Book Review: The Wit and Humor of Oscar Wilde (Oscar Wilde)

Book Review: The Wit and Humor of Oscar Wilde (Oscar Wilde)

The Wit and Humor of Oscar Wilde (Quotations by Oscar Wilde)

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde

One can’t jump into a book review of quotations by Oscar Wilde without first discussing Oscar Wilde himself. He certainly isn’t an ordinary person, and he most definitely lived an extraordinary life. He lived a life of excess, he lived a life of intrigue, part hedonist, part flamboyant, all parts interesting.

As per Wikipedia:

Oscar Fingal O’Fflahertie Wills Wilde[a] (16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900) was an Irish poet and playwright. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, he became one of the most popular playwrights in London in the early 1890s. He is best remembered for his epigrams and plays, his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, and his criminal conviction for gross indecency for homosexual acts.

Wilde’s parents were Anglo-Irish intellectuals in Dublin. In his youth Wilde learned to speak fluent French and German. At university, he read Greats; he demonstrated himself to be an exceptional classicist, first at Trinity College Dublin, then at Magdalen College, Oxford. He became associated with the emerging philosophy of aestheticism, led by two of his tutors, Walter Pater and John Ruskin. After university, Wilde moved to London into fashionable cultural and social circles.

He tried his hand at various literary activities: he wrote a play, published a book of poems, lectured in the United States and Canada on the new “English Renaissance in Art” and interior decoration, and then returned to London where he lectured on his American travels and wrote reviews for various periodicals. Known for his biting wit, flamboyant dress and glittering conversational skill, Wilde became one of the best-known personalities of his day. At the turn of the 1890s he refined his ideas about the supremacy of art in a series of dialogues and essays, and incorporated themes of decadence, duplicity, and beauty into what would be his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). Wilde returned to the drama, writing Salome (1891) in French while in Paris, but it was refused a licence for England due to an absolute prohibition on the portrayal of Biblical subjects on the English stage. Undiscouraged, Wilde produced four society comedies in the early 1890s, which made him one of the most successful playwrights of late-Victorian London.

At the height of his fame and success, while An Ideal Husband (1895) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) were still being performed in London, Wilde issued a civil writ against John Sholto Douglas, the 9th Marquess of Queensberry for criminal libel.[3] The Marquess was the father of Wilde’s lover, Lord Alfred Douglas. The libel hearings unearthed evidence that caused Wilde to drop his charges and led to his own arrest and criminal prosecution for gross indecency with men.[4] The jury was unable to reach a verdict and so a retrial was ordered. In the second trial Wilde was convicted and sentenced to two years’ hard labour, the maximum penalty, and was jailed from 1895 to 1897.[5] During his last year in prison he wrote De Profundis (published posthumously in abridged form in 1905), a long letter that discusses his spiritual journey through his trials and is a dark counterpoint to his earlier philosophy of pleasure. On the day of his release he caught the overnight steamer to France, never to return to Britain or Ireland. In France and Italy he wrote his last work, The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), a long poem commemorating the harsh rhythms of prison life.

Oscar Wilde – Wikipedia

He lived much like he wrote, and he wrote much like he lived. I think thats why we’re so drawn to him. His wit, his intellect, the way he lived, the way he viewed the world seems contrary to the way most of us get a chance to live our lives. I wouldn’t say necessarily that he lived it “well” or that he lived it “bad”. He seems shallow at the same time he seems intelligent. He is artistic, but at the same time he seems to only care about his art. He’s like much of our modern celebrity culture.

Quotation Books

Books of quotations are always interesting in the sense that you get a vague-ish idea of the person. Theres the quips and comments, the wit, and the witticisms, the quotes, and the ideas of the person, but it doesn’t really give you a full picture of the person. There is some context provided by the editors, but not a whole lot. There is some work and context given by Alvin Redman, but oftentimes it just feels like fawning over Oscar Wilde rather than really providing details into the chapter at hand.

