This intimate account of Oscar Wilde's life and writings is richer, livelier, and more personal than any book available about the brilliant writer, revealing a man who built himself out of books. His library was his reality, the source of so much that was vital to his life. A reader first, his readerly encounters, out of all of life's pursuits, are seen to be as significant as his most important relationships with friends, family, or lovers. Wilde's library, which Thomas Wright spent twenty years reading, provides the intellectual (and emotional) climate at the core of this deeply engaging portrait.
One of the book's happiest surprises is the story of the author's adventure reading Wilde's library. Reminiscent of Jorge Luis Borges's fictional hero who enters Cervantes's mind by saturating himself in the culture of sixteenth-century Spain, Wright employs Wilde as his own Virgilian guide to world literature. We come to understand how reading can be an extremely sensual experience, producing a physical as well as a spiritual delight.
This will explain why my history of the different
branches of popular literature and art ends at very different periods. The
grotesque and satirical sculpture, which adorned the ecclesiastical buildings,
ceased with the middle ages. The story-books, as a part of this social
literature, came down to the sixteenth century, and the history of the
jest-books which arose out of them cannot be considered to extend further than
the beginning of the seventeenth; for, to give a list of jest-books since that
time would be to compile a catalogue of books made by booksellers for sale,
copied from one another, and, till recently, each more contemptible than its
predecessor. The school of satirical literature in France, at all events as far
as it had any influence in England, lasted no longer than the earlier part of
the seventeenth century. England can hardly be said to have had a school of
satirical literature, with the exception of its comedy, which belongs properly
to the seventeenth century; and its caricature belongs especially to the last
century and to the earlier part of the present, beyond which it is not a part
of my plan to carry it.