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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