“There is no such thing as a moral
or an immoral book. Books are well
written, or badly written. That is all.”
—Oscar Wilde, from the Preface to
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Oscar Wilde wrote several first-rate plays, on which his literary reputation principally rests, and a number of mostly second-rate poems. He is also lauded, quite rightly, for his short stories, mainly for children, of which “The Selfish Giant” and “The Canterville Ghost” warrant special mention. He wrote only one novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, which is one of the finest written during a literary golden era that Chesterton celebrated in his Victorian Age in Literature. However, Wilde is not remembered by most people for his literary oeuvre but for the scandal surrounding his private life. Having deserted his wife and two young sons in pursuit of sodomy, he was sent to prison in 1895. Demonized by his contemporaries for the moral iconoclasm of his sexual choices, he is now lionized by many as a “martyr” for the cause of (homo)sexual “liberation.” The risibly inappropriate nature of the latter judgment is made manifest by Wilde’s description of his own homosexuality as a “pathology,” a...