I was really eager to read the story of a woman whose accomplishments and failures were totally overshadowed by those of her husband. While that was not necessarily unusual for women of the period, it seems a bit strange that we should do so for Constance Wilde if only because of the scrutiny her husband has received over the years. And it’s really too bad because Constance was an interesting writer and activist in her own right.
While I really enjoyed reading about Constance, I wasn’t really enamored with this particular book. I think that Franny Moyle has an excellent eye for research, but I wish she had condensed her quotes. Some of the long passages from various letters are really interesting, but most of them could easily have been summarized to a similar effect or at least shortened. I also felt that Moyle was really quick to label certain incidents as “the biggest mistake s/he would make,” as if they should have definitely known better. Sometimes, of course, that’s true, but I felt she was a little judgmental of Oscar and Constance, or that she wished they had done things differently. Both of these might be true, but I don’t feel like a biography is about those opinions. I think with better editing, this book could have been more moving–because their lives really are sad and tragic. I didn’t really connect with this book, though I’m still glad I read it in order to have a better understanding of Constance, who I’d never spared much thought for before this. If you’re a Wilde fanatic, you’ll probably like this book, but if you’re just in search of an interesting piece of nonfiction reading with a slightly feminist bent, I’d recommend Jill Lepore’s history of Wonder Woman instead.
Has there been a book lately that’s slightly disappointed you?