Oscar Wilde was a playwright, poet and novelist born in 1854 in Dublin. He was born Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wilde to a prosperous mother and father. His father was a great doctor, who spent most of his time in London and was thus absent for some of Wilde’s early years and his mother was a poet and Irish Nationalist. Wilde had the best education possible and was obviously very bright. He was an impressive linguist, he was taught French and German and also had a working knowledge of Italian and Ancient Greek. He attended Trinity College in Dublin and graduated in 1874.
Wilde received a scholarship so that he could study further at Magdalen College in Oxford. At Oxford Wilde made his first attempts at creative writing. In 1878 (the year of his graduation) his poem “Ravenna” won a prize for the best English poem composed by an Oxford undergraduate.
After graduating from Oxford, Wilde moved to London to live with his friend, Frank Miles, a popular portraitist among London’s high society. He continued to focus on writing poetry, publishing his first collection, “Poems”, in 1881. The book established Wilde as an up-and-coming writer. In 1882 he embarked on a tour of America, lecturing on a variety of subjects from “The English Renaissance” to “Decorative Art.” He delivered 140 lectures in only 9 months.
Through his lectures and his early poetry Wilde established himself as a leading member of the aesthetic movement (I have another blog explaining the concepts behind the aesthetic movement). In 1884 Wilde married Constance Lloyd and continued to have two children. He wrote beautiful fairy stories for his children and in 1888 published a collection of them, “The Happy Prince and Other Tales”. In 1891 he published his only novel, “The Picture of Dorian Gray”. I will be writing much more about this novel in the coming weeks as this is the novel I’m studying for AS Level. The book was received with negative criticism which surprised Wilde, so he wrote a preface and extra chapters to retaliate, hoping that the new additions would improve people’s opinions of the book.
Wilde wrote a variety of plays, such as “A Woman of No Importance” published in 1893, “ An Ideal Husband” published in 1895, and his most famous play: “The Importance of Being Earnest” which was published in 1895. Around this time Wilde was enjoying a homosexual affair with Lord Alfred Douglas. Lord Douglas’ father then publicly accused Wilde of sodomy (non-procreative sex) and Wilde was arrested on the grounds of “gross indecency” in 1895. He was kept in Reading prison for two years.
After he was released he moved to France and wrote a poem about his time in prison “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” in 1898. In late 1900 Wilde developed meningitis and on the 29th of November called for a priest and was baptised into the Catholic Church. On the 30th of November he died, and his last words (one of my favourite quotes) were:
“My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or other of us has got to go.”
Thanks for reading,