How Oscar Wilde’s life imitates his art


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Wilde made his own life into a tragic, exquisite, grotesquely gorgeous work of art. That was his legacy to the 21st century. Nowadays Wilde’s queerness is being embraced with open arms. In 2017, he was among 50,000 gay men posthumously pardoned by the Ministry of Justice for sexual acts that are no longer illegal. Everywhere you turn these days, there seems to be another shrine to Oscar going up somewhere, whether it’s the Oscar Wilde Barand Oscar Wilde Temple in New York, or the Irish hotels set to open in London and Edinburgh. Wilde’s works, once considered to have a corrupting influence, are now taught in schools around the globe. He has become gay history’s Christ figure. The relics of his martyrdom have become attractions, sites of pilgrimage.

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Michele Mendelssohn — OUPblog

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Wedding Woes and Mutual Hatred


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In The Wedding, West offers a more nuanced and succinct take on the same themes. In the late summer 1953, the prosperous Coles family is gathered on the Vineyard for the nuptials of their lovely scion Shelby Coles to a white jazz musician. The impending wedding brings to a head the foundational illusion of their lives: that skin color is “a direct barometer of virtue,” as Shelby’s sister, Liz, sarcastically puts it. West tracks the idea’s evolution and its fallout by telling the stories of the family’s ancestors, black and white, from back when “cars hadn’t yet been invented, cocktails hadn’t yet been invented, and the idea of colored people taking vacations had not yet been invented either.” In a more recent flashback, a young Shelby gets lost, and the islanders are on the lookout for a “little colored girl.” But blonde Shelby isn’t recognizable as such, and when she tells her name to a white mother, the woman is at first confused and then reluctant to ask if she’s “colored.” “I couldn’t do anything as awful,” the woman says to her friends. “Supposing she isn’t? It might leave a scar.”

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Emma Garman — The Paris Review

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The second-worst poet in English


Intriguing.

He was the second-worst poet in the English language, not far behind William McGonagall. Born in 1862, he seems to have commenced author, as the saying goes, in his middle fifties, thereafter suffering, or perhaps enjoying, severe graphomania, the compulsion never to leave off writing. Until then he had led a wandering life, abandoning his native London for Australia as a teenager, studying for the church at Sydney University, and working variously as a minister, gold miner, and sheep farmer in many far-flung places. But he settled eventually in Bournemouth and evidently decided that Bournemouth was best.

The boarding houses met with in this splendid seaside town

Are mainly very excellent, deserving their renown.

The residents form usually congenial society,

Although among so many you meet types in great variety.

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Anthony Daniels — The New Criterion

The Shattering Double Vision of V. S. Naipaul


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One of the great writers I truly admired. R.I.P.

Nominally, Naipaul is writing about Anand Biswas. Actually, he is writing about himself—Vidia in Oxford (“in a library grown suddenly dark”), and then in London (“in securer times of different stresses”). He is writing about the young man in South London, for whom memories of Trinidad are both painful and joyful, and about how the writing of his epic is at once the baring and the healing of a wound (“when the memories had lost the power to hurt”). How coolly and classically Naipaul refers to his own great achievement: “they would fall into place and give back the rest.” Now he is gone, but his book continues to give back the rest to us, again and again.

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James Wood – The New Yorker

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No, you probably don’t have a book in you


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From the horse’s mouth – reality check for wannabe writers.

Remember writing papers in school? Remember trying to eke out 1,000 words or three pages or whatever seemingly arbitrary number a teacher set? Remember making the font bigger and the margins wider? You can’t do that to a book. I ‘m often sent stories that are way too long or too short for the publishing industry, and that makes them bad candidates for books. The average novel, for adults or children, is at least 50,000 words. That’s 50 three-page papers. Shorter books are not cheaper for the publisher to make, for many reasons too boring to get into here, and no, it’s not just cheaper to do ebooks, either. (No, really, it’s not.) If you’re an epic writer and think breaking up your 500,000-word fantasy series into five books is the key, you’re wrong there, too. A publisher doesn’t really want book two until they see how book number one is selling. And if your story doesn’t wrap up until book five, then you’re going to have nothing but disappointed readers. Writing — just getting the words on the page — is hard, period. Writing artfully so that someone enjoys what you’re writing is even harder.

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Kate McKean — The Outline

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The Handmaid’s Tale


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I just finished the book. Sharing a 1986 review of the book.

The author has carefully drawn her projections from current trends. As she has said elsewhere, there is nothing here that has not been anticipated in the United States of America that we already know. Perhaps that is the trouble: the projections are too neatly penciled in. The details, including a Wall (as in Berlin, but also, as in the Middle Ages, a place where executed malefactors are displayed), all raise their hands announcing themselves present. At the same time, the Republic of Gilead itself, whatever in it that is not a projection, is insufficiently imagined. The Aunts are a good invention, though I cannot picture them as belonging to any future; unlike Big Brother, they are more part of the past – our schoolteachers.

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Mary McCarthy — The New York Times

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How Original Was Shakespeare?


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If Franssen is concerned with the variegated history of Shakespeare after his death, Shakespeare’s Originality attempts to untangle the knotty roots of the playwright’s contemporary sources, inspirations and even plagiarisms. ‘Most people interested in Shakespeare’, John Kerrigan observes, ‘have wondered about his originality. Is it true that his plays were adapted from other authors’ plays, poems, and romances? Are his best-known speeches really lifted out of Montaigne and Plutarch?’ More consequentially for our understanding of Shakespeare, Kerrigan asks: ‘Does it matter, any more than it does when a classic movie is based on a novel?’

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Patrick J. Murray — History Today

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