Written by

Suzie Eisfelder
April 2, 2018
The Life of Oscar Wilde by Hesketh Pearson

I’d apologise for the lack of title and author in the photo but this is often how they printed books back in 1946, they’d include a dustjacket with more details. This is all I have, I think it’s really lovely and the flower is actually mentioned inside the book. This is one of those books I picked up because it looked interesting, I mean, who doesn’t want to know about the life of Oscar Wilde? Having read the book it turns out that I really wasn’t as interested as I thought I was.

I’m digressing with a bit about the author of this book. Hesketh Pearson was only a young teenager when Wilde died so doing research for this book by interviewing Wilde was rather challenging. Pearson’s first job within the acting world was with Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree. By the time of this job in 1911 Tree was already an institution within the acting world and as we see within the pages of this book he worked extensively with Wilde.

Having dissed the life the book is written about I’m now going to tell you why you might want to read the book. It’s well researched. Pearson spent a lot of time reading Wilde’s writings and then time talking to and writing down quotes by people who knew Wilde well. This shows in the book.

Pearson has spent a good deal of time reconstructing Wilde’s life and putting it together in an orderly fashion. The book takes us through many key events and key people in his life. He’s included many quotes by Wilde. Far too many of them are quoted by people who don’t even know they’re quoting Wilde, people who were born years after Wilde died and wouldn’t have read much of his works. Wilde seems to be entrenched within our lives even without our knowing it.

Why am I wishing I’d not read this book?

It turns out I don’t actually like Oscar Wilde. I tend to finish biographies liking or at least having some respect for the object of the book. In this case I find I have little liking for Wilde and little respect for him. I have respect for his writing talent but that’s about it. He was a sponge, he happily lived off other people and did as little work as he could get away with. Admittedly when he had money he spent it on other people but I feel he would have been reasonably happy just living off other people. He was very entertaining, many people inviting him to their ‘at homes’ due to him being so entertaining.

I don’t like people like this. I know some of them and they live just for other people’s appreciation. When I can I cut them out of my life as I find them very hard to be with as they don’t allow other people to have a thought. Hence why I wish I’d not read this book. I would have preferred to live in ignorance, still thinking I might want to have met Oscar Wilde.


I do have great sympathy for him in some areas. He lived in the wrong time for his sexual proclivities. He lived in a time when homosexuality was considered not only a sin but also something that could be prosecuted. He messed with the wrong man and ended up in prison for being gay. I do feel this is totally wrong as being gay should never have been a crime.

It seems that the Hesketh Pearson books are in the process of being republished. While this book isn’t available as yet there are a few of his titles which are available for sale on Booktopia. This includes a book about Arthur Conan Doyle. Pearson seems to have written about some very interesting people. So you can see which books are currently available here’s a link.

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