In a letter to Robert Lowell of November 29, 1967, Dwight Macdonald wrote, “Oscar was almost always right (except in his erotic tastes and habits) about all the big issues of his time—social, moral, aesthetic.” During the past century, Oscar Wilde has mutated from being regarded by serious people as an author of no importance to one who made them realize the importance of being (and reading) Oscar. Thus did a presumed lightweight become one of the most widely translated Anglophone writers in the world. But how well is Wilde recognized in today’s America, where, to be sure, he has enjoyed immortalization via the T-shirt? Many people have only a spotty awareness of him, often depending on the dubious authority of recent plays and movies.

To acquire the foundation of a more extensive knowledge of Wilde, there is no quicker and pleasanter way than taking in the current exhibition at the...


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