ABOUT THIS BOOK
Nicholas Frankel presents a new and revisionary account of Wilde’s final years, spent in poverty and exile on the European continent following his release from an English prison for the crime of “gross indecency” between men. Oscar Wilde: The Unrepentant Years challenges the prevailing, traditional view of Wilde as a broken, tragic figure, a martyr to Victorian sexual morality, and shows instead that he pursued his post-prison life with passion, enjoying new liberties while trying to resurrect his literary career.
After two bitter years of solitary confinement, Frankel shows, Wilde emerged from prison in 1897 determined to rebuild his life along lines that were continuous with the path he had followed before his conviction, unapologetic and even defiant about the crime for which he had been convicted. England had already done its worst. In Europe’s more tolerant atmosphere, he could begin to live openly and without hypocrisy.
Frankel overturns previous misunderstandings of Wilde’s relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas, the great love of his life, with whom he hoped to live permanently in Naples, following their secret and ill-fated elopement there. He describes how and why the two men were forced apart, as well as Wilde’s subsequent relations with a series of young men. Oscar Wilde pays close attention to Wilde’s final two important works, De Profundis and The Ballad of Reading Gaol, while detailing his nearly three-year residence in Paris. There, despite repeated setbacks and open hostility, Wilde attempted to rebuild himself as a man—and a man of letters.
[A] detailed and finely judged account of Wilde’s life after prison.
-- Colm Tóibín The Guardian
[A] fascinating study of the hitherto largely neglected last phase of Wilde’s life…[A] quiet but persuasively revisionist account.
-- John Banville New York Review of Books
[Frankel’s] purpose is to refute the traditional view of Wilde ending as a broken martyr, a victim of hypocritical Victorian morality…While the pages in which Wilde tries to touch for a handout anyone he knew make for painful reading, the rest of Frankel’s history is scintillating enough. The quotes from Wilde’s sayings and writings sparkle, defiantly undimmed.
-- John Simon Weekly Standard
[A] fair, elegant and informed book.
-- Douglas Murray The Times
Dazzling…Presents a Wilde quite different from the despondent has-been, ruined by Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas.
-- Kate Hext Times Literary Supplement
Examines in fascinating detail Wilde’s prison years and the short time that remained to him after he completed his sentence…The clarity of [Frankel’s] prose, his sympathetic approach, and his talent for building tension ensures that his book will appeal to anyone with even a passing knowledge of Wilde’s life.
-- Eleanor Fitzsimons Irish Times
Frankel’s Wilde is resilient and defiant—and also wily… Frankel takes issue with Richard Ellmann and other Wilde biographers who suggest prison ended Wilde’s literary career… Wilde did not emerge from his cell a dull man. He spoke as brilliantly as ever, Frankel reports… Taken together, [this book and Laura Lee’s Oscar’s Ghost] are complementary, enriching not only an understanding of Wilde’s life and work, but of how biographies get made and unmade as new evidence comes to light, and different forms of interpretation are brought to bear on contested stories.
-- Carl Rollyson New Criterion
Frankel’s Wilde is human, real, and didactic. The focus on Wilde the prisoner and lover humanizes him… Frankel is an extraordinary textual scholar who gave us the best recent edition of Dorian Gray… Throughout The Unrepentant Years, he cites Wilde’s published letters, draws from global archives, and invokes intertextual references across a matrix of virtually everyone in his post-prison life. Yet this is no dry academic exercise. Frankel weaves the information into a story about a man who remains a hero. Copious notes are useful for readers who want more, but the text is thoroughly accessible… In reclaiming the final years, Frankel has recovered the man and redefined his legacy.
-- Frederick S. Roden Gay and Lesbian Review
Takes the story of Wilde’s demise and turns it on its head…[An] excellent book…If Frankel is right [Wilde] was even more extraordinary than we previously imagined…Frankel’s achievement is in challenging us to rethink a legend we thought we knew so well.
-- Alex Dean Prospect
Frankel offers a scholarly and generally level-headed account of Wilde's civil and criminal trials, his imprisonment, his exile in northern France and Italy, and his final squalid end in Paris…The period Frankel particularly wants to unpack is Wilde's final three years of life following his release. In Richard Ellmann's acclaimed biography of Wilde this period is given rather short shrift, so Frankel’s book will remain the definitive reference on this era for a long time, particularly on where, when and with whom Wilde spent his final 36 months…[A] compelling book.
-- Adrian McKinty The Australian
Frankel has written of Wilde’s last years with an illuminating eye, exploring how his release from prison in 1897 and death in Paris in 1900 was the final act in a startling drama: this is the portrait of a man who, through hardship, finally became himself…Frankel is a gifted writer who has taken the facts of Wilde’s final years and transformed them into a compelling exploration of the figure’s heroism.
-- Thomas Filbin Arts Fuse
[Frankel] faithfully documents the mercurial nature of Wilde’s post-release emotions, from his conflicting attitude toward Constance; to his unconcerned and inevitable decision to reunite with Douglas. What comes through clearly is Wilde's unceasing determination to reach for the world he lost…even if much of it remains always only out of reach. If Frankel sought to demonstrate that the post-prison Wilde was not some sorely broken man, forever debilitated, and slouching toward a premature and lonely death, he has succeeded masterfully.
-- Matthew Snider PopMatters
This biography from Frankel reminds readers that Oscar Wilde was a serious man of ideas, as well as the witty author of The Importance of Being Earnest…Meticulously documented and consistently illuminating, Frankel’s book is also uncommonly accessible.
-- Publishers Weekly
This is the work of a profoundly knowledgeable scholar who has mined his sources carefully and sensitively in order to provide the most detailed insights yet into Wilde’s experiences in prison, the period he spent at Berneval-sur-Mer, when it seemed that he might revive his literary career, and the subsequent months that involved his reunion with Alfred Douglas, their eventual separation, and Wilde’s slow but sure decline.
-- Joseph Bristow, University of California, Los Angeles
Few people are as conversant as Nicholas Frankel with the archival and documentary records pertaining to Wilde’s life and career. A graceful writer with a fine eye for the telling detail, Frankel shows that in the final years of his life Wilde was neither the martyr nor the innocent victim he is usually portrayed as being. Instead, after his release from prison Wilde consciously shaped his life and work—just as he had always done—as a provocation and a rebuke to Victorian pieties and cruelties and hypocrisies.
-- Stephen Arata, University of Virginia
A welcome reassessment of Wilde’s later years. Oscar Wilde is a major critical biography, standing impressively at the intersection of social and intellectual history, publishing history, and literary studies.
-- Xavier Giudicelli, Université de Reims Champagne Ardenne
An excellent examination of the last five years of the author’s life.
-- David Weir Athenaeum Review
A finely crafted and riveting study of Wilde.
-- Rory Brennan Books Ireland
Frankel has produced one of the most nuanced, well-balanced biographical studies of Wilde since the ground-breaking but frustratingly imperfect biography by Ellmann. The Unrepentant Years should be required reading for everyone who wants to gain a fuller understanding of Wilde’s complex and fascinating life.
-- Stefano Evangelista English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920