Biography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born on October 16, 1854, in Dublin, Ireland, to parents who were among the most colorful members of the Irish gentry. His father, Sir William Wilde, one of the foremost Victorian oculists and surgeons, numbered crowned heads of Europe among his patients. He was equally famed for his archaeological research and his amorous adventures. Oscar Wilde’s mother was no less remarkable. Born Jane Francesca Elgee, she gained public notice for the patriotic pieces she published under the pseudonym Speranza. When one of Speranza’s essays brought Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, leader of the Young Ireland party, to trial for high treason and sedition, the tall and dramatic authoress rose in court, proclaimed “I alone am the culprit,” and on the spot became one of the heroines of Ireland.
This colorful background and his mother’s doting attention must have fostered young Wilde’s imagination. His mind received more discipline and direction when, through good fortune, he was brought into contact with a series of fine teachers. At Trinity College in Dublin, Wilde’s Greek tutor, the Reverend John Pentland Mahaffy, inspired him with a love of Hellenic culture and, by his own witty example, honed and polished the younger man’s conversational talents. Next, having won a demyship to Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1874, Wilde encountered Ruskin (then Slade Professor of Art), whose social conscience, love of medieval architecture, and belief in the necessary connection between art and life were to become part of Wilde’s own creed. Even more important to Wilde’s development was Pater, the skeptical latter-day Epicurean famed for his Studies in the History of the Renaissance (1873). In the light of Pater’s intellectual advice to the youth of the day, most memorably distilled in his observation that “to burn always with this hard, gemlike flame, to maintain this ectasy, is success in life,” the Oxonian Wilde’s famous ambition, “Oh, would that I could live up to my blue china!” seems a less frivolous objective.
In 1879, Wilde went to London, where, sharing rooms with the artist Frank Miles, he became one of the central figures of the aesthetic movement and made the acquaintance of many of the celebrities of the day, particularly the lovely Lily Langtry, whose career as a professional beauty had been launched by Miles’s drawings. The tall, heavy, epigrammatic young Wilde was soon known in society for his eccentric dress and his paradoxical wit. Caricatured as Reginald Bunthorne in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience, he became the epitome of aestheticism for the wider public as well. The shrewd producers of the comic opera, which was to go on an American tour, realized that the presence of...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born to ambitious, successful Irish parents in Dublin in 1854. As a young man he attended Trinity College, and in 1874 (at age twenty) he entered Magdalen College, Oxford, on a scholarship. Wilde was drawn to art criticism and literature in his studies, and he was strongly influenced by several mentors, most notably writers John Ruskin and Walter Pater. At college Wilde discovered, developed, and began to refine his extraordinary gifts of creativity, analysis, and expression. These he pressed into the service of aestheticism, an iconoclastic artistic movement, promoted by Pater, that advocated art for art’s sake. Wilde would come to personify aestheticism, with all its intellectual refinement, provocative posing, and hedonistic excess.
Wilde married Constance Lloyd in 1884 and with her had two sons. Although throughout his short life Wilde evinced great love and devotion to his wife and sons, he grew increasingly involved in sexual liaisons with men. Most notably and tragically, Wilde became engrossed in an obsessive and rocky gay friendship with Lord Alfred Douglas, the son of the marquis of Queensberry. Douglas helped to lead Wilde deeper into London’s gay underworld. While Douglas at times seemed to love Wilde genuinely, he periodically became impatient, selfish, and abusive toward his older friend. Still, Wilde remained, with increasing recklessness, committed to Douglas.
During the second...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: British, Irish, & Commonwealth Poets)
Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland, on October 16, 1854. Flamboyance, so characteristic of the adult Wilde, was an obvious quality of both of his parents. His father was noted for physical dirtiness and love affairs, one of which led to a lawsuit and public scandal. Something of a social revolutionary, his mother published poetry and maintained a salon for intellectual discussion in her later years. Wilde grew up in this environment, showing both insolence and genius. He was an excellent student at all his schools. He attended Portora Royal School, Trinity College in Dublin, and then won a scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford. At this time, John Ruskin was lecturing, and Wilde was influenced by Ruskin’s ideas and style. More important, he heard and met Walter Pater, who had recently published his Studies in the History of the Renaissance (1873). It is Pater’s influence that is most obvious in Wilde’s development as a poet. While at Oxford, Wilde visited Italy and Greece, and this trip strengthened the love of classical culture so obvious in his poetry.
In the 1880’s, as he developed as a writer, he also became a public personality. He toured the United States for about a year, and in both the United States and England, he preached an aesthetic doctrine that had its origins in the Pre-Raphaelites and Pater. He married in 1883 and had two sons. Wilde serially published his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, which immediately created a sensation with the public. Thereafter, he wrote a number of plays, most notably Lady Windermere’s Fan and The Importance of Being Earnest.
