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Oscar Wilde
1854 - 1900

The British author Oscar Fingall O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (1854-1900) was part of the "art for art's sake" movement in English literature at the end of the 19th century. He is best known for his brilliant, witty comedies.



Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born October 16, 1854 in Dublin, Ireland. Both of his parents were writers, and from an early age, Wilde was exposed to brilliant literary thinkers. Wilde's mother composed revolutionary Irish poetry and published under the name Speranza. Wilde's father, Sir William Wilde, published more than a dozen books on archaeology and Irish folklore, in addition to his career as an eminent ear and eye surgeon.

Wilde showed literary promise as a child. As a result, he was enrolled at Portora Royal School in Enniskillen at the age of 10. He then received scholarships to Trinity College (1871-1874), where he won the Berkeley Gold Medal for Greek; and Magdalen College, Oxford (1974-1878), where he was awarded the Newdigate Prize for his poem Ravenna.

While attending Oxford, Wilde was deeply influenced by the aesthetic writings of John Ruskin and Walter Pater, which stressed the importance of art in life. As an aesthete, Wilde decorated his rooms at Oxford with objets d'art, such as china and peacock feathers. In addition, he wore long hair, a velvet jacket, and knee breeches. Wilde became well-known in social circles because of his wit and flair. He was satirized in Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera Patience (1881) and the periodical Punch.

Wilde published his first book entitled Poems in 1881. The next year, he embarked on a successful lecture tour in the United States. While in the United States, Wilde saw the first play he had written, Vera, or the Nihilists (1882), performed in New York City. Wilde returned to Great Britain in 1883 and settled in London. In 1884, he married a wealthy Irish woman named Constance Lloyd. They had two sons, Cyril and Vyvyan, after which Wilde devoted all of his time to writing.

For two years, Wilde edited Woman's World and worked as a reviewer for the Pall Mall Gazette. In addition, he published a book of fairy tales entitled The Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888). Wilde's most successful and prolific period began in the 1890s. His only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray was published in 1891. Some considered the book immoral, but others called it brilliant. In 1892, Wilde published two additional books of fairy tales entitled Lord Arthur Savile's Crime, and Other Stories and A House of Pomegranates.

During the 1890s, Wilde also became known as one of London's most prominent playwrights for his society comedies. His first success was Lady Windermere's Fan (1892), followed by A Woman of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband (1895). and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). Another play, Salom̀ (1893) was banned in London but later translated and produced in Paris.

In 1895, at the height of his career, Wilde was accused by the Marquess of Queensberry of being a sodomite based on his relationship with the Marquess' son Lord Alfred Douglas. In turn, Wilde sued Queensberry for libel. Wilde lost his suit and was prosecuted by the government for indecent acts. He was found guilty and sentenced to two years at hard labor. During his incarceration, Wilde wrote an extensive letter to Douglas, which was later edited and published as De Profundis (1905). He also based The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898) on his experience in prison.

Wilde was released from prison in May, 1897. He was bankrupt, with few future prospects. He moved to Paris but was unable to revive his literary career. Wilde died suddenly on November 30, 1900 of an acute brain inflammation. A complete edition of his literary works and critical writings were published in 1908.


The British author Oscar Fingall O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (1854-1900) was part of the "art for art's sake" movement in English literature at the end of the 19th century. He is best known for his brilliant, witty comedies.

Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland, on Oct. 16, 1854. His father, Sir William Wilde, was a well-known surgeon; his mother, Jane Francisca Elgee Wilde, wrote popular poetry and prose under the pseudonym Speranza. For three years Wilde was educated in the classics at Trinity College, Dublin, where he began to attract public attention through the eccentricity of his writing and his style of life.

At the age of 23 Wilde entered Magdalen College, Oxford. In 1878 he was awarded the Newdigate Prize for his poem "Ravenna." He attracted a group of followers, and they initiated a personal cult, self-consciously effete and artificial. "The first duty in life," Wilde wrote in Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young (1894), "is to be as artificial as possible." After leaving Oxford he expanded his cult. His iconoclasm contradicted the Victorian era's easy pieties, but the contradiction was one of his purposes. Another of his aims was the glorification of youth.

Wilde published his well-received Poems in 1881. The next six years were active ones. He spent an entire year lecturing in the United States and then returned to lecture in England. He applied unsuccessfully for a position as a school inspector. In 1884 he married, and his wife bore him children in 1885 and in 1886. He began to publish extensively in the following year. His writing activity became as intense and as erratic as his life had been for the previous six years. From 1887 to 1889 Wilde edited the magazine Woman's World. His first popular success as a prose writer was The Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888). The House of Pomegranates (1892) was another collection of his fairy tales.

Wilde became a practicing homosexual in 1886. He believed that his subversion of the Victorian moral code was the impulse for his writing. He considered himself a criminal who challenged society by creating scandal. Before his conviction for homosexuality in 1895, the scandal was essentially private. Wilde believed in the criminal mentality. "Lord Arthur Savile's Crime," from Lord Arthur Savile'sCrime and Other Stories (1891), treated murder and its successful concealment comically. The original version of The Picture of Dorian Gray in Lippincott's Magazine emphasized the murder of the painter Basil Hallward by Dorlan as the turning point in Dorian's disintegration; the criminal tendency became the criminal act.

Dorian Gray was published in book form in 1891. The novel celebrated youth: Dorian, in a gesture typical of Wilde, is parentless. He does not age, and he is a criminal. Like all of Wilde's work, the novel was a popular success. His only book of formal criticism, Intentions (1891), restated many of the esthetic views that Dorian Gray had emphasized, and it points toward his later plays and stories. Intentions emphasized the importance of criticism in an age that Wilde believed was uncritical. For him, criticism was an independent branch of literature, and its function was vital.

His Dramas

Between 1892 and 1895 Wilde was an active dramatist, writing what he identified as "trivial comedies for serious people." His plays were popular because their dialogue was baffling, clever, and often epigrammatic, relying on puns and elaborate word games for its effect. Lady Windermere's Fan was produced in 1892, A Woman of No Importance in 1893, and An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest in 1895.

On March 2, 1895, Wilde initiated a suit for criminal libel against the Marquess of Queensberry, who had objected to Wilde's friendship with his son, Lord Alfred Douglas. When his suit failed in April, countercharges followed. After a spectacular court action, Wilde was convicted of homosexual misconduct and sentenced to 2 years in prison at hard labour.

Prison transformed Wilde's experience as radically as had his 1886 introduction to homosexuality. In a sense he had prepared himself for prison and its transformation of his art. De Profundisis a moving letter to a friend and apologia that Wilde wrote in prison; it was first published as a whole in 1905. His theme was that he was not unlike other men and was a scapegoat. The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898) was written after his release. In this poem a man has murdered his mistress and is about to be executed, but Wilde considered him only as criminal as the rest of humanity. He wrote: "For each man kills the thing he loves,/ Yet each man does not die."

After his release from prison Wilde lived in France. He attempted to write a play in his pretrial style, but this effort failed. He died in Paris on Nov. 30, 1900.










This web page was last updated on: 17 December, 2008