Oscar Wilde was a popular literary figure in late Victorian England, known for his brilliant wit, flamboyant style, and notorious imprisonment for homosexuality. During the 19th century, his name was synonymous with the word "paradox". He was a model of elegance and grace. Books, debates, plays, stories, and everything that came from his pen, immediately became popular.
In 1891, he published "The Picture of Dorian Gray", his only novel, which Victorian critics called 'immoral', and is today considered one of his most significant works.
As a playwright, many of Wilde's plays were well-received, including his satirical comedies. Unusual in his writing and life, Wilde's affair with a young man led to his arrest on charges of "gross obscenity" in 1895. He was in prison for two years and died in poverty at the age of 46.
Early Life and Education
Oscar Wilde (full name: Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde) was born on October 16, 1854, in Dublin, Ireland. His father, Sir William Robert Wills Wilde, was a noted eye surgeon and the author of a number of books on medicine, archeology, and folklore. In 1864 he was knighted for his services in the lists of Ireland.
His mother Jane Francesca Agnes Wilde was of Italian descent. She was a poet, and she wrote under the nickname 'Speranza', which means ‘hope'. A supporter of the Irish nationalist movement, many of his works was pro-Danish and anti-British. She was also interested in Irish nationalities and fought for women's education.
Oscar was born as the second child of three children. His older brother, William Charles Kingsbury Wilde, grew up to become a distinguished journalist and poet, while his sister, Isola Francesca Emily Wilde, died of meningitis at the age of nine.
Oscar also had three half-siblings, Henry Wilson, Emily, and Mary Wilde, born out of wedlock to Sir Wilde before his marriage to Jane. Henry William Wilde later trained in medicine and assisted Sir Wilde in his practice in Dublin.
Until the age of nine, Oscar Wilde was educated at home by a German governess and a French nurse from whom he learned German and French. In 1864 he entered Portora Royal School, then a boarding school in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh where he took a particular interest in Greek and Roman studies, receiving awards as the best classics student in the last two years there.
Oscar Wilde graduated from Porto in 1871 with a scholarship from the Royal School to study classics at Trinity College, Dublin where he quickly established himself as an outstanding student. One of his teachers at Trinity was John P. Mahaffy, who inspired Wilde to study Greek literature and also taught him to love "Greek things." At the end of the year 1872, Wilde secured first place in classics.
Again at the end of 1873, Wilde received a scholarship from the Foundation and became a member of the University Philosophical Society, regularly participating in its proceedings. He was drawn to the theory of aestheticism and presented an article called "Aesthetic Morality".
In 1874 he graduated from Trinity, winning the Berkeley Gold Medal, he enrolled at Magdalen College in Oxford with demise. Among his teachers were John Ruskin and Walter Pater, who impressed upon him the importance of art in his life. Wilde was particularly impressed by Pater, who advised his students to "always burn with a strong, jeweled flame." He soon became known for his role in the aesthetic movement. Wearing long hair and decorating his rooms with peacock feathers, lilies, sunflowers, and blue porcelain. He openly despised men's sports.
1874 was also the year when he first established himself as a poet, and in 1878 he won the Newdigate Long Prize with his long poem "Ravenna". In the same year, he graduated from Oxford with a double first in the B.A. of classical moderation and Literae Humaniores
After completing his studies in 1878, Oscar Wilde returned to Dublin for a short time. His father has almost died by now. The family now sold the house and Wilde left his part in London, where he met the portraitist Frank Miles, popular in London's high society.
He wrote to various friends at Oxford and Cambridge, unsuccessfully trying to get a place in the classics. At the same time, he concentrated on writing new poetry, expanding and revising old poems, which he published in mid-1881 as "Poems". Although the work received mixed reviews, it established him as an up-and-coming poet.
Also in 1881, he got his first job as an art reviewer. However, he left it at the end of the year to go on a teaching trip to the United States and Canada at the invitation of Richard D'Oyly Carte, an English talent agent, and impresario.
Oscar Wilde arrived in New York City on January 2, 1882. Although the tour was originally planned for four months, due to commercial success it was extended by almost a year. During that period, he gave about 140 lectures, mostly on aesthetics.
Wherever he went, he mingled with all classes of people. He drank whiskey with miners in Leadville and Colorado while visiting the most fashionable saloons in cities such as New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, dining with celebrities such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Walt Whitman.
Although the press viewed him as somewhat unfriendly, the public was intrigued by his dress code and unusual character. He also admired many things about America, especially its democracy and universal education. Therefore, he returned to Great Britain rich, both in terms of money and experience.