Wilde’s last decade involved the scandal over his sexuality. His chief male lover was Lord Alfred Douglas, whose father, the marquess of Queensberry, tried to end Wilde’s liaison with his son and ruin Wilde socially. Consequently, Wilde sued the marquess of Queensberry for libel but lost the case and also had his sexuality revealed. Tried twice for homosexuality, a crime in England at the time, he was found guilty and sentenced to two years at hard labor. From his prison experiences, Wilde wrote his most famous poem, The Ballad of Reading Gaol. Released from prison, he wandered over the Continent for three years, broken physically and ruined financially. He died in Paris at the age of forty-six.
Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Born in Dublin, Ireland, on October 16, 1854, into a respected family, Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was the second son of Sir William Robert Wills Wilde and his wife, Lady Jane Francesca Elgee Wilde. His father, a noted ear and eye surgeon, wrote some twenty books in his lifetime, including Practical Observations on Aural Surgery, and the Nature and Treatment of Diseases of the Ear (1853), a standard textbook. Lady Wilde, under the pseudonym “Speranza,” wrote inflammatory articles about Irish nationalism and women’s rights. She gained celebrity in 1848 when she admitted writing an article in Nation that caused the head of the Young Ireland Party to be tried for high treason. She told the court that she alone was the culprit, thereby becoming the heroine of the movement. She published poems, essays, stories, and folklore.
Wilde was a bright youngster who took prizes in religious and classical studies at Portora Royal School, which he and his older brother Willie (born in 1852) attended. In 1871, Oscar entered Trinity College, Dublin, and gained sufficient recognition in classical studies that, in 1874, he won the Classical Demyship to Magdalen College, Oxford. John Mahaffy, who taught ancient history at Trinity College, greatly influenced Wilde. He supported him for the Oxford scholarship. Wilde spent the summer of 1874 helping Mahaffy, a uniquely skilled conversationalist, revise his Social Life in Greece from Homer to Menander (1874). He spent two summers traveling with Mahaffy and others through Italy and Greece.
Wilde blossomed at Oxford, where his witty conversation made him popular. His long poem, Ravenna (1878), won him the Newdigate Prize, which included the publication of the poem as a pamphlet. He received his bachelor’s degree from Oxford in 1878, but his demyship was extended, enabling him to study further. He was particularly affected by Walter Pater, a fellow at Brasenose College, and John Ruskin, Slade Professor of Art, both of whom promoted aestheticism. Ruskin differed from Pater in believing that art should have a high moral purpose. Pater promoted art for art’s sake, a doctrine that became Wilde’s credo.
Wilde, sharing rooms in London with Frank Miles in 1879, created an aesthetic environment built around white lilies, objets d’art, and peacock feathers—many peacock feathers. At their digs gathered artists, aesthetes, and people in theater,...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Oscar Wilde’s life was an outrageously interesting one that grew wholly sensational toward its close. Wilde lived a philosophy that perhaps was not meant for living, but he appears to have believed in it and to have accepted it fully. Art for art’s sake remained his credo even after his imprisonment, although it is not reflected in The Ballad of Reading Gaol, which is his maverick work. De profundis, written in prison, leaves little doubt about what Wilde really accepted philosophically.
Although the comparisons of Wilde to William Shakespeare abroad when his plays were running in the West End are gross exaggerations, one cannot deny that Wilde was a remarkably able playwright who, by defying...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born the second son of Sir William Robert Wills Wilde, surgeon oculist in ordinary to the Queen, and Jane Francesca Elgee Wilde, known as the Irish revolutionary author “Speranza.” Early noted for his casual brilliance, Wilde won prizes at the Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, and later in Trinity College, Dublin, where the Reverend John Mahaffy encouraged Wilde’s passion for Hellenic culture. Having studied under two famous masters, John Ruskin and Walter Pater, Wilde achieved recognition at Magdalen College, Oxford, for taking double firsts in classics examinations and for winning the Newdigate Prize for the poem “Ravenna” in 1878.
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Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: The 19th Century)
Article abstract: Wilde’s comedies, including such masterpieces as The Importance of Being Earnest, were the finest seen on the English stage for many years and have endured as witty testaments to his artistic credo that art is superior to life.
Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland, the second son of Sir William Wilde, a prominent surgeon, and Jane Wilde (née Elgee), a poet and Irish nationalist. He was raised in an affluent, successful, and intellectually stimulating home. From an early age, Oscar and his brother Willie were allowed to sit at the foot of the adults’ dinner table and listen to the conversations of the Wildes and their...
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Oscar (Fingal O'Flahertie Wills) Wilde was born on October 15 (though some sources cite October 16), 1854 (some sources cite 1856), in Dublin, Ireland, where he would spend his youth. His father was a celebrated eye and ear surgeon who was knighted by Queen Victoria for founding a hospital and writing an influential medical textbook. Wilde's mother, Jane Francesca Elgee Wilde, came to be called "Speranza," writing poems, stories, essays, and folklore meant to give hope to advocates of rights for women and Ireland.
Wilde won prizes in the classics at Portora Royal School in Ulster, and his continued success in classic studies at Dublin's Trinity College won him a scholarship to attend Magdalen College, Oxford, where he earned a B.A. In 1878, the undergraduate Wilde won the Newdigate Prize for his poem "Ravenna."
While at Oxford, the ideas of Walter Pater and John Ruskin shaped Wilde's thinking about art. He became known for flamboyance in dress (his trademark became wearing a green carnation in his lapel), collecting peacock feathers, and blue china; he came to personify the term "Dandy" used to describe men who paid excessive attention to their appearance. He also became a spokesman for Aestheticism, a belief in the supreme importance of "Art for Art's sake," without regard for its practical, ethical, or social purpose. ("The object of Art is not simple truth but complex beauty," Wilde wrote later in his 1889 essay "The Decay of Lying.") Following publication of the first volume of his Poems in 1881, which included "The Harlot's House" and "Impression du Matin," Wilde spent ten months giving 125 lectures throughout the United States. The Aesthetics movement and Wilde were satirized in the magazine Punch and in W. S. Gilbert's Patience (1881).
After the disappointing reception of his first play, Vera, in 1883, Wilde returned to Britain to spend eighteen months lecturing on "Impressions of America." In 1884, he married Constance Lloyd and began working as a reviewer and editor. The Happy Prince and Other Tales, a volume of fairy tales originally written for his sons appeared in 1888, followed two years later by Wilde's novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Success eluded Wilde's second play, The Duchess of Padua (1891), but his subsequent theatrical efforts received increasing acclaim: Lady Windermere's Fan in 1892, A Women of No Importance in 1893, An Ideal Husband in 1895, and, that same year, his greatest theatrical success, The Importance of Being Earnest.
While in Paris, Wilde wrote Salome in French, but the play was refused a license for performance in England, though the 1896 Paris production starred noted actress Sara Bernhardt. An English translation of Salome appeared in 1894 with illustrations by famed illustrator Aubrey Beardsley and the play provided the libretto for Richard Strauss's successful 1905 opera of the same name.
Social criticism of Wilde's openly homosexual behavior (though married with children, he professed a deep passion for young men) led to the end of his career. Wilde's relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas led Douglas's father, the Marquess of Queensberry, to publicly accuse Wilde of sodomy. Encouraged by Lord Alfred, Wilde sued the Marquess for slander, losing his suit when the Marquess offered evidence of Wilde's homosexuality. Wilde refused the advice of friends to flee to the Continent and in subsequent trials was convicted of "public indecency" and sentenced to two years of hard labor. With the scandal, Wilde's plays ceased production.
Two major works written in prison were published following Wilde's release. De Profundus appeared in 1905, offering an apologetic confession of Wilde's conduct, while The Ballad of Reading Gaol, published initially in 1898, indicts England's prison system and tells of his experiences there. Upon his release, Wilde, divorced and bankrupt, adopted the name Sebastian Melmouth and moved to Paris France where he died in 1900.
Wilde's literary reputation enjoyed a considerable resurgence in the years following his death. He is now regarded as one of modern literature's major figures. His skill and diversity within multiple genres has earned him respect as a poet, novelist, essayist, and playwright. His works are still widely studied and his plays enjoy frequent revivals.
By the 1890’s, Oscar Wilde was the most popular playwright in London. His successes included Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892), A Woman of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband (1895), and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). Nevertheless, censorship of his work began with his very first play, Vera, or the Nihilists, scheduled for performance in 1881. Set in Russia around 1800, the play was based on the 1878 assassination of a St. Petersburg police official by an eighteen-year-old girl—who became the heroine of Wilde’s play. Following the assassinations of Russian czar Alexander II on March 13, 1881, and U.S. president James A. Garfield—who died on September 9, 1881—unofficial...
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IntroductionA “love that dare not speak its name” found a somewhat involuntary spokesman in Oscar Wilde. Wilde’s homosexuality and the indecency trial it spurred in 1895 have gained so much critical and literary attention as to threaten to eclipse Wilde’s notable body of work. At a time when late melodrama and early realism characterized much of English theater, Wilde distinguished himself as an author of unparalleled wit. His most famous work, The Importance of Being Earnest, remains the standard for social satire. In Earnest, as in his play An Ideal Husband, Wilde made upper-class Victorian life hilariously ridiculous. Ironically, its premiere would be his last great success. His romantic relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas drew Wilde into a legal battle with the young man’s father. Wilde was sentenced to two years of hard labor and died a few years after his release.
- Wilde is often associated with the aesthetic movement called “Art for Art’s Sake,” which posits that art is self-sufficient and does not need to have a moral, social, or political purpose.
- Along with his sparkling prose, Wilde is also known for his flamboyant fashion sense. He often, for example, wore green carnations in his jacket lapel.
- The Picture of Dorian Gray, a classic of English literature, was Wilde’s only full-length novel.
- Among Wilde’s many controversial views were his socialist politics. His views are detailed in his essay “The Soul of Man Under Socialism.”
- After he was released from prison, Wilde went to Paris, where he died penniless and divorced in 1900.