Jane Stabler, Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, Volume 55, Number 4, Autumn 2015
For Wilde, “History is merely gossip, but scandal is gossip made tedious by morality” (Lady Windemere’s Fan, Act III). Anything but tedious, the prehistory of Wilde’s personal scandal is narrated in Antony Edmonds’s Oscar Wilde’s Scandalous Summer: The 1894 Worthing Holiday and the Aftermath. Usually passed over in a few sentences, this period of Wilde’s career is brought to life with breezy immediacy as Edmonds draws Wilde’s last careless season in the provincial English world of regattas, fetes, and house parties. Most poignantly drawn is the character of Constance Wilde, deformed in Wilde’s eyes, “‘with all the vile cicatrices of maternity’” (p. 12), deeply in love with another man who did not have to try to be kind to her, but prevented by sheer goodness from doing anything about it. The book is a carefully researched account of the context in which Wilde composed The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), but it shares the thrill of an English murder mystery in which placid surfaces are about to be shattered. Edmonds provides the local newspaper reports about Wilde’s local celebrity appearances before wryly observing that the sensational trial of the next year was simply never mentioned.