ABSTRACT

Wilde was a superb and prolific correspondent. There are two major collections of his letters, The Letters o f Oscar Wilde (1962) and More Letters o f Oscar Wilde (1985), both edited by Rupert Hart-Davis. They provide a major source of biographical information, valuable for the insights they give into Wilde’s complex construction of his persona for his friends and the press and for more factual details about the business side of his activity. Writing to friends, his warmth, wit and intellectual play with ideas radiate delight in conversational companionship and engagement with the cultural topics of the day. Writing to the press in self-defence, acid contempt shimmers beneath the veneer of perfectly controlled politeness and rigorously logical argument. Unfortunately most of the letters he wrote to his wife, Constance, during the early years of their marriage were destroyed by her or by her family in the aftermath of Wilde’s imprisonment and their divorce. But many of the intimate letters Wilde wrote to Lord Alfred Douglas during the last eight years of his life, from 1892 to 1900, have survived. With malicious irresponsibility Douglas had allowed some of these letters to stray into the hands of blackmailers, putting Wilde at risk and providing evidence for the Crown prosecu­ tion against Wilde when they were produced in court during April and May 1895. These documents, which Wilde himself wished at one time to retrieve and destroy, reveal the passion, exhilaration and play­ fulness of their relationship, as well as the torment of cruelty and betrayal Wilde experienced at the hands of Douglas.