Built of Books: How Reading Defined the Life of Oscar Wilde

Built of Books: How Reading Defined the Life of Oscar Wilde

Thomas Wright

Language: English

Pages: 384

ISBN: 0805092463

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

An entirely new kind of biography, Built of Books explores the mind and personality of Oscar Wilde through his taste in books

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.














been especially inspiring. The greatest accolade must go to Mauro Nicolini and Anna Wright, who offered advice, ideas, editorial suggestions and fellowship, every step of the way; without them, my journey might never have been completed. Thanks, too, to the rest of my family and friends, for their unstinting support. I also acknowledge the help of the following people: Tessa Milne of Sotheby’s, Anthony Stokes (warder of Reading prison), Laura Barber, Stewart McLaughlin (historian of Wandsworth

1.    Ellmann, p. 5. 2.    Complete Letters, p. 606. 3.    Pepper (ed.), p. 27. 4.    Ibid. Wilde was probably introduced to the works of the poets he mentions in his lecture through volumes in his parents’ libraries. Their sizeable book collections also contained anthologies of older Irish verse such as Dermody’s Harp of Erin (1807), Brooke’s Reliques of Irish Poetry (1816) and Hayne’s Ballads of Ireland. Speranza was reading the last of these in 1858 and may have entertained the

Commission file 8/434, PRO. CHAPTER 34 1.    De Profundis, Selected Letters, p. 164. 2.    Mikhail (ed.), Vol. II, p. 330. 3.    Sherard, Twenty Years, p. 427. 4.    De Profundis, Selected Letters, pp. 200–1. 5.    T. Wright and D. Mead (eds.), p. 51. 6.    De Profundis, Selected Letters, p. 160. 7.    Complete Letters, p. 957. 8.    Ibid., p. 1002. 9.    André Gide, Oscar Wilde (London, 1906), pp. 59–60. 10.    Complete Letters, p. 1129. 11.    Ibid., p. 166. 12.    Letter from More

survived from his student years are all standard school and college editions published in cheap and unattractive small print formats.17 On the other hand, Wilde did spend a vast amount of money on books at Portora, where there was no real need to do so, as the boys had the use of a lending library. His book bill for 1871 came to �11 5s. 9d. – a huge sum considering the annual board and tuition fees were only �4518 and the price of most books no more than a few shillings. It is possible that he

off books’,13 because of his gift for digesting the words of his literary heroes and regurgitating them in his own writing. He might have been describing himself. And it is here, perhaps, that the true significance of Wilde’s habit of eating books is revealed – he gobbled them up to nourish his own writings. Wilde’s works display a literary sensibility keenly susceptible to the influence of others: on one occasion, he even claimed to have ‘been influenced by all the books’ he had read.14 He

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