Published - 15 November 2016
Hardbound: 15.6 x 23.4 cm., 296 pp.
15 black and white illustrations
ISBN 978 1 904301 24 3
£40.00 / $50.00
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Theodore Wratislaw: Fragments of a Life
by D. J. Sheppard
Theodore Wratislaw is one of the most biographically elusive figures of the ‘decadent’ 1890s. Though invariably named in accounts of the period, he remains a marginal figure, crowded out by more notorious contemporaries. When noticed, it is usually as an imposter who, whilst adopting the decadent – and, on occasion, homoerotic – pose in his poetry, lived the convention-bound life of a civil servant. The accusation of insincerity has stuck, and had a deleterious impact on the assessment of his work.
As the present volume reveals, however, the accusation is based on a mistaken view of his life. Contrary to John Betjeman’s assessment of the ‘buttoned up figure obviously longing to burst out of his narrow neatness,’ Wratislaw’s struggle was to maintain some semblance of bourgeois respectability rather than to escape it. Besides recurring mental illness, he experienced trials and tribulations in his private life on a scale to rival almost any of his peers included amongst Yeats’s ‘tragic generation.’
D.J. Sheppard’s biography – the first – is based on a wealth of new information, unique access to material in private collections, family documents, and Wratislaw’s unfinished memoir, Salad Days. It completely reassesses Wratislaw’s life, and will necessitate a similar reassessment of his poetic legacy.
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