Secret sauce keeps you reading every line – but what is it?
Constance, wife of Wilde, keeps even keel amid ruin
Beguiled by infamous passions, Wilde lost his first loveBeautifully written, beautifully paced, the new biography of Oscar Wilde’s wife Constance is as easy to read as a ride in a Cadillac 1958 from Toronto to New York. A Cadillac 58 was the last of the high Cadillacs, the next models started the fashion for low slung cars like futons with as many tail lights as a tarantula has eyes. It could cover 500 miles as easily as a giant walks over hills with 500 foot strides.
That’s the kind of idiotic sentence which doesn’t appear in this wonderful biography, which tells the story of a woman who enjoyed a love marriage with a literary celebrity who then turned into a monster of ill repute and forced her to manage the consequences for her children by fleeing to the Continent and changing her name to Holland, though she never totally abandoned Oscar, whom she supported till the end.This is a social saga of a past age as lived through by a woman of some distinction in her own right, and would normally seem a little distant from our own lives and times to be of great interest, but this telling is interesting from the first page to the last. The sustained interest it has, a beautifully paced interest which depends neither on metaphor nor sensation, carries one through three hundred and twenty five pages with the last as fresh as the first.
How does Franny Moyle do it? We think it is because her account carries with it every step of the way the magic wand of why – every fact is accounted for with a reference to why it happened, mostly just incorporated in the construction of the same sentence. Things don’t just parade before our eyes, one thing after another in time. They are explained.What an enormous difference such a well reasoned book makes. It doesn’t short change the impulses and passions which lead people astray or make them climb mountains, but it doesn’t ignore them either. Thus every action and every attitude is imbued with the motivations of the human heart, and one can identify with Constance at every turn.
But Franny could explain it much better. Meanwhile, this is not to say that there are n’t gaps in her account, little inconsistencies which need explaining, and some contradictions. But where we are discussing her style, and why it is so fluently readable and satisfying.
Herewith some examples: