Cover image for Robbie Ross : Oscar Wilde's devoted friend
Robbie Ross : Oscar Wilde's devoted friend
Fryer, Jonathan.
Personal Author:
First Carroll and Graf edition.
Publication Information:
New York, NY : Carroll & Graf, 2000.
Physical Description:
ix, 278 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
General Note:
Originally published: London : Constable, 2000.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PR5236.R835 Z63 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



In a compelling narrative of moral courage and personal integrity, this biography tells the story of Robert Baldwin Ross, the man who first seduced Oscar Wilde and never wavered in his loyalty to the flamboyant wit and playwright. Unfailingly, Ross stood by Wilde through the scandals that shocked a nation, through his much-publicized trials and imprisonment, at his deathbed in Paris-and thereafter dedicated himself to defending the reputation of his famous friend.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Sometime in 1886--precisely when, where, and under what circumstances remain unknown--Oscar Wilde was seduced by a puckish 17-year-old Canadian, Robert Baldwin Ross, who in 1887 became a paying guest in Wilde's home as he crammed for entrance to Oxford. The die had been cast for host and, years earlier, for guest alike, though each soon moved on to other liaisons. After one near disaster, Ross, youngest son of a prominent attorney, was discreet about his affairs. Wilde, however, wasn't, and his eventual trial and imprisonment for indecency made him one of the most reviled public figures of the nineteenth century. Ross stood by him, became his literary executor, endured years of harassment from Wilde's demented aristocratic lover Lord Alfred Douglas, commissioned rising sculptor Jacob Epstein to make Wilde's memorial stone, and finally, many years after his own death, was interred in that memorial. That that was entirely fitting Fryer's wonderfully readable biography affirms, by detailing not only how Ross helped Wilde but also all Ross did for Constance, Wilde's wife, and for Cyril and Vyvyan, Wilde's sons. Eminently generous and compassionate, he helped many others, too, and was one of the most highly prized dinner guests and beloved friends in London. A chain smoker plagued by ill health, he died at 49 in 1918. Direct those who think that the life of a genuinely good man has to be boring to this unputdownable volume. --Ray Olson

Publisher's Weekly Review

Fryer (Andr‚ and Oscar: Gide, Wilde and the Gay Art of Living) looks at a minor figure in literary history, Robbie Ross, the object of Oscar Wilde's first homosexual liaison. Wilde's sexual relationship with Ross (1869-1918) began when the latter was a 17-year-old student and Wilde was a 33-year-old married man. Their friendship deepened when Ross moved in with Wilde and his wife, Constance (with whom Wilde was deeply in love and to whom he was still sexually attracted), while Ross was cramming to get into Cambridge. The author also documents the many affairs the two men went on to have both with male members of London's literary circles as well as with lower class "rent boys." Although this biography is ostensibly about Ross, equal or more space is devoted to Wilde's highly successful literary career, as the subtitle suggests, covering such high points as the publication of his then highly sensational novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, as well as his ill-fated compulsive love for "Bosie" Davis. Bosie's father, who despised Wilde, was instrumental in having him tried for sodomy. Throughout Wilde's trial, prison term and release, Ross, who maintained a career as a minor writer and art critic, remained a loyal friend and frequently assisted the somewhat irresponsible Wilde financially. Ross was with Wilde when he died several years later; afterward he became Wilde's literary executor and befriended Wilde's sons. He was frequently subjected to vicious attacks from Bosie, who married and repudiated his former life. Written in a style that is fresh and exuberant but not sensational, Fryer's biography is particularly interesting for its in-depth look at London's late Victorian gay society. Photos not seen by PW. (Jan.) Forecast: 2000 marked the centenary of Wilde's death, and if this is packaged with other recent books on Wilde it might get some sales, but Ross is a minor figure and not likely to attract much attention. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

As yet another commemoration of the centennial of Oscar Wilde's death, journalist, broadcaster, and biographer Fryer (Andre and Oscar: The Literary Friendship of Andr Gide and Oscar Wilde) has written a biography of Ross (1869-1918), the writer, critic, and art dealer who as a young man introduced Wilde to homosexual love and later served as his literary executor. Descended from a prominent Canadian family, Ross was raised in England, where he lodged with the Wildes while preparing to study at Cambridge. His friendship with Wilde endured through Wilde's trial and imprisonment resulting from his homosexual relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas. Present at Wilde's deathbed, Ross successfully revived Wilde's works so that the royalties could pay off his many debts. As much about Wilde as Ross, the book reveals the changing attitudes and mores of late 19th- and early 20th-century England and includes a cast of figures well known in the arts, such as Sassoon, Graves, Beardsley, Gide, Shaw, and Whistler. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries.DDenise J. Stankovics, Rockville P.L., Vernon, CT (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Ross had a close relationship with Wilde for some 30 years. In addition to being "Wilde's devoted friend," Ross served as his literary executor, and as such he attempted to rehabilitate Wilde's reputation consequent to the writer's trials, disgrace, and imprisonment, and he prepared the 14-volume Collected Works of Oscar Wilde published in 1908. In the same year, Lord Alfred Douglas's hatred for Ross erupted, the former declaring that Ross had usurped his place in Wilde's life (Douglas labeled Ross "the foulest and most filthy beast drawing the breath of life" and engaged him in flagitious court battles). To defend Ross, Fryer relied heavily on Robert Ross, Friend of Friends: Letters to Robert Ross . . . , ed. by Margery Ross (1952), and Maureen Borland's Wilde's Devoted Friend: A Life of Robert Ross, 1869-1918 (CH, Mar'91). The retelling of Ross's story makes for interesting reading, but Fryer's work is more that of a journalist-popularizer than a serious scholar. Psychological theorizing, a paucity of notes, and a limited bibliography do little to bolster Fryer's predetermined views. For general readers and extensive academic collections supporting work on Wilde and his contemporaries. G. A. Cevasco St. John's University (NY)