By Paul O’Neill
OSCAR WILDE: A LIFE IN SIX ACTS, at The Morgan Library, Madison Avenue (between 36th and 37th Streets, NYC. Through Jan. 13, 2002.
“To love oneself is the beginning of a great romance” is only one of the many famous quips from one of Ireland’s great literary figures, Oscar Wilde, whose venerable and tragic life is captured at the Morgan Library in Manhattan.
From the colored picture of Wilde at the age of 2 right up to the revised page proofs of “The Ballad of Reading Goal,” Wilde’s last literary work, all the preciously preserved items on display are original and telling. From his silver-spoon upbringing in Dublin to his slow death in a dank room at the Hotel d’Alsace in Paris, “Life held a silver goblet to my lips and I drank it to the dregs,” Wilde said.
What many do not realize about Wilde is that he was not just a playwright, poet, novelist, and essayist, but also a writer of children’s books and ghost stories, and a journalist and magazine editor. A detailed pencil portrait of an early love, the 17-year-old actress Florence Balcombe (the future wife of Bram Stoker), signed Oscar F. Wilde, opens an unfamiliar door to the young poet’s attempts to discover his true path.
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