'I have nothing to declare… except my genius!'
So were Wilde's words when he was asked by an American customs official on his first tour in that country. They epitomize the man's character to the letter, confident, assured and brimming with zest for life that was only broken by the brutal hypocrisy of the scumbag Victorian society.
Pearson's narrative is a beautiful one and Beale reads with exemplary prowess and character throughout. We are with Wilde from his very first days as a child, his brilliant academic career culminating in a plethora of degrees, all first class, and the prodigious engagements in America with speaking tours that have remained legendary for their wit and vitality.
However, we are also made to feel the darker side of Wilde as Pearson does not attempt to conceal his vanity, egotistic temperament and self indulgence. But one is also deeply touched by his generosity and amiability; his feelings were genuine and also extremely humane. The episodes concerning his plays are a triumph of conjecture; one almost smiles upon hearing the cheers and outstanding successes that the classics brought to the Victorian hypocrites.
But there is always a price to pay for living such a high life and as Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie) entered into his life, the descent began for Wilde. The sad ravings of the mad Marquess of Queensbury are expostulated with great pathos and the depressing descent into the maelstrom almost reads like a classic novel. The author's years in prison are starkly documented and his final end is also a tear jerker, such talent gone to waste at less than fifty years.
But the most beautiful moment is reserved for last when Beale reads Wilde's own self-made epitaph with such feeling and emotion:
When the last trumpet sounds, and we are lying in our porphyry tombs, I will whisper in your ear; 'Robbie, Robbie', let us pretend we did not hear it'
A fitting conclusion to a story of highs and lows of triumphs and pitfalls, a tale that goes from the stars to the gutter, this is the life of Oscar Wilde, probably the greatest wit that ever lived.
Copyright © 2003 by Gerald Fenech.