Book Review for “Selected Prose of Oscar Wilde” by Robert Ross.
Summary: This is a collection of Wilde’s prose that was originally published in 1900. The collection of over 50 short pieces (complete list below) includes essays, excerpts from his plays and novels, prose poems, and even letters from Wilde to his friend and literary executor, Robert Ross, who curated the collection after Wilde’s death.
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, fiction, non-fiction, letters, poetry, essays; Other Categories: Collection, Re-Release, Vintage.
According to Amazon “This book was converted from its physical edition to the digital format by a community of volunteers.” May I add, they converted it “warts and all” since the original spellings were not corrected to modern ones, and the formatting is quite crude. Furthermore, they didn’t bother to translate the pieces written originally in French, nor did they translate any other inclusions of phrases or words in other foreign languages (like Greek and Latin). Of course, this made me feel slightly stupid, but since this was available to download for free to my Kindle, I guess I got what I paid for, right?
You should know that this collection isn’t very extensive, and if you are unfamiliar with some of the works that are excerpted here, you might feel a touch cheated that you are only getting a taste and not the whole thing. Of course, this is only a selection, as it says in the title, so we were forewarned. Despite this, what we do get is a smorgasbord of hors d’oeuvres, both savory and sweet, and to be honest, it is an overall well-balanced fare. However, I’m guessing that the idea was to appeal to everyone, and not just those who like a particular flavor combination. That means some things will leave a sour taste in our mouths.
To be specific, for me, I was very much put off by the highly Christian stories and poems here, even those that were presented as allegories. It is well known that Wilde turned to religion as a way to find solace when he was in prison, and from some of what is included here, it seems he became more devout than I had realized. Of course, I know nothing about his religion (aside from it rejecting his being homosexual), but in one letter he talks about being in Rome and being invited to hear the Pope speak on Easter. The letter tells how he received a blessing from him, and that they were actually introduced, which was interesting to read about. Yet, most of the other religious pieces seemed very heavy handed to me, and since I’m Jewish, I’m sure that there were things I just didn’t understand or couldn’t appreciate.
This collection also includes several essays that talk about art, and critics, and other writers, and how the artist (which obviously includes writers) can or should impact the world with their art. Most of these were written in very sophisticated language – again with some foreign words thrown in for good measure – and I’m not sure I understood his meaning. That said, there were a couple times that I did get his point, but disagreed with his conclusion. Furthermore, there were people noted that I haven’t a clue who they are, and that again made me feel pretty dumb. Mind you, I think I prefer things going over my head than being patronized, so my confusion really is more my fault than Wilde’s.
Although this mostly sounds negative, I do have to say that I enjoyed the excerpts from his plays and stories, as well as the letters he wrote to his friend Robert Ross. These proved once again just how clever Wilde was, how funny he could be, and how sarcastic was his wit. All told, I believe I enjoyed about half of these, and therefore I’m going to give it three out of five stars.
This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Waterstones, WHSmith, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you.
The pieces included in this collection are:
- How They Struck a Contemporary
- The Quality of George Meredith
- Life in the Fallacious Model
- Life the Disciple
- Life the Plagiarist
- The Indispensable East
- The Influence of the Impressionists on Climate
- An Exposure to Naturalism
- Thomas Griffiths Wainewright
- Wainewright at Hobart Town
- Cardinal Newman and the Autobiographers
- Robert Browning
- The Two Supreme and Highest Arts
- The Secrets of Immortality
- The Critic and his Material
- Dante the Living Guide
- The Limitations of Genius
- Wanted A New Background Without Frontiers
- The Poetry of Archæology
- The Art of Archæology
- Herod Suppliant
- The Tetrarch’s Remorse
- The Tetrarch’s Treasure
- Salomé anticipates Dr. Strauss
- The Young King
- A Coronation
- The King of Spain
- A Bull Fight
- The Throne Room
- A Protected Country
- The Blackmailing of the Emperor
- Covent Garden
- A Letter from Miss Jane Percy to her Aunt
- The Triumph of American ‘Humor’
- The Garden of Death
- An Eton Kit-cat
- Mrs. Erlynne Exercises the Prerogative of a Grandmother
- Motherhood more than Marriage
- The Damnable Ideal
- From a Rejected Prize-essay
- The Possibilities of the Useful
- The Artist
- The Doer of Good
- The Disciple
- The Master
- The House of Judgment
- The Teacher of Wisdom
- Wilde gives directions about ‘De Profundis’
- Carey Street Sorrow wears no mask
- Vita Nuova
- The Grand Romantic
- Clapham Junction
- The Broken Resolution
- Domesticity at Berneval
- A visit to the Pope