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Wilde, Oscar

Oscar Wilde

Born: October 16, 1854
Dublin, Ireland
Died: November 30, 1900
Paris, France

Irish-born English author, dramatist, and poet

The English author Oscar Wilde was part of the "art for art's sake" movement in English literature at the end of the nineteenth century. He is best known for his brilliant, witty comedies including the play The Importance of Being Earnest and his classic novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Outstanding childhood

Oscar Fingall O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland, on October 16, 1854. His father, Sir William Wilde, was a well-known surgeon; his mother, Jane Francisca Elgee Wilde, wrote popular poetry and other work under the pseudonym (pen name) Speranza. Because of his mother's literary successes, young Oscar enjoyed a cultured and privileged childhood.

After attending Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, Ireland, Wilde moved on to study the classics at Trinity College, Dublin, from 1871 to 1874. There, he began attracting public attention through the uniqueness of his writing and his lifestyle. Before leaving Trinity College, Wilde was awarded many honors, including the Berkely Gold Medal for Greek.

Begins writing career

At the age of twenty-three Wilde entered Magdalen College, Oxford, England. In 1878 he was awarded the Newdigate Prize for his poem "Ravenna." He attracted a group of followers whose members were purposefully unproductive and artificial. "The first duty in life," Wilde wrote in Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young (1894), "is to be as artificial as possible." After leaving Oxford he expanded his cult (a following). His iconoclasm (attacking of established religious institutions) clashed with the holiness that came with the Victorian era of the late nineteenth century, but this contradiction was one that he aimed for. Another of his aims was the glorification of youth.

Wilde published his well-received Poems in 1881. The next six years were active ones. He spent an entire year lecturing in the United States and then returned to lecture in England. He applied unsuccessfully for a position as a school inspector. In 1884 he married, and his wife bore him children in 1885 and in 1886. He began to publish extensively in the following year. His writing activity became as intense and as inconsistent as his life had been for the previous six years. From 1887 to 1889 Wilde edited the magazine Woman's World. His first popular success as a fiction writer was The Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888). The House of Pomegranates (1892) was another collection of his fairy tales.

Sexuality of Oscar Wilde

In 1886 Wilde became a practicing homosexual, or one who is sexually attracted to a member of their own sex. He believed that his attacks on the Victorian moral code was the inspiration for his writing. He considered himself a criminal who challenged society by creating scandal. Before his conviction (found guilty) for homosexuality in 1895, the scandal was essentially private. Wilde believed in the criminal mentality. "Lord Arthur Savile's Crime," from Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories (1891), treated murder and its successful cover-up comically. The original version of The Picture of Dorian Gray in Lippincott's Magazine emphasized the murder of the painter Basil Hallward by Dorian as the turning point in Dorian's downfall. Wilde stressed that criminal tendency became criminal act.

Dorian Gray was published in book form in 1891. The novel was a celebration of youth. Dorian, in a gesture typical of Wilde, is parentless. He does not age, and he is a criminal. Like all of Wilde's work, the novel was a popular success. His only book of formal criticism, Intentions (1891), restated many of the views that Dorian Gray had emphasized, and it points toward his later plays and stories. Intentions emphasized the importance of criticism in an age that Wilde believed was uncritical. For him, criticism was an independent branch of literature, and its function was important.

His dramas

Between 1892 and 1895 Wilde was an active dramatist (writer of plays), writing what he identified as "trivial [unimportant] comedies for serious people." His plays were popular because their dialogue was baffling, clever, and often short and clear, relying on puns and elaborate word games for their effect. Lady Windermere's Fan was produced in 1892, A Woman of No Importance in 1893, and An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest in 1895.

On March 2, 1895, Wilde initiated a suit for criminal libel (a statement that damages someone's reputation) against the Marquess of Queensberry, who had objected to Wilde's friendship with his son, Lord Alfred Douglas. When his suit failed in April, countercharges followed. After a spectacular court action, Wilde was convicted of homosexual misconduct and sentenced to two years in prison at hard labor.

Prison transformed Wilde's experience as extremely as had his 1886 introduction to homosexuality. In a sense he had prepared himself for prison and its transformation of his art. De Profundis is a moving letter to a friend and apologia (a formal defense) that Wilde wrote in prison; it was first published as a whole in 1905. His theme was that he was not unlike other men and was a scapegoat, or one who bears blame for others. The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898) was written after his release. In this poem a man murdered his mistress and was about to be executed, but Wilde considered him only as criminal as the rest of humanity. He wrote: "For each man kills the thing he loves, / Yet each man does not die."

After Wilde was released from prison he lived in Paris, France. He attempted to write a play in his style before his imprisonment, but this effort failed. He died in Paris on November 30, 1900.

For More Information

Bloom, Harold, ed. Oscar Wilde. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2002.

Ellmann, Richard. Oscar Wilde. New York: Knopf, 1988.

Kaufman, Moises. Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde. New York: Vintage Books, 1998.

Pearce, Joseph. The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde. London: HarperCollins, 2000.

Woodcock, George. Oscar Wilde: The Double Image. New York: Black Rose Books, 1989.

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Wilde, Oscar

WILDE, OSCAR

Oscar Wilde was a nineteenth-century Irish poet, novelist, and playwright who mocked social conventions and outraged English society with his unconventional ideas and behavior. Wilde's relevance to the law is based on his 1895 criminal trial, in which he was convicted of committing homosexual acts and was sentenced to two years in prison. Historians of law and sexuality regard the trial as a pivotal event, as it demonstrated that the legal system could be used to punish gays and lesbians.

"All authority is quite degrading."
—Oscar Wilde

Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland, probably on October 16, 1854, although some sources say October 15 or 1856. He was a talented writer who achieved prominence—despite mixed literary criticism—with his first effort, Poems, in

1881. Many of his subsequent works are considered classics, including the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), and the plays Lady Windermere's Fan (first produced, 1892) and The Importance of Being Earnest (first produced, 1895).

As one of England's most flamboyant and sought-after socialites, Wilde nevertheless led an ordinary life in many respects. He married Constance Lloyd in 1884 and fathered two sons. In 1895, however, rumors of Wilde's homosexuality began to circulate, culminating in a scandalous libel trial.

The Marquess of Queensberry, whose name is associated with the accepted standards of boxing regulations, started the controversy by publicizing Wilde's sexual preferences. The marquess had discovered that his son, Alfred Douglas, had a relationship with Wilde, and he was determined to sever the ties. In February 1895, the marquess publicly accused Wilde of being a homosexual. english law made homosexual relations a criminal offense.

Wilde professed innocence and took the marquess to court for criminal libel. At trial, the marquess's lawyer produced letters written by Wilde to Alfred Douglas, and their affectionate terminology was damaging to Wilde's case. As witnesses revealed Wilde's affiliations with male prostitutes and other men, Wilde considered retracting his accusation. The jury found the marquess not guilty, thus lending some credibility to his accusation against Wilde.

Soon after the conclusion of the trial, Wilde was arrested with a young man, accused of homosexual activities, and put on trial. At the trial, more information about his sexual activities emerged. The prosecution also introduced a poem by Alfred Douglas and questioned Wilde about several loving references to him.

Wilde's lawyers denounced the witnesses as characters of ill repute and pointed out conflicting facts in their testimonies. The trial ended in a hung jury, but Wilde was retried in May 1895. That time, Wilde was found guilty and sentenced to two years in prison. He was released from Reading Gaol (pronounced "JAIL") in May 1897 and moved to Europe, where he assumed the name Sebastian Melmoth. During his exile, he wrote "The Ballad of Reading Gaol," a long poem decrying the cruelty of British prison conditions, especially affecting child inmates. He also wrote letters to English newspapers to sway public opinion during consideration of new legislation. Most notably, on a personal and literary level, Wilde composed a letter to Douglas that

was filled with recriminations against the younger man, which was published posthumously in edited form as De Profundis in 1905. Wilde died on November 30, 1900, in Paris.

In 2001, the transcript of Wilde's 1895 libel trial—which was thought not to exist—was donated anonymously to the British Library. Two-and-a-half years later, the library hosted a live reading with prominent British actors. The original documents, in stenographic shorthand, contain the entirety of the trial's proceedings, a marked improvement over the abbreviated, personal, and unofficial accounts.

further readings

Foldy, Michael S. 1997. The Trials of Oscar Wilde: Deviance, Morality, and Late-Victorian Society. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press.

Great Britain. Public Record Office. 1998. Oscar Wilde: Trial and Punishment, 1895–1897. Kew, Richmond, Surrey, England: Public Record Office.

"Great Trials: Oscar Wilde." 1996. Quill and Quire 62 (April).

Holland, Merlin. 2003. The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde. New York: Fourth Estate.

cross-references

Gay and Lesbian Rights.

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Wilde, Oscar

Oscar Wilde (Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde), 1854–1900, Irish author and wit, b. Dublin. He is most famous for his sophisticated, brilliantly witty plays, which were the first since the comedies of Sheridan and Goldsmith to have both dramatic and literary merit. He studied at Trinity College, Dublin, and at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he distinguished himself for his scholarship and wit, and also for his elegant eccentricity in dress, tastes, and manners. Influenced by the aesthetic teachings of Walter Pater and John Ruskin, Wilde became the center of a group glorifying beauty for itself alone, and he was famously satirized (with other exponents of "art for art's sake" ) in Punch and in Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta Patience. His first published work, Poems (1881), was well received. The next year he lectured to great acclaim in the United States, where his drama Vera (1883) was produced. In 1884 he married Constance Lloyd, and they had two sons, Cyril and Vyvyan.

Later he began writing for and editing periodicals, but his active literary career began with the publication of Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories (1891) and two collections of fairy tales, The Happy Prince (1888) and The House of Pomegranates (1892). In 1891 his novel Picture of Dorian Gray appeared. A tale of horror, it depicts the corruption of a beautiful young man pursuing an ideal of sensual indulgence and moral indifference; although he himself remains young and handsome, his portrait becomes ugly, reflecting his degeneration.

Wilde's stories and essays were well received, but his creative genius found its highest expression in his plays—Lady Windermere's Fan (1892), A Woman of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband (1895), and his masterpiece, The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), which were all extremely clever and filled with pithy epigrams and paradoxes. Wilde explained away their lack of depth by saying that he put his genius into his life and only his talent into his books. He also wrote two historical tragedies, The Duchess of Padua (1892) and Salomé (1893).

In 1891, Wilde met and quite soon became intimate with the considerably younger, handsome, and dissolute Lord Alfred Douglas (nicknamed "Bosie" ). Soon the marquess of Queensberry, Douglas's father, began railing against Wilde and later wrote him a note accusing him of homosexual practices. Foolishly, Wilde brought action for libel against the marquess and was himself charged with homosexual offenses under the Criminal Law Amendment, found guilty, and sentenced (1895) to prison for two years. His experiences in jail inspired his most famous poem, The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), and the apology published by his literary executor as De Profundis (1905). Released from prison in 1897, Wilde found himself a complete social outcast in England and, plagued by ill health and bankruptcy, lived in France under an assumed name until his death.

See