Oscar Wilde Wilde, Oscar (1854 - 1900)

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(Gothic Literature)

OSCAR WILDE (1854 - 1900)

(Full name Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde; has also written under the pseudonyms Sebastian Melmoth and C. 3. 3.) Anglo-Irish playwright, novelist, essayist, critic, poet, and short story writer.

Wilde is one of the foremost figures of late nineteenth-century literary Decadence, a movement whose members espoused the doctrine of "art for art's sake" by seeking to subordinate moral, political, and social concerns in art to matters of aesthetic value. This credo of aestheticism, however, indicates only one facet of a man notorious for resisting any public institution—artistic, social, political, or moral—that attempted to subjugate individual will and imagination. In contrast to the cult of nature purported by the Romantic poets, Wilde posed a cult of art in his critical essays and reviews; to socialism's cult of the masses, he proposed a cult of the individual; and in opposition to what he saw as the middle-class façade of false respectability, he encouraged a struggle to realize one's true nature. Wilde's only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), is typically considered one of the defining literary works of the Decadent movement. Exhibiting the author's fascination with human perversity, the novel also features numerous Gothic themes and techniques as it details in elaborate, ornamental prose the moral degeneration of its morbidly narcissistic protagonist. Other writings by Wilde noted for their use of Gothic elements include two satirical short stories, "The Canterville Ghost" (1887) and "Lord Arthur Savile's Crime," and the biblically-inspired drama Salomé (1893).


Wilde was born in Dublin, where he received his early education. As a student at Dublin's Trinity College and later at Oxford University in London, he was influenced by the writings of Walter Pater, who, in his Studies in the History of the Renaissance (1873), urged indulgence of the senses, a search for sustained intensity of experience, and stylistic perfectionism in art. Wilde adopted such aestheticism as a way of life, cultivating an extravagant persona that was burlesqued in the popular press and music-hall entertainments, copied by other youthful iconoclasts, and indulged by the avant-garde literary and artistic circles of London wherein Wilde was renowned for intelligence, wit, and charm. Wilde published his first volume, Poems, in 1881. In 1884 he married Constance Lloyd, the daughter of a wealthy Dublin family, and thereafter promoted himself and his ideas with successful lecture tours of the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. In the late 1880s Wilde and his family settled in London, and he continued to crusade for aestheticism as a book reviewer and as the editor of the periodical Woman's World. "The Canterville Ghost," the first of Wilde's short stories to appear in print, was published in Court and Society in February 1887. In addition to this work, three subsequent short stories written by Wilde appeared in various London magazines that same year and were later collected as Lord Arthur Savile's Crime, and Other Stories (1891). His novel The Picture of Dorian Gray was published during a period of great creativity and productivity for Wilde that extended from 1888 to 1895. Most of his highly regarded critical essays, collected in Intentions (1891), also appeared during this time. Shortly after the publication of this collection, Wilde attained the greatest critical and popular success of his lifetime with the plays Lady Windermere's Fan (1892), A Woman of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband (1895), and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). Meanwhile, during the 1890s, Wilde met and became infatuated with Lord Alfred Douglas, son of the Marquess of Queensbury. His relationship with Douglas, the Marquess's violent disapproval of this relationship, and his own ill-advised legal action against the Marquess scandalized London. The Importance of Being Earnest was in production at the time of Wilde's 1895 trial on...

(The entire section is 26,467 words.)