“Oscar Wilde: The Unrepentant Years” by Nicholas Frankel— Wilde’s Final Years

Frankel, Nicholas. “Oscar Wilde: The Unrepentant Years”, Harvard University Press, 2017.

Wilde’s Final Years

Amos Lassen

In “Oscar Wilde: The Unrepentant Years”, writer Nicholas Frankel challenges the traditional view of Wilde as a broken, tragic figure, a martyr to Victorian sexual morality, and shows instead that he pursued his post-prison life with passion, enjoying new liberties while trying to resurrect his literary career. This is in conflict with the account that Wilde’s final years were spent in poverty and exile on the European continent following his release from an English prison for the crime of “gross indecency” between men.

Frankel shows that Wilde left prison in 1897 after two bitter years of solitary confinement determined to rebuild his life in a similar way to the life he had followed before his conviction. He was unapologetic and even defiant about the crime for which he had been convicted. In Europe’s more tolerant atmosphere, he could begin to live openly and without hypocrisy.

Frankel also challenges earlier misunderstandings of Wilde’s relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas who was the great love of his life and with whom he hoped to live permanently in Naples, following their secret and ill-fated elopement there. He shows how and why the two men were forced apart, as well as Wilde’s subsequent relations with a series of young men. The book pays close attention to Wilde’s final two important works, “De Profundis” and “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”, while, at the same time, details his nearly three-year residence in Paris. Despite repeated setbacks and open hostility, it was there that Wilde attempted to rebuild himself as both a man and a man of letters.

We are reminded that Oscar Wilde was a serious man of ideas, as well as a clever and witty author. Frankel has done deep research and gives us  detailed insights yet into Wilde’s experiences in prison, the time spent at Berneval-sur-Mer, when it seemed that he might revive his literary career, and the subsequent months when he reunited with Alfred Douglas, their eventual separation, and Wilde’s slow decline.

This is a major critical biography written from the perspective of social and intellectual history. After his release from prison Wilde consciously shaped his life and work “as a provocation and a rebuke to Victorian pieties and cruelties and hypocrisies.” Below is the book’s Table of Contents:


  • Part One: The Prison Years, 1895–1897
    • Fettered and Chained
    • From the Depths
  • Part Two: Oscar Wilde in Exile, 1897–1900
    • Release
    • The Pursuit of Love
    • The Ballad of Reading Gaol
    • The Seduction of Paris
    • A Confraternity of the Damned
    • The Solace of Spectatorship
    • Decline and Death
  • Epilogue
  • Notes
  • Illustration Credits
  • Acknowledgments



Leave a Reply