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Oskar Wilde

Oskar Wilde

Oscar Wilde (real name Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde) was born on
October 16th, 1854 in Dublin. His father, William Robert Wilde, was an eminent eye
doctor, with an interest in myths and folklore. He was the founder of the first eye and ear
hospital in Great Britain, as well as the appointed Surgeon Occultist to the Queen, who
knighted him. His mother, Jane Francesca Elgee Wilde, was a poet who wrote patriotic
Irish verse under the pen name Speranza, and had a considerable following. As a
youngster, Wilde was exposed to the brilliant literary talk of the day at his mother's Dublin

In 1864 Wilde entered the Portora Royal School at Enniskillen, and in 1871
entered Trinity College in Dublin. In 1874 he left Ireland and went to England to attend
Magdalen College at Oxford. As a student there, he excelled in classics, wrote poetry,
and incorporated the Bohemian life style of his youth into a unique way of life. He came
under the influence of aesthetic innovators such as English writers Walter Pater and John
Ruskin. He found the aesthetic movement's notions of "art for art's sake" and dedicating
one's life to art suitable to his temperament and talents. As an aesthete, Wilde wore long
hair and velvet knee breeches, and became known for his eccentricity as well as his
academic ability. His rooms were filled with various objets d'art such as sunflowers,
peacock feathers, and blue china. Wilde frequently confided that his greatest challenge at
University was learning to live up to the perfection of the china. Wilde won numerous
academic prizes while studying there, including the Newdigate Prize, a coveted poetry
award, for his poem Ravenna.

In 1879 Wilde moved to London to make himself famous. He set about
establishing himself as the leader and model of the aesthetic movement. Besides his hair
and breeches, he added loose-fitting wide-collared silk shirts with flowing ties and
lavender colored gloves. He frequently carried a jewel-topped cane and was caricatured in
the press flamboyantly attired and holding an over-sized sunflower, an icon of the
movement. Wilde quickly became well known despite having any substantial
achievements to build on. His natural wit and good humor endeared him to the art and
theater world, and through his lover Frank Miles, he found it easy to become part of the
cliques that frequented London's theater circuit and drawing rooms. He became a much
desired party guest, and eventually his popularity led to his being chosen as an advance
publicity man for a new Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, Patience, that spoofed aesthetes
like himself.

In 1881, Wilde's first book of poems, called Poems, was published. In 1882, short
of money, he accepted an invitation to embark on a lecture tour of America. He produced
his first play in New York City, called Vera, about nihilism in Russia. According to some,
it was canceled at the last moment, probably for political reasons; others say he saw it
performed there but that it ran unsuccessfully. Throughout that year he lectured in 70
American cities as well as Ontario and Quebec in Canada on the arts and literature. The
tour was an unmitigated smash and Wilde returned to London in 1883 in triumph and
richer by several thousand pounds.

By the time he returned from America he had already tired of being the Great
Aesthete and began dressing more conventionally. He did a successful tour of the U.K.
He also wrote his second unsuccessful play, The Duchess Of Padua. In 1884, he married
Constance Lloyd, the daughter of an Irish barrister. They had two sons, Cyril and
Vyvyan. The family moved into a house in Chelsea, an artist section of London. In 1887,
he took a job at Woman's World, a popular magazine for which he wrote literary
criticism. In 1888 he published The Happy Prince and Other Tales, a collection of
original fairy tales which he wrote for his sons. Two years later he tired of journalism and
journalists. He returned to partying and spending his time with friends and lovers, often
overstepping the bounds of what was considered morally and socially proper for the time.

In 1890 his novel, The Picture Of Dorian Gray, was published in Lippincott's
Magazine. It raised a storm of protest to thinly veiled allusions to the protagonist's
homosexuality. In 1891 he published Intentions, a collection of dialogues about the
aesthetic philosophy; Lord Arthur Savile's Crime, a collection of short stories; and A
House Of Pomegranates, a collection of children's' stories. He also produced The
Duchess Of Padua. In that same year he met and befriended Lord Alfred Douglas, the
son of the Marquess of Queensberry. In 1892, he produced Lady Windermere's Fan; in
1893, A Woman of No Importance; and in 1895, the Importance of Being Earnest, which
was hailed as the first modern comedy in English, as well as An Ideal Husband. All were
very successful, and Wilde became the toast of London. His only setback in these years
was with his play Salome, originally written in French, which was banned by Lord
Chamberlain under an old law forbidding theatrical depiction of biblical characters.
Renowned actress Sarah Bernhardt, who was to appear in the play, produced it in Paris in
1894. Thirteen years later German composer Richard Strauss turned it into a successful

In 1895, Wilde began flaunting his off-and-on relationship with Douglas in public.
Outraged by this, the Marquess of Queensberry left a visiting card at Wilde's London club,
the Albemarle, upon which he had written, "To Oscar Wilde posing as a somdomite" (sic).
Wilde sued him for libel but lost the case and was charged with homosexual offenses. The
jury failed to reach a decision but at a second trial he was found guilty and sentenced to
two years in Reading Gaol, a labor prison. There Wilde was declared bankrupt, and his
house and possessions were sold to pay off his debts. An Ideal Husband and The
Importance of Being Earnest, which were both running very successfully, were closed.

In 1897, while in prison, Wilde wrote a 30,000 word letter to Douglas, published
after his death with the title De Profundis, which was a moving description of his spiritual
progress to religious insight. It is regarded as possibly being his most important and
mature statement on life and art in general, and his own life and art in particular. Wilde left
prison on May 19th, 1897 and left For France. He began wandering around Europe using
the alias Sebastian Melmoth (Sebastian was the Christian martyr slain in a hail of arrows).
In 1898 he published his best-known poem, The Ballad of Reading Gaol, a gripping
account of prison brutality based on his own harrowing experiences with a plea for prison
reform. This came that same year with The Prisons Act, which was partly due to his
writing. Also that year came the death of his wife.

During these last years Wilde sank deeper into a despair from which none of his
friends could extricate him. He was in poor health, living on borrowed money and the
kindness of friends and sympathetic hotel managers. In 1899 he was baptized by the
Roman Catholic Church. He died on November 30th, 1900, in Hotel d'Alsace in Paris,
suffering from cerebral meningitis. Among his last words were, "It's the wallpaper or me -
one of us has to go." He was buried at Pere LaChaise cemetery in Bagneaux. Lord Alfred
Douglas was one of the attendees at his funeral. In 1912 a monument to him was erected
at the gravesite by an anonymous woman. 44294yzy22dpj5b