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Review: The Last Days of Oscar Wilde by John Vanderslice

About the Book

How is it possible that the genius author of such 19th century classics as The Picture of Dorian Grayand The Importance of Being Earnest died destitute in Paris at the age of 46? In John Vanderslice’s vivid and heartbreaking novel, we meet Oscar Wilde after a two year incarceration in an English prison for gross indecency. Once free, his reputation and finances in ruins, he leaves England for Paris where, frequently inebriated, he stays in shabby hotel rooms paid for by his few, remaining friends.

In Vanderslice’s deftly-imagined portrayal, Wilde’s idiosyncratic and affecting greatness is revealed. Through his thoughts and interactions, we experience the heart and mind of a literary giant brought down by the “morals” of his time. For a while, Wilde manages to maintain his legendary sense of humor and joie de vivre, a superstitious religiosity, and the dogged pursuit of beautiful young men. Sadly, the formerly prolific author and raconteur no longer has the desire to write. Instead, he distantly observes the world and is ultimately felled by serious illness. It is at his funeral that his artistic reputation begins its slow rehabilitation as friends and a small devoted public flock to the church to honor the artist, who spoke openly about homosexuality, the hypocrisy of Victorian values, and the importance of art for art’s sake.


The Last Days of Oscar Wilde, touching yet heartbreaking all the same, really wasn't what I had expected. Going into this novel, in the back of my mind, I had this image of Oscar Wilde that perhaps mirrored the brilliance of his literary succes. T efault, oining the bandwagon like the rest of ou ultur ha as elevated people to be defined by their talented success bu n their darkest of despair can't understand how they fall. Yes, some people with their judgments and isolation push them, while others are curious about how they went from the top of the world to desolation. Much of the book I was surprised because I didn't know or maybe had forgotten his personal life but I sit and wander had the same circumstances happened today, the narrative of his ending would've been different.

For me, during the progression of the book, you'd think he was older than someone in his forties. I will assume that the circumstances that affected the finality of his days of life took it's toll on the aging process but I can't imagine the emotional toll of such a domino effect on one's quality of life. You really find out who your friends are when the times are tough. I would've loved for the book to dive more into the effects of the trial. Not so much the content but it's effect I believe was the catalyst of his demise and broke him. I can't image living in a world where so many decisions that are accepted today would've put someone in jail. Such a tragedy that he lost his passion for writing and just accepted and settled into a life of nothingness was so depressing.

What I found pulling at my thoughts was, I understand the magnitude of the moral beliefs at that time vs the negative stigma of what had happened to be against the social norms of that time but with the brilliant mind that he had couldn't he have appealed by reinventing himself? From what I gather from the book, he was deeply plagued by his actions and how it affected the people whom he loved but unapologetic for his impulsive desires. At first I was uncertain how I felt about the book, not it a bad way but from his perspective, I couldn't accept how he was. The poverty, the isolated introversion, partly initiated and other by the castout of public perception was really tough to grasp at times considering how he could've appealed to the public and conformed to received their forgiveness. That is tough to say because you should be able to live your life the way you choose but in a time where behavior and thoughts were dictated by morality, one would have to make a decision if they want to be free from perceptual persecution.

As I read on and he grew on me, pity went to hope and then acceptance of his decision to live out his life the way it did. It was a little frustrating for me because I felt like he gave up when maybe he could've fought to choose a better despite the hatred towards him but through his thoughts and actions we get a perspective that illuminated a broken soul trying to exist in the only way that made him feel accepted. I guess it's easier said than done because our society is more open minded and tolerant than his.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book for so many reasons. It was enlightening and heart breaking getting into his head and thoughts to how he could've felt in the finality of his life. To go from greatness to desolation and being stripped of who he was had to have took it's toll. If you've ever admired a literary great who faced a similar trajectory, this is a book that had a terrific narrative that defined it's own path. The reader experiences his vulnerability at it's barest and you felt as if you were experiencing his hopelessness near the end combined with feeling helpess watching someone close to you give up. It really puts much into perspective. I'd recommend this one to add to the reading the list.

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