“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
Among the literary greats, poet, fictionist, and playwright Oscar Wilde, is perhaps, best known for his involvement and key role in the early days of aestheticism.
Witty and unapologetically flamboyant, Oscar Wilde’s life has been marked by his adventures in and out of London’s social circles, which also inspired some of his best works. Wilde was an icon both during and after his life time, and his most notable works include literary classics such as The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Importance of Being Earnest and Salome.
Oscar Wilde was born Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde on October 16, 1854 at Dublin, Ireland. He is the second of three children and his father, William Wilde, was a renowned ear and eye surgeon. In 1864, he became Sir William Wilde after he was knighted for his services as medical adviser and assistant commissioner to the census of Ireland. He was also a known philanthropist.
Wilde’s mother, Jane Francesca, was a writer who wrote under the pen name “Speranza,” the Italian word for “hope.” She was an ardent supporter of Irish Nationalism, writing poetry for the revolutionary Young Irelanders.
According to records, Oscar Wilde was baptized as an infant in St. Mark’s Church in Dublin.
At an early age, Wilde learned French and German through a French bonne and a German governess. He attended the Portora Royal School and went to Trinity College on a royal scholarship to read the classics, where he was an outstanding student. From Trinity, he proceeded to Magdalen College in Oxford where he began to explore and practice the Victorian art movement also known as aestheticism.
Wilde was known for keeping his hair long and for his fancy clothing and manners. His knee-breeches-with-velvet-jacket look, while carrying a single flower, became iconic. He also had a famous collection of blue china.
While he had many friends and followers, he also had a number of detractors who observed that his antics were nothing more than attempts at notoriety rather than a genuine appreciation of beauty and art. Nonetheless, Wilde’s devotion to aesthetics helped pave the way for eventual fame and success.
In 1879, Oscar Wilde moved to London and in 1881, he released a collection of poetry. In the same year, he met his future wife, Constance Mary Lloyd.
In 1882, he went on a lecture tour in North America. Due to its commercial success, the tour was extended from four months to one year. Despite continued judgments from his critics, Wilde was generally well-received in America.
While Lloyd visited Dublin in 1884, Wilde lectured at the Gaiety Theatre. He proposed and they married on May 29, 1884. Their first son, Cyril, was born in 1885. Another son, Vyvyan, was born the following year.
To make ends meet, Wilde wrote more consistently, and in 1886, he began contributing to the Pall Mall Gazette. He also became editor of Woman’s World and his fiction was published more regularly. In 1889, The Portrait of Mr. W.H. was published in Blackwood Magazine. In 1890, the Lippincott’s Magazine published his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, which is also his longest work. Upon publication, it was widely criticized for its provocative content.
During this period, Wilde published a range of essays including The Critic as Artist, The Decay of Lying and The Soul of Man Under Socialism. His play Salome was banned in England because it was illegal to depict a biblical character on stage, so its original version was published in French.
Wilde also wrote comedies that satirized the flaws of Victorian society. Lady Windermere’s Fan was performed in 1892. It was followed by A Woman of No Importance in 1893 and An Ideal Husband in 1894.
Wilde’s works have been characterized by its biting wit, tempered with astute intellectual prowess.
Though married, Wilde engaged in homosexual affairs. Some say that the Canadian art critic and journalist Robert Ross was his first lover. However, his most troubled relationship was with Lord Alfred Douglas, nicknamed “Bosie,” whom he met in 1891.
Despite being threatened by Bosie’s father, the Marquess of Queensberry, Wilde continued his affair, even traveling to Europe and to Algiers with his lover.
In 1895, Wilde sued the Marquess for libel, after Marquess accused him of being a “Somdomite [sic].” Wilde lost the court battle after details of his shady private affairs were revealed during the trial. He was arrested and tried for sodomy and gross indecency, and sentenced to two years of hard labor.
In prison, he wrote a long letter to Bosie, which was posthumously published as De Profundis. His wife and children moved to Switzerland, and changed their last name to “Holland” to avoid the infamy associated with Wilde.
Upon his release in 1897, Wilde, whose health considerably deteriorated while in prison, exiled himself to Europe. He reconnected briefly with Bosie but the relationship ended after both of their families intervened. Wilde spent his last days writing and publishing The Ballad of Reading Gaol.
Oscar Wilde died of cerebral meningitis on December 30, 1900 at Hotel d’Alsace in Paris. Originally buried in Cimetière de Bagneux, his body was moved to the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise in 1909.
Today, Wilde continues to be a literary icon for many scholars and students, not just because of his prolific body of work, but equally so because of his provocative views, which excited, challenged, and even redefined an era.
History. Oscar Wilde (1854-1900). Retrieved November 20, 2013, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/wilde_oscar.shtml
Oscar Wilde – Biography. Retrieved November 20, 2013, from http://www.egs.edu/library/oscar-wilde/biography/
Oscar Wilde. Retrieved November 20, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oscar_Wilde