Upon his return to Great Britain, Oscar Wilde embarked on a second round of lectures in England and Ireland, which would last until the middle of 1884. Meanwhile, sometime between February and May 1883, he went to Paris for three months and completed his play there, "The Duchess of Padua".
Very quickly Wilde managed to establish himself as a leading proponent of the aesthetic movement and became famous for it. In addition to the literally sought-after activities, he began contributing regularly as a reviewer to the Pall Mall Gazette.
From 1887, Wilde was employed as the editor of 'Lady's World', a women's fashion magazine that had lost its popularity in recent years. Soon he was able to revive the magazine by including women's views not only on art, literature, and music but also on modern life.
In 1888, working as the editor of the magazine 'Lady's World', Wilde published his first major work entitled "The Happy Prince and Other Stories", a collection of children's stories. The following year, in 1889, he published another unforgettable work, "The Decay of Lying - An Observation".
In July 1889, he quit his job to focus on his literary ambitions. His only novel, "The Picture of Dorian Gray," appeared in the July 1890 issue of "Lippincott's Monthly Magazine." Although the magazine's editor deleted approximately 500 words, reviewers criticized it for decadence and homosexual allusions. However, Wilde defended his work and published it in book form in 1891.
In 1891, in addition to "The Picture of Dorian Gray", five other major works were published. Among them, "Intentions" consisted of previously published essays. Others were "A House of Pomegranates","The Soul of Man Under Socialism," "Salome", and "Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories".
Wilde then went on to produce more plays, many of which satirized upper-class society. "Lady Windermere's Fan" (1882) and "A Woman of No Importance" (1893) fell into this category, both of which were very successful. In contrast, "An Ideal Husband", a work Wilde began in the summer of 1883, revolved around blackmail and political corruption. Just like "The Importance of Being Earnest", which he wrote in the summer of 1894, "An Ideal Husband" is also considered one of his masterpieces.
Oscar Wilde is best remembered for his last play "The Importance of Being Earnest", a farcical comedy in which the protagonists maintain a double identity. Critically acclaimed, the play has been revived several times since its premiere on 14 February 1895 at St James's Theater in London and has been made into films three times.
On May 29, 1884, Oscar Wilde married Constance Lloyd, the daughter of Horace Lloyd, a wealthy Queen's adviser and they had two sons, Vyvyan and Cyril. In 1886, while Constance was pregnant with their second child, Wilde was seduced by seventeen-year-old Robert Baldwin Ross, the grandson of Canadian reform leader Robert Baldwin. After that, they developed a relationship and Ross became Wilde's first lover.
In 1891, Wilde met and developed an affair with Alfred Douglas, son of John Douglas, ninth Mark of Queensberry. Unable to end the relationship, Marquess left his business card at Wilde's club on 18 February 1895 with the inscription: "To Oscar Wilde, Posing Somdomite".
Against the advice of his friends, Wilde filed a libel suit against Marquess. To protect himself, the Marquess assigned detectives to find evidence of Wilde's homosexuality and planned to portray him as an older man who seductively seduced the young and innocent. Many were also forced to give evidence against Wilde.
As evidence against Oscar Wilde, a case of sodomy and gross indecency was filed against him. The prosecution, which opened on April 26, 1895, found him guilty on May 25, 1895. They were rewarded for their hard work. The same day he was sent to Newgate Prison.
After that, he was transferred to Pentonville, and from there to Wandsworth Prison in London. Life in this second place was too difficult for Wilde's delicate health. At the beginning of November 1895, he collapsed from hunger and illness, which resulted in the rupture of the right eardrum.
On 23 November 1885 he was transferred to HM Prison Reading at the instigation of Liberal MP and reformer Richard B. Haldane and provided with reading as well as writing material. In the meantime, his wife changed her surname and her sons to Holland, thereby separating herself from Wilde's scandals.
It was in Reading Gaol that he wrote a 50,000-word letter to Douglas. Written between January and March 1887, it was never published, but was partially published in 1905 as "De Profundis" and fully published in 1962 as "The Letters of Oscar Wilde".
In 1900, Wilde fell ill with meningitis. He died on November 30 of the same year in solitude and poverty. His last words were: "Either the wallpaper goes, or I do" Because he spent his last days in a modest, unkempt hotel. His tomb was built eight years after his death with funding from an anonymous donor. It was transported from London to Paris, where the customs duty for it was 120 pounds, today it is one of the must-see tourist destinations.
The centenary of the death of the famous writer was marked in Paris, London, and Dublin. A monument to him was erected in Dublin and London. In London, his famous words are engraved on the monument:
"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."
Summaries, Analyses & Books