Walk on the Wilde Side

plays-of-oscar-wildeAn evening with Oscar Wilde might be just the thing for your next book group. I’ve just finished Lady Windermere’s Fan, and while I’m not sure the plot has aged well, or that this was ever Wilde’s best work, it was still an entertaining read. Here are the ingredients I would assemble if to ensure that my book group’s Wilde Night was a roaring success.

1. START WITH THE MAN

While his writing holds up, Wilde the man was always the main attraction. His rise to popularity, his flamboyant behavior, his lecture tour of America, his ongoing battle with Victorian values, and his trial and decline are all fascinating subjects. Make sure that someone is assigned to report on his life, or better yet, divide aspects of it up among your readers. Make biographies of his life an option for your group’s nonfiction fans. Richard Ellmann’s Oscar Wilde and Neil McKenna’s The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde make good starting points.

2. “QUOTATION IS A SERVICEABLE SUBSTITUTE FOR WIT”

In Wilde’s case, it was more than just serviceable. In even his weakest writing, Wilde is always fun because he was so quotable. Encourage each of your readers to select their three favorite Wilde quotes and share them at the meeting. Books of his quotes are available, but you might also start online with sites such as this. His complete letters are another fascinating font of quotable quotes.

3. BRING SOME PICTURES

Wilde and his friends were quite the dandies. Look in books or online and bring plenty of pictures for passing around.

4. THE PLAYS THE THING

Much of Wilde’s best work was done as a playwright. Ask the most theater-literate of your readers to select a scene or two from the plays and assign roles for reading aloud. Or find films of some of the professional productions and sample from those.

5. IT’S A WILDE WORLD

Wilde dabbled in all kinds of writing and continues to impact pop culture in surprising ways. See how many your group can collect. Try one of his fairy tales. Find him as a detective in mysteries by Gyles Brandreth. Explore the use of one of his characters in the graphic novels about The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Try Wilde, the 1997 film in which Stephen Fry took the lead role and a host of other British film stars appeared.

There’s no shortage of material and all of his work is accessible and relatively brief. So revisit Oscar soon. I guarantee a Wilde time.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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