Oscar Wilde

An Exquisite Life
Stephen Calloway and David Colvin
ISBN 9781566490740 (paperback)
Published in August 1999
MSRP $19.95
Oscar Wilde was without question the central literary figure of the fin de siecle, and, in his own words, 'a man who stood in symbolic relation to his times.'. Celebrated first as a poet and writer of brilliant essays and charming fables, he was also a perceptive critic and an incisive moral and political thinker. Today, however, his fame rests mainly on his novel of artistic decadence, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the ever-popular play, The Importance of Being Earnest. From his first notoriety in the 1880s when he carried the message of the aesthetic movement of America, and through to the height of his fame as a wit and raconteur in the dizzy social whirl of London in the early 1890s, he had the world at his feet. But then it all went tragically wrong: following his love-affair with 'Bosie', the young and aristocratic Lord Alfred Douglas, Wilde was persecuted by Douglas's father, the Marquess of Queensberry, was put on trial for homosexual offenses, and sentenced to two years imprisonment in Reading Gaol. He spent the last, tragic years of his life in France, supported by a handful of loyal friends, but shunned by those who had courted him in the days of his glory. This is Oscar Wilde's story, written by Stephen Calloway and David Colvin, two of his greatest admirers, with a dazzling collection of photographs of his life and contemporaries.

Stephen Calloway is a curator of painting at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. He is an expert on nineteenth-century art, and has made a particular study of the decadent and dandy culture of the fin de siecle. He staged V&A's exhibition on the 1890's, High Art and Low Life in 1993, and curated the Aubrey Beardsley centenary show in Tokyo and London in 1998. He writes on the history of taste and lectures widely in England and America. Most recently in his role as a consultant on period style and manners, he worked with Nicole Kidman and John Malkovich on Jane Campion's film of Henry James' novel The Portrait of a Lady.

Calloway's collaborator David Colvin has at various times worked as an actor, a tailor and an art historian, all roles conducive to the expression of different aspects of his particular sense of style. He has a special interest in the history of clandestine publishing, an enthusiasm which has led him to master the art of typography in order to design and print the limited editions of arcane texts which he issues from his Cypher Press.