A fascinating insight into the Wilde family's double fall from grace
Oscar Wilde owed his most outstanding characteristics - his precocious intellectualism, his flamboyance, his hedonism, his recklessness, his pride, his sense of superiority, his liberal sexual values - to his parents.
Oscar's mother, Lady Jane Wilde, rose to prominence as a political journalist, advocating in 1848 a rebellion against colonialism. Proud, involved and challenging, she became a salon hostess and opened the Wilde's Dublin home at No. 1 Merrion Square to the public. Known as the most scintillating and stirring hostess of her day, she passed on her infectious delight in the art of living to Oscar, who imbibed it greedily.
His father was Sir William Wilde, one of the most eminent men of his generation. Acutely conscious of injustices in the social order, Sir William laid the foundations for the Celtic renaissance in the belief that culture would establish a common ground between the privileged and the poor, Protestant and Catholic. But Sir William was also a philanderer, and when he stood accused of sexually assaulting a young female patient, the scandal and trial sent shock waves through Dublin society.
After his death the Wildes moved to London where Oscar burst irrepressibly upon the scene. The one role that didn't suit him was that of the Victorian husband, as his wife, Constance, was to discover. For beneath the swelling forehead was a self-destructive itch: a lifelong devourer of attention, Oscar was unable to recognise when the party was over.
The Fall of the House of Wilde for the first time places Oscar Wilde as a member of one of the most dazzling Anglo-Irish families of Victorian times, and also in the broader social, political and religious context. A remarkable and perceptive account, this is a major repositioning of our first modern celebrity, a man whose own fall from grace in a trial as public as his father's marked the end of fin de si.cle decadence.
About the Author
Emer O'Sullivan graduated from Trinity College, Dublin, and has completed an MA in Life Writing and a PhD in Virginia Woolf's literature at UEA, where she also lectured in English Literature. This is her first book. She lives in London.
Emer O'Sullivan has made an indispensable contribution to Wildean literature. She goes back to the beginning and finds out where Oscar came from. Where he really came from. O'Sullivan's detailed portraits of Wilde's father, mother and brother are, at every page, compelling, informative and fascinating - especially to one who made the vain mistake of thinking he just about knew it all. The meticulous scholarship and insight she brings are fantastically valuable. Not since Ellmann's masterly 1988 biography has a book been published that will be so warmly welcomed by those still held in thrill by the myth and reality of Oscar Wilde, that miracle of mind and personality. Perhaps even more importantly, this is a book that reminds us how very unlikely it is that a genius is likely to born in a vacuum: Oscar was, O'Sullivan demonstrates, every inch his parents' child -- Stephen Fry `Emer O'Sullivan ... does not dwell unduly on Wilde's sexuality - a good thing in my view ... She is, as her title proclaims, principally interested in the "house" that made Wilde and that he pulled down in his fall ... O'Sullivan vividly evokes the cultural vitalities Oscar inherited from the house he was born into ... O'Sullivan's hugely readable book ... does not dissolve the embarrassment Oscar still causes us, but she makes the source of it crystal clear. For which one may be truly grateful -- John Sutherland * The Times * Enjoyable ... O'Sullivan claims, plausibly, that Wilde learnt his formidable conversational skills by listening to the intellectual chatter at his parents' table * Prospect * A valuable addition to the scholarly reclamation of the Wilde name . . . The Fall of the House of Wilde does justice to the name of Wilde. * The Irish Times * A valuable addition to the scholarly reclamation of the Wilde name ... Lucid ... O'Sullivan deals with the difficult and unhappy Willie with clear-eyed understanding ... The Fall of the House of Wilde does justice to the name of Wilde * Irish Times * Emer O'Sullivan's meticulously researched debut ... shows ... her extensive journey into Wilde's family background is not some eccentric effort, but a necessary, even vital one ... Considering the fascinating new material it unearths in every chapter, this book's understated tone is striking ... Every era has the biography writer is deserves. The Fall of the House of Wilde presents its subject for the age of Siddhartha Mukherjee's The Gene. Emer O'Sullivan's brilliant book shows how Oscar was forced to be a bright, flamboyant and radical playwright and novelist so as to be able to take care of his mother and brother ... The Fall of the House of Wilde shows how artificiality came naturally to the Victorians - and how their pasts determined their futures -- Kaya Genc * Times Literary Supplement * Worthy and useful ... fresh insights and entertaining asides ... O'Sullivan, concentrating on Oscar's family, is able to give a rich account of the hapless Willie * Literary Review * What makes O'Sullivan's narrative so intriguing is how she cleverly links the Wildes' story against the historical background of fin-de-siecle Dublin and London ... This is a remarkable piece of work. And the best non-fiction book I've read all year * Sunday Independent * Thoroughly researched and rich with scholarship ... O'Sullivan's observations brighten in a spirited and authoritative commentary * Irish Examiner * An engrossing examination of how the great writer was shaped by his upbringing and by his unconventional parents: Jane, his mother, a poet and campaigner for women's rights; and William, his father, a leading surgeon, whose disgrace would devastate the family -- Book of the Year * Mail on Sunday * In this "inversion of the American Dream", Emer O'Sullivan takes us on a right royal romp from riches to rags ... As much a fable for our own celebrity driven times as it is a fascinating re-appraisal of one family, The Fall Of the House Of Wilde grips through the sheer witchery of its subjects ... In a welcome epilogue that allows the reader to draw a much needed breath O'Sullivan acknowledges as much. Through the inhabitants of the houses fell, the Wilde name survives. It stands for what is singular, independent-minded and fearless -- Cary Gee * Tribune * Where it differs from earlier accounts is in Ms. O'Sullivan's understanding that Wilde himself might have had a curios sense of deja vu in looking back on his life. For the more closely one examines his family history, the more it starts to resemble a tragedy, in which the same events kept repeating like compulsion or a curse -- Robert Douglas-Fairhurst * Wall Street Journal * Deeply researched...O'Sullivan's book is strongest when she positions the Wildes within the larger framework of Irish history; many Wilde biographers glide over not only his mother but also his Irish-ness...O'Sullivan calls back to flickering life an intriguing figure in feminist history. Virginia Woolf wrote of the great unpublished works of women - those meals, salons and gardens that have their short time in the sun and then are gone. Wilde's radiant art of living, hard to translate into the fixity of published words, was mostly lost after his early death. His mother, whose great work was her embrace of the splendour and awful brevity of each moment, disappeared more completely -- Deborah Lutz * New York Times * This book is indispensible -- Roger Lewis * The Times * To those of us who are addicted to Wilde, this book is indispensable -- Roger Lewis * The Times *