Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance

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Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance

by Gyles Brandreth

Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2008, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2008, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Vy Armour

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Although married and the father of two children, Wilde's intimate association with Alfred Douglas led to his trial on charges of homosexuality (illegal in Britain in 1895). Wilde was sentenced to two years hard labor for the crime of sodomy. In spite of his fame as a successful playwright including The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) and A Woman of No Importance (1893) he died penniless in 1900 in a cheap hotel in Paris at the age of 46. More about Wilde at the official website owned by CMG Worldwide, who appear to have a thriving business protecting the intellectual property rights of dead celebrities!

In The Death of No Importance, Oscar Wilde makes reference to Dr. Thomas Holmes, often referred to as the father of modern embalming. A medical student in the 1840's, Holmes developed a solution which was manufactured commercially, selling for $3.00 per gallon. During the Civil War, Dr. Holmes claimed to have embalmed 4028 Union soldiers and officers so that the remains could be shipped back to their families. Today, in the United States alone, enough embalming fluid is buried every year to fill eight Olympic-size swimming pools.

Wilde's involvement in the brutal murder of Billy Woods served as the inspiration for his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray which, when first published in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine in 1890, was considered immoral. The Victorians believed that art should be a tool for social education and moral enlightenment, as illustrated by writers such as Charles Dickens. The aestheticism movement, of which Wilde was a major proponent, sought to free art from this responsibility.

The Oscar Wilde mysteries are narrated by a fictional Robert Sherard. According to Wilde's youngest son in Oscar Wilde and His World (1960), "When Sherard and Oscar first met, they felt they had nothing in common and disliked each other intently, but they became life-long friends." Sherard, who was the great grandson of poet laureate William Wordsworth, wrote the first three biographical studies of Wilde after his death.

Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance was first published in the UK in May 2007 as Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders. The next book in a planned series of nine, Oscar Wilde and the Ring of Death, will be published in the UK in May 2008. It takes place in 1892 and introduces the reader to Bram Stoker, the creator of Dracula. It involves passion and politics in the worlds of theaterr, circus, and the boxing ring. An excerpt can be read at the series' website. US publication is not yet scheduled but when it is published it will be titled Oscar Wilde and a Game Called Murder.

Brandreth plans nine books in the series which will cut back and forth across Oscar Wilde's remarkable career -- from the first murder he encounters as a brilliant young Oxford undergraduate in the 1870s to the time, shortly before his death in 1900, age only forty-six, when, to secure food and drink, he solves crimes for money using the name Sebastian Melmoth.

Article by Vy Armour

This article is from the January 10, 2008 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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