’s is brilliantly written.



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Wilde and Women by Mary Warner Blanchard

When an iconic author (Ellmann) writes a popular biography of an iconic personality (Wilde), problems arise. Ellmann’s legacy as a near perfect biographer stamped Wilde’s role as tragic martyr into a cultural truth. Moreover, the brilliance and detail of the book derailed any critique of the over-powering presence of the male voice.

Where does a woman’s voice appear? Or women’s issues? The entry “feminism” in the index, for instance, merely mentioned a meeting on “women’s issues” Wilde and his wife attended. Wilde quickly tired of his editorship of Woman’s World, Ellmann noted. Dress reform is mentioned perfunctorily in the text and the index for “dress” is mainly on Wilde’s costumes. Is Ellmann being a chauvinist when he observes that Wilde thought that women brought havoc and were distasteful when pregnant? I found in the Washington Post dated 20 January 1882, that Wilde when followed by “females anxious to get a look…said sharply, ‘shut the door’”.

Shutting the door is precisely what Ellmann does with some of the major social concerns of Wilde’s time. Recent literary critics stress a “new” Wilde integrated into cultural studies — gay politics, mass consumer culture, celebrity and media, audience reaction, journalism, scientific and evolutionary thought, early modernism, etc.[1] Horst Schroeder’s scrutiny of Ellmann’s texts corrects a magnitude of errors.[2] Yet for all this re-evaluation, there is no mention of the bold women’s initiatives of the Gilded Age. No mention of women’s role in suffrage, in the abolition of slavery, in temperance fights. Where is the plucky New Woman, the controversial female who attends college, who pursues a career, who defies convention? Ellmann’s iconic male world is barren, devoid of female passion.

For female passion existed in Wilde’s time outside of the myths of Ellmann’s world. And Wilde’s legacy, say in Salome, may be his influence on future generations of New Women. In Female Spectacle, Susan Glenn noted that the actress Theda Bara who played Salome in the 1918 film asserted that women were her biggest fans. “I am in effect a feministe,” she boasted.[3] Surely Ellmann might have foreseen that the “martyr” Wilde was, in reality, the catalyst for the emancipation of the sex that he forgot.

1. Perhaps the most important book on this subject is Ian Small’s Oscar Wilde Revalued: An Essay on New Materials & Methods of Research. (Greensboro, NC: ELT Press, 1993).
2. Schroeder, Horst. Additions and Corrections to Richard Ellmann’s Oscar Wilde. (Braunschweig: privately published, 1989).
3. Glenn, Susan A. Female Spectacle: The Theatrical Roots of Modern Feminism. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2000): 123

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Wilde and Beardsley by Peter Raby

I have always found Richard Ellmann’s account of Wilde’s post-prison years illuminating and moving, including the stories of his liminal months in Dieppe and Berneval-sur-Mer. Seen from Wilde’s point of view, Beardsley, inevitably, comes in for less than sympathetic treatment. Yet there are parallels and resonances about their situations that deserve to be teased out in more detail than Ellmann could accommodate (Oscar Wilde 503-4). Two incidents dominate, each relying on somewhat problematic evidence.

First, there is the story of how Beardsley and Charles Conder steered the artist Jacques-Emile Blanche into a Dieppe side-street to avoid an encounter with Wilde in 1897. There are two main sources. Blanche recounts going for a walk with Sickert. “Oscar, who was sitting in the Café Suisse, beckoned to me. I pretended not to see. I know for a fact that he was wounded to the quick by my action, and the revelation of that episode still fills me with remorse.”[1] Rothenstein’s version has Conder, Blanche and Beardsley walking on the quay when they see Wilde approaching. “The two Englishmen with one accord took hold of Blanche’s elbows and steered him up a side street.”[2]

Who was Rothenstein’s source? When did this happen? Beardsley arrived in Dieppe some eight weeks after Wilde. Rothenstein attaches to the incident Wilde’s comment “to a friend”: “it was vile of Aubrey”. The friend was Vincent O’Sullivan, who reported the comment in a different context, Beardsley’s apparent acceptance of an invitation to dinner at Berneval, but failure to attend, taking himself off to Boulogne instead, complaining of some members of society in Dieppe.

Separating truth from fiction, or discerning truths in these fictions, is tricky. Beardsley did spend time with Wilde in Dieppe, dining with him at least twice, and being persuaded by him to buy a hat ‘more silver than silver’. Like Wilde, Beardsley was in fragile health: he was, clearly, dying, and being nursed by his mother and, for a time, by Mrs Smithers, who also tended to Wilde. He had been converted to Roman Catholicism, as Wilde would later be. He found the excesses of Conder and Smithers embarrassing, as much for his mother’s and sister’s sake as for his own, and moved hotels to separate himself from them, as well as from Wilde. He was being financially sustained by André Raffalovich, Wilde’s enemy. Yet the two men were drawn together by Smithers, Beardsley’s patron – ‘owner’, in Wilde’s phrase – who would become Wilde’s own publishing life-line. By the end of August, Smithers had shown Beardsley The Ballad of Reading Gaol, and asked him to decorate it. Beardsley promised to do a frontispiece even if, as Smithers informed Wilde, the promise was made in a manner which immediately convinced him he would never do it. “As regards Aubrey,” Wilde replied. “I wish you could get him to make a definite reply; there is no use his hedging. If he will do it, it will be a great thing.”[3]

Perhaps the stories do contain the truth of two complementary but essentially conflicting personalities and talents just missing each other. It was safer to collaborate on the purchase of a silver hat.


1. Blanche, Jacques-Emile. Portraits of a Lifetime. (1937): 98.
2. Rothenstein, John. The Life and Death of Conder. (1938): 137.
3. Wilde, Oscar. The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde. (2000): 933.

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“A Golden Codger” by John Stokes

In December 1986 Richard Ellmann, with whom I had been exchanging information about Oscar Wilde for some years, wrote to me announcing that “apparently I’m a victim of motor neurone disease (like David Niven and many unknown people)”. The identification was, I suspect, more than mere coincidence. Niven was witty and debonair and he had had a massive best-seller with his gossipy, digressive memoirs, The Moon’s a Balloon. Ellmann, though perhaps less sartorially elegant, was also witty, also debonair and, he too, would have, though sadly posthumously, a bestseller.

Dick Ellmann had an instinctive ear and eye for style and he loved anecdotes - which made Wilde an ideal and irresistible subject. Of course, the disease did terrible things to him, but not to the prose and not to the humour. Since the publication of the biography we have dutifully logged up its deficiencies: that silly business of the Salome photo, for instance, which only goes to remind us that we often see what want to see rather than what’s actually before our eyes.

Ellmann wanted his Wilde to be even more outrageous than the reliable records justify – but then so did most of the early reviewers of his book who failed to challenge the authenticity of the picture and who were even prepared to go along with the dubious hypothesis that syphilis, always unlikely and unproven, deepens the sensibilities.

For Ellmann Wilde’s queerness is explained as a bid to create a stir among the English Establishment as much as a stir in the loins. About the power of love he is nevertheless always appreciative and always respectful. His is still the best biography, but not necessarily because it’s the most like Wilde – there have already been others which have gone more frankly into the sexual life and there has been critical work that has tried to locate Wilde more firmly within the cultural industries of the fin-de-siècle and to define more wholeheartedly the sense of Irish identity that he inherited from his parents and developed in response to contemporary events. Ellmann’s life remains, and will remain, the best because, in its verve, its daring and its humanity, it’s the most like Ellmann.



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Ellmann and Success by Michael Patrick Gillespie

Richard Ellmann’s magisterial biography of James Joyce, published in 1959, became both a source of well deserved acclaim and an insistent burden for the rest of his scholarly life. Two features marked James Joyce from other recollections of that author and indeed from most other biographies to date. Perhaps no one since Lytton Strachey, writing the biography of Queen Victoria, has described the life of a major figure with such a marvelous prose style. Additionally, not only were many of Joyce’s contemporaries still alive and available for interviews when Ellmann began his project, he also enjoyed unprecedented access to information on his subject thanks to the energetic help of Joyce’s brother Stanislaus.

When Ellmann undertook his biography of Wilde, he faced a very different situation. Wilde and his contemporaries were long dead. A number of biographies and memoirs and a collection of Wilde’s letters had given scholars and the general public a full sense of the author’s life. With only his prose style as a remaining advantage, Ellmann faced the daunting task of duplicating the success of James Joyce. While the resultant work certainly attests to Ellmann’s skill as a biographer, it lacks the exclusive intimacy that the Joyce biography enjoyed. Perhaps in an effort to offset that deficiency, Ellmann overstates matters at several junctures.

To my mind the most serious remains the intimations that syphilis contracted in Wilde’s youth impaired his health as an adult and directly contributed to his death. In making this assertion, Ellmann both acknowledges that “some authorities do not share my view of Wilde’s medical history” while asserting his conviction that “Wilde had syphilis, and that conviction is central to my conception of Wilde’s character and my interpretation of many things in his later life” (Oscar Wilde [1988] 92n).

In making his argument, Ellmann begins by qualifying his views with words like “reportedly” (92) and “seems” (93n). He moves quickly to allege Wilde was taking mercury to cure himself (92, 95), without providing evidence of the practice. He goes on to give voice to Wilde’s unexpressed thoughts. “Syphilis was not mentioned, for Wilde thought himself cured” (246). And finally, offers “a likely conjecture” about a confession of syphilis to his wife (278), as if the proposition were already well recognized.

I stress these points because I feel that these rhetorical slights of hand mar an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable biography. In adopting the view that Wilde had contracted syphilis, Ellmann presents a line of reasoning that simply does not pass muster. It is a regrettable decision that introduces unnecessary controversy into a well written study of Wilde’s life.



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Wilde’s Less Greek: Ellmann’s Tragedy by Gulshan Taneja

Many admirers of Richard Ellmann have noted that the celebrated biographer took liberties, however miniscule, in his analysis of Wilde’s life. His tone and focus, both for emphasis and otherwise, have been, ever so gently, faulted. I think Ellmann’s objective was as much to be scholarly correct as to write a biography that would leave an impact upon readers, the kind of impact that we normally associate with finer examples of creative writing. So we go to Oscar Wilde not merely for facts and interpretation of those facts, but to get involved in the life of a hero, in the sense in which Carlyle used the word. The book’s architectonic aesthetics offer a clue to Ellman’s intention as well skill.

I would like to suggest that Ellmann knowingly, deliberately, and painstakingly plotted his book to mimic the contours of a tragedy. That Wilde’s life would easily lend itself to such a treatment is one thing; that Ellmann so planned the book, made choices and took liberties to achieve the intended objective, is another.

The economy of form and design of the book reflects the time-honoured principles of the genre in question. Ellmann focuses on such elements as settings, moments of conflict, motivations, and other ‘characters’. The authorial tone often takes on the role of a chorus that guides the reader to a predetermined authorial goal. It is a readerly text.

The end result is a work of scholarship as well as a work of art in the tradition of Attic tragedy. An examination of the book’s structure provides ample evidence for such a treatment of the book, for example, the five part division with sub-headings such as “Exaltations,” “Disgrace,” “Exile”, etc. The chapters end for dramatic effect, incidents are grouped together for similar reasons, and often a single event is allowed to overshadow an entire section with such an end in view: “Ross waited in the corridor of the Bankruptcy Court […] so that when Wilde went by, handcuffed and with bowed head, he could ‘gravely raise his hat to me’”. Tragic irony at its most effective is at work when Ellmann describes Wilde’s post-prison Parisian encounters with Ian Mitchell (the scientist), Nellie Melba (the opera singer), Carson, Whistler and many others.

That Wilde’s life offered itself as material for tragedy, Ellmann never doubted for a moment. As Ellmann himself noted, Wilde’s “sense of doom had been present since his childhood. He believed in his unlucky stars as much as his lucky one. […] Wilde needed less Greek than he had to know that overreaching would attract nemesis.”



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A Little Sidelight Regarding the Role of Rupert Hart-Davis by Mark Samuels Lasner

In March 1987 I stayed with Rupert and his wife, June, in Marske-in-Swaledale for the better part of a week – looking at the Max Beerbohm materials. The weather was frigid, the house (so unusual and unexpected in England) was warm. Warm, too, was the hospitality. Rupert and June were extraordinarily kind to me. During meals and in the periods during which I was not immersed in the Max letters, documents, photographs, and printed matter, there was talk of other subjects.

Ellmann’s book was much on Rupert’s mind. He was concerned with the work he was asked to do in “fixing” (his word) Oscar Wilde for publication. This was no small task. I was made to understand that, for Rupert, this was a labour of love that had to be completed to meet an imminent deadline.

My memory is that he was reading, correcting and cutting the text of a massive typescript or galleys – perhaps both. I can still picture him surrounded by piles of paper and books (he had on hand virtually everything needed) being consulted. I think — am not absolutely certain — that Rupert said he had to reduce the length of the text by one third. Just imagine how big the big book would have been without his efforts! Whole pages were removed. I received the impression that Ellmann was, at this point, rapidly declining, far too ill to do this kind of editing himself, and that Rupert had the final say. I also understood that there was considerable time pressure, as they hoped that Ellmann would still be alive to see his last work in print.

The materials Rupert had been sent were rather a “mess”; but as I did not actually see much of the proofs/typescripts I can’t be sure if “mess” was literally true, or if Rupert was simply finding the task difficult. Whatever was involved kept him busy for most of each day during the time I was there, working in his library.

Rupert found much that was “off” both in terms of fact and in terms of interpretation, but he was, I think, unwilling to make changes which would significantly alter Ellmann’s opinions. Certainly he did not have the time to check every quotation and fact and to correct every error, especially minor matters. Although I can only make a surmise, it is likely that Rupert did not deal with — perhaps did not even see — the book’s illustrations, notes, or index. This perhaps explains how the best-known “howler,” the identification of Wilde in female dress as Salomé, got through. Ellmann died about two months later, at the end of May 1987.

One would like to know what Rupert had to say about all this in his diary. There is no mention of the book — or his work on it—in either the last volume of his memoirs or in Rupert’s biography.



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Ellmann’s Wilde in Retrospect by Trevor Fisher

The discovery earlier this year that Ellmann’s Oscar Wilde was out of print led to a sharp intake of breath. That such a major biography is not commercially viable in 2007 is seriously problematic. There are good and bad reasons for thinking the book problematic, but it would be wrong to conclude they mean it is now out of date.

The book is certainly showing its age. In 1987 Ellmann was contributing to a major reassessment of Wilde which had begun with the publication of the Collected Letters in 1962. Culturally, politically and sexually, Wilde was being seen as a significant figure and the previous image of Wilde as little more than an entertainer without substance was under attack.

The book played a major part in establishing Wilde as a secular saint and martyr, something Wilde himself had forecast would come to pass after his downfall. Ellmann embraced the theory that Wilde had been brought down by homophobia, less that of Victorian society than that of Queensberry. He also endorsed Wilde’s powerful polemic in De Profundis that Bosie betrayed him, pointing the way for the 1997 film and David Hare’s The Judas Kiss among other works.

With these battles now won and statues of Wilde in London and Dublin, as well as a plaque in Poets’ Corner, there is a sense that the book is a victim of its own success. The errors which may – or may not – litter the book have also damaged Ellmann’s scholarly reputation.

It is certainly true that Ellmann’s work has limitations. But it is not sensible to think that new interpretations are more useful than Ellmann’s. It would be a bad reason for abandoning Ellmann’s book if readers and publishers assumed that more modish work had replaced it. Much of what is now being produced is post-modernist misinterpretation, unhistorical and not rooted in evidence. Ellmann’s work, with its massive factual content and underpinning of hard evidence is essential.

Ellmann did not write the last word on Wilde and the book has many weaknesses. However, it focuses on Wilde as a historical figure whose current reputation derives massively from his dramatic life. Oscar Wilde’s disappearance is a serious development. Every effort should be made to induce the publishers to reprint this seminal work.



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Ellmann’s Oscar Wilde: Caveat Lector by Philip E. Smith

Ellmann’s Oscar Wilde still presents a deceptively powerful narrative interpretation of a star-crossed life. The boom in Wilde scholarship since 1987 not only profited from Ellmann’s research but also revealed its many flaws and inadequacies, including, famously, the photograph of opera singer Alice Guszalewicz misidentified as “Wilde in costume as Salome.” I believe that the book should be completely revised or replaced and until then, caveat lector. To avoid errors, serious researchers must use Horst Schroeder’s invaluable Additions and Corrections to Richard Ellmann’s Oscar Wilde (second edition, revised and enlarged, 2002).

In the two decades since publication, Wilde’s notebooks, more of his letters, the transcript of the first trial, and other materials have emerged from private collections or been uncovered by scholars. Biographical data unseen or ignored by Ellmann have increased significantly. His questionable interpretations of Wilde’s life and writings need to be reconsidered in the light of new theories and scholarship, for example, in late Victorian gender studies, on Wilde’s work as professional writer, and on Wilde’s education.

My research into Wilde’s notebooks and education illustrates one site where new information mandates a new or revised biography.[1] Ellmann included a two-page summary discussion of Wilde’s Commonplace Book but he did not discover its relationship to the Oxford Notebook and other notebooks as documents important to Wilde’s intellectual formation and to the composition of “The Rise of Historical Criticism.” In 2004, the William Andrews Clark Library of UCLA acquired Wilde’s 304-page “Philosophy Notebook,” from a private collection where it was held for sixty years and, we believe, was unable to be seen by scholars. The notebook was in the private collection of Halsted B. Vander Poel (1911-2003); it seems likely that he may have purchased it in the 1930s but we have not been able to trace who owned the document prior to him. As far as we know, no scholar has ever seen or referred to this notebook.

Joseph Bristow (UCLA) and I are co-editing this and other manuscript notebooks as well as unpublished essays from Wilde’s years at Trinity College, Dublin and at Oxford. When published, they will add significantly to our knowledge of Wilde’s education and its uses in writing, from his earliest essays to his final work.


1. See Oscar Wilde’s Oxford Notebooks: A Portrait of Mind in the Making (New York: Oxford UP, 1989) [Michael S. Helfand, co-editor]; “Protoplasmic Hierarchy and Philosophical Harmony: Science and Hegelian Aesthetics in Oscar Wilde’s Notebooks,” The Victorian Newsletter, 74 (Fall 1988): 30-33. Rpt. in Critical Essays on Oscar Wilde, ed. Regenia Gagnier (NY: G. K. Hall, 1991): 202-209; “Wilde in the Bodleian, 1878-1881,” English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920, 46:3 (2003): 279-295.

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Oscar Wilde’s Einstein by Christopher Nassaar

For me, Richard Ellmann’s biography was the essential breakthrough without which I would not have been able to analyze Wilde’s literature. His insight that Wilde regarded homosexuality as a criminal act and saw himself after 1886 as a criminal-artist is, to my mind, basic to an understanding of Wilde.

Einstein once said that all scientific breakthroughs begin with a flash of insight which the scientist then proceeds to prove by studying the facts and details of Nature. The same is true of Wilde. The flash of insight, and much of the proof, was provided by Ellmann and paved the way for the rest of us to continue his work.



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Belletristic Biography Boxing Brilliant Bestseller? by Melissa Knox

Can Richard Ellmann’s Oscar Wilde compete with Harry Potter? Belletristic biography boxes brilliant bestseller? Only in my dreams. Besides, I love them both. In my dreams, some Platonic reality opens up in which Ellmann stays in print, even hits the New York Times top ten list of bestsellers. People want to read him as much as they want to read the seventh installment of J.K. Rowling’s saga.

Of all the works on Wilde, Ellmann’s is the one I would put on a top ten reading list. Ellmann’s biography of Wilde is the work that generated the most informed Wilde criticism of the last twenty years, the work that reproduces, as much as possible, the spirit of Wilde, his playfulness, his brilliance, and above all, his personality.[1]

It is personality that matters in Wilde, and therein lies his similarity — for here I am serious — to Harry Potter. In Rowling’s world, it is choice that matters, the choices human beings make that determine their lives. Personality exists, personality dominates, free will gives fate a run for its money. All else is dust: deconstruction gone with the wind, soon to be followed by the fantasy (for that is what it is) of Michel Foucault in “What is an Author ?”. Foucault’s idea that the individual choices of the personality matter less than the culture producing that author, or that there exists no individual personality apart from culture, is fantasy.

Choices are what must help us in a world that does indeed begin to resemble the jarring, terrorized universe of Rowling’s novels, and both Wilde and Ellmann understood that very well. Wilde’s writings show a hyper-awareness of choices, particularly conscious choices. He found it difficult if not impossible to stick to any one choice he made, and he understood that unconscious choices sometimes drove his behaviour: “Our most fiery moments of ecstasy are merely shadows of what somewhere else we have felt, or of what we long someday to feel . . . I myself would sacrifice everything for a new experience, and I know there is no such thing as a new experience at all,” Wilde wrote in a letter. In a comedy he observed that “whenever people agree with me I feel that I must be wrong.”

Ellmann’s entire effort is to reveal Wilde as a serious thinker. He perceived Wilde as a philosopher and a psychologist. In other words, as one who understood that choice makes character, reveals personality, is personality. Making choices and understanding those choices are among the most stirring aspects of Wilde’s world, and that world represented by Ellmann, and so it is my personal wish that some worthy press puts Ellmann’s Oscar Wilde back in print.


1. See, for example, Julia Prewitt Brown, Patricia Flanagan Behrendt, Kerry Powell, Jerusha McCormack, Mary Blanchard, Deirdre Toomey, Davis Coakley — to name but a few.

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Among the Ellmann-Correctors by S. I. Salamensky

When, as a graduate student, I first came to Oxford on research, I fell in with a circle of venerable gentleman Wildeans – some academics, some hobbyist scholars – with a mania for correcting Ellmann, correcting those corrections, correcting corrections of corrections… The letter misdated for the afternoon of June 12th was in fact dated the 13th, the morning. The middle initials of the punter in the fourth row back were not R.M. but R.F. These notes carried some sense of opprobrium. How could Ellmann – in his 700-something pages – have missed this, muddled that?

I had my own reservations, certainly – for instance, about the containment of the trials under the heading “Disgrace” and the quick work the book makes of them. Yet astounded, as I remain, by the breadth and depth of Ellmann’s accomplishment, this detail-debate struck me as slightly small-spirited. Who among us could have achieved what he did? Having been trained in the postmodern age, in more or less pure theory, this level of critique seemed to me a bit small-minded. Wasn’t it, after all, Wilde, who taught the soon-to-be-modern world that facts were as fictions, and a great story the finest truth of all?

Yet I soon caught the obsession as well. Teas and pints and afternoons slipped away in the all-consuming hermeneutic: half-gossip, half-mishna. A was not at the opening, but the second performance. Z – well, that came from Frank Harris. Ellmann believed that?

Of course, in the end it wasn’t about Ellmann, but about us and about biography, the palliative allure of it. It was enlivening, satisfying, comforting: the sorting, the completism, the respite of living through, “working-through,” another’s more dramatic, yet safely unenviable life. Corrections kept it going and ensured that Wilde would continue to need us, giving the lie to how much more we needed him. What does any scholar want for, and/or from, his or her subject, really?

Were the Ellmann-correctors practicing, as they/we claimed, responsible scholarship? Or were they simply jealous – less perhaps of Ellmann’s renown than of his claim on the story we had somehow taken as our own? For Oscar would have loved us. Or if not loved – as with Bosie – at least relied on us, sturdy Robbies all … Surely?



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A Checklist of Richard Ellmann’s Writings on Oscar Wilde in Chronological Order
Compiled by Danielle Guérin, Lucia Krämer, Cristina Pascual, D.C. Rose.


Note : The Richard Ellmann Papers are Collection No. 1988-012 in the Department of Special Collections and University Archives, McFarlin Library, University of Tulsa, 2933 E. 6th Street, Tulsa, OK. 74104-3123 (OKT - OkTU). There is a description and inventory at http://www.lib.utulsa.edu/speccoll/collections/ellman/index.htm


Romantic Pantomime in Oscar Wilde.
Partisan Review 30
1963

The Critic as Artist as Wilde.
London: Encounter
1967 July

Overtures to Wilde’s Salome.
Yearbook of Comparative and General Literature 17
1968

Overtures to ‘Salome’.
in Richard Ellmann (ed.) Oscar Wilde: A Collection of Critical Essays
Eaglewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice-Hall
1969

Overtures to Wilde’s Salome.
Tri-Quarterly XV pp.45-64
1969 Spring

Overtures to Salome.
in Golden Cogers: Biographical Speculations
London: Oxford University Press
1973

Oscar Wilde: Two Approaches.
Los Angeles: Clark Library
1977

[Oscar Wilde] The Picture of Dorian Gray and Other Writings*
ed. Richard Ellmann (contains Ellmann's translation of Salome, pp. 261-95)
New York: Bantam
1982
*kindly suggested by Joseph W. Donohue

Oscar Wilde at Oxford.
Washington DC: Library of Congress
1983

Oscar Wilde at Oxford.
Washington DC: Library of Congress
1984

Uses of Decadence: Wilde, Yeats and Joyce.
Bennington VT: Bennington Chapbooks
1984

Oscar at Oxford.
New York: New York Review of Books 31 : 5
1984 29th March

Four Dubliners: Wilde, Yeats, Joyce and Beckett.
Ellmann

Washington DC: Library of Congress
1986

Four Dubliners: Wilde, Yeats, Joyce and Beckett.
London: Hamish Hamilton
1987

Oscar Wilde.
London: Hamish Hamilton
1987

Uses of Decadence: Wilde, Yeats and Joyce.
in Wolfgang Zach & Heinz Kosok (eds) Literary Interrelations
Tubingen: Narr
1987

Wilde In New York: Beauty Packed Them In.
New York: New York Times Book Review vol 92
1987 1st November
Ellmann


Oscar Meets Walt.
New York: New York Review of Books vol 34
1987 3rd December

Four Dubliners: Wilde, Yeats, Joyce and Beckett.

Cardinal paperback.
London: Sphere Books 1988

Oscar Wilde.
New York: Alfred A. Knopf
1988

Four Dubliners: Wilde, Yeats, Joyce and Beckett.
New York: George Braziller
1988

Oscar Wilde.
Paperback of the 1987 edition
London: Penguin
1988

Uses of Decadence: Wilde, Yeats, Joyce.
In Ceri Crossley & Ian Small (edd): Studies in Anglo-French Cultural Relations
London: Macmillan
Ellmann

1988

Uses of Decadence: Wilde, Yeats and Joyce.
As Chapter I of a long the riverrun,
New York: Alfred A. Knopf
1988

The Fatality of Passion.
Programme notes to Salome
London: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
1988

Oscar Wilde.
Ellmann

Paperback edition
New York: Vintage Books
1988

Overtures to Wilde’s ‘Salomé’.
In Derek Puffett (ed.): Richard Strauss, ‘Salome’
Opera handbooks Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
1989

Four Dubliners: Wilde, Yeats, Joyce and Beckett
Transl. Wolfgang Held. as ‘Vier Dubliner: Wilde, Yeats, Joyce und Beckett’.
Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp
1990

Oscar Wilde.
Transl. Néstor A. Míguez
Barcelona: Edhasa. ISBN: 84-350-1219-0. 765 pages, 23 cms.
1990.

Four Dubliners: Wilde, Yeats, Joyce and Beckett.
Transl. Antonio Prometeo Moya as ‘Cuatro dublineses:
Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett.’
Barcelona: Tusquets. ISBN: 84-7223-146-1 181 pages, 21 cms.
1990.

Oscar Wilde.
Transl. Jose Antonio Arantes.
São Paulo : Editora Schwarcz Ltda. (Companhia das Letras). ISBN : 8571640025. 576 pages, 23 cms. Paperback.
1988.

«Os Usos da Decadência : Wilde, Yeats, Joyce » in Richard Ellmann’s
Ao Longo do Riocorrente : Ensaios Literários e Biográficos.
Transl. Denise Bottmann.
São Paulo : Cia das Letras. ISBN 8571641544. 312 pages. Medium size. Paperback.
1991.
Ellmann

Oscar Wilde.
Transl. Hans Wolf.
Munich & Zürich: Piper
1991.

Oscar Wilde.
Rizzoli 795p
1991

Four Dubliners: Wilde, Yeats, Joyce and Beckett.
Cardinal paperback, 2nd impression of the 1988 edition
London: Sphere Books
1991

Ellmann
Uses of Decadence: Wilde, Yeats and Joyce.
in Philip Lopate & Elizabeth Coleman: The Ordering Mirror:
Readers & Contexts
New York: Fordham University Press
1993

Oscar Wilde.
Transl. Marie Tadié et Philippe Delamare
Paris: Gallimard
1995

The Trial of Oscar Wilde.
A Penguin 60 edition, reprinted from Ellmann’s biography of Wilde, q.v.
London: Penguin
1996
Ellmann

Oscar Wilde.
Munich: Piper 1997

The Critic as Artist as Wilde.
in Jonathan Freedman (ed.) Oscar Wilde, A Collection of Critical Essays
Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall
1996

Oscar Wilde.
Munich: Piper
2000

Oscar Wilde.
Ellmann

Mondadori
784p
2000

Oscar Wilde.
Mondadori
769p
2002




NOTE:
We welcome additions to this list, and these will be inserted with acknowledgments.

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