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Oscar Wilde

Researcher: Rachel Sahlman     Artist: Dick Strandberg

Oscar Wilde


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.

Bibliographic Citation Format:

Author's last name, first name, middle initial. "Title of biography." SPECTRUM Home & School Magazine. [http://www.incwell.com/Spectrum.html] (date accessed). © K. B. Shaw

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