But before I digress too much, lets get into the book review.

Back of the Book Blurb

Wilde on Sincerity: “A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.” Nearly a century after his death, the wit of Oscar Wilde remains as fresh and barbed as ever. This collection of his works, letters, reviews, anecdotes and repartee is ample proof of this iconoclast’s enduring place in the world of arts and letters.

The Wit and Humor of Oscar Wilde – Oscar Wilde (Author) and Alvin Redman (Editor) – GoodReads

Book Review: The Wit and Humor of Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde’s legacy as a master of wit endures well over a century after his passing. Esteemed as a poet, novelist, playwright, and essayist, Wilde was also recognized as the foremost aphorist of his time. Praised by George Bernard Shaw as “incomparably the greatest talker of his time — perhaps of all time,” Wilde’s ability to captivate through conversation is legendary. His articulate and whimsical discourse, delivered with confidence and without pause, enthralled all who had the pleasure of his company.

This book serves as an outstanding guide for those wishing to delve into Oscar Wilde’s spontaneous and eccentric humor. It’s a delightful read for moments of relaxation and amusement, and it’s even suggested as entertaining bathroom literature.

Wilde’s eloquence was so refined that even those on the receiving end of his sharp remarks often felt honored. Wilde boasted of his readiness to tackle any topic at any time, whether he was prepared or not. On one occasion, when asked to speak on “The Queen,” Wilde cleverly responded, “The queen is not a subject.” In another instance, he quickly retorted to a journalist’s claim of only discussing familiar facts with, “That must limit your conversation frightfully.”

Even William Gilbert, of the famed Gilbert and Sullivan duo, expressed envy at Wilde’s oratory skills at a dinner party, to which Wilde humorously replied that denying others the pleasure of listening to him would be selfish.

However, Wilde wasn’t always the victor in verbal jest. During a visit to America, a lady’s description of something as ‘awfully nice’ led Wilde to comment on the inadequacy of ‘nice,’ only for her to cleverly inquire if ‘nasty’ was any better.

Wilde’s wit shone through in various interactions, whether it was playfully addressing a former professor’s inaudibility, humorously arranging a visit with French actor Coquelin, or candidly speaking about his preparations for a lecture tour in the USA, where he sought a “natural style with a touch of affectation.”

His humor extended to anecdotes about America, including a memorable exchange about the moon’s beauty with a Southerner, and his sly response to a theater manager’s request to revise his play ‘Vera’: “Who am I to tamper with a masterpiece?”

Following his lecture tour, Wilde humorously recounted the toll it took on his secretaries—one suffering from writer’s cramp and the other bald from sending locks of his hair to admirers.

Wilde’s meticulous attention to his work was humorously illustrated when he described spending an entire morning removing a comma from a poem, only to reinstate it in the afternoon.

Wilde once remarked, ‘Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.’ This captures the essence of good conversation as a fleeting art, much like the seasonal changing of leaves. Oscar Wilde’s mischievous wit remains vibrantly alive, continuing to enchant and amuse.

No doubt we’ll be remembering is wit, his intellect, and his ‘ephemeral’ usage of language for years and years to come. A product of his time over anything else. Would he be the same if he was alive in the 1990s or the 2000s or even the 2020s? Would be interesting to see how things like Twitter or Facebook (or social media in general) would have changed the way we looked at his ‘dandyism’ and his ‘witticisms’. Maybe he would be viewed less favorably, or maybe even more favorably. He most likely would have escaped having to do jail time.

Either way, while the quotations and the book doesn’t provide the perfect context for Oscar Wilde, it does provide a nice introduction to who and what he was. This is a good start into his character, his personality, and who he was. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it however. I think it would best people read him for his works, and then learn about him as a person, and get into his ‘wit’ and ‘intellect’ and ‘conversation skills’.

My GoodReads Rating: ***
My LibraryThing Rating: ***
Global Average GoodReads Rating: 4.07 (as of 2.9.24)

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