Wilde Crimes: Biographilia, the Art of Murder and Decadent (Homo)Sexuality in Gyles Brandreth's Oscar Wilde-Series

Gruß S (2015)

Publication Language: English

Publication Type: Journal article, Original article

Publication year: 2015


Publisher: Edinburgh University Press

Book Volume: 5

Pages Range: 165-182

Journal Issue: 2


Oscar Wilde, the key figure of fin de siècle-decadence, seems to be an obvious choice for neo-Victorian adaptations of the yellow nineties. As an author who has been annexed by almost every critical 'fashion' in recent decades (queer Wilde, Wilde as post-colonial Irishman or postmodernist avant la lettre), the witty aphorist has already demonstrated his potential as easy fodder for adaptations and appropriations that cater to the tastes of the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries. Gyles Brandreth’s Oscar Wilde-novels (2007–) appropriate Wilde for a neo-Victorian crime series in which the sharp-witted aestheticist becomes a detective à la Sherlock Holmes, including a Watsonesque sidekick who figures as narrator and several eminent and much-loved Victorians such as Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, Sarah Bernhardt or James McNeill Whistler. The art of adapting Wilde (both the biography and the works) and English decadent culture for neo-Victorian readers works on several levels. Brandreth’s novels can, of course, be read as traditional crime mysteries: while readers follow Wilde as detective, they are also prompted to decipher the ‘truth’ of biographic and cultural/historical detail (and, Brandreth claims, "anything that you think is real almost certainly is real, even the truly strange bits", 2009, 430). That readers act as textual detectives in neo-Victorian fiction, tracing "the canonical threads within the narrative" (Heilmann/Llewellyn 2010, 22), has by now been well established, and Brandreth explicitly invites his readers to test their knowledge of Victorian literature and English decadence by creating parallels between Wilde and Sherlock Holmes/C. Auguste Dupin, and the solving of crimes runs on a parallel trajectory to the composition of The Picture of Dorian GrayThe Importance of Being Earnest and Wilde’s essays and fairy tales. Additionally, Brandreth writes himself into the Victorian canon by claiming a biographical connection to Wilde. At the same time, the mysteries also work as Wildean biographilia. With reference to several neo-Victorian novels, Cora Kaplan argues that "[t]he figure of Oscar Wilde provides [...] a limit case, and not an admirable one, for the expression of transgressive sexuality, and authorial publicity" (2007, 70). Brandreth's novels revolve around Wilde's scandalous (homo)sexuality: Oscar generously endows young men with inscribed silver cigarette cases, the first murder victim is a young male prostitute – a 'pupil' of Oscar's, he visits Reading Gaol, and, foreshadowing the trials, the Marquess of Queensberry figures prominently in the second novel. However, the novels remain curiously cautious when it comes to the depiction of Wilde as homosexual: all novels depict Wilde's marriage, Constance's virtues and Oscar's love for his children, and the real 'Somdomites' are the murderers he pursues – such as the homosexual, necrophiliac policeman in Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders (2007), who turns the corpse of his lover into a macabre work of art, or the clergyman in Oscar Wilde and the Ring of Death (2008), who combines a predilection for pornography with trafficking in child prostitution. These crimes serve as a means to sidetrack questions about the less comfortable and transgressive aspects of Wilde's sexuality and help to reduce him to a thoroughly amusing décadent suitable for a general reading public. Brandreth's novels can therefore be read as a decidedly conservative adaptation of Wilde (and decadent culture) for the neo-Victorian market.

Authors with CRIS profile

Additional Organisation(s)

How to cite


Gruß, S. (2015). Wilde Crimes: Biographilia, the Art of Murder and Decadent (Homo)Sexuality in Gyles Brandreth's Oscar Wilde-Series. Victoriographies, 5(2), 165-182.


Gruß, Susanne. "Wilde Crimes: Biographilia, the Art of Murder and Decadent (Homo)Sexuality in Gyles Brandreth's Oscar Wilde-Series." Victoriographies 5.2 (2015): 165-182.

BibTeX: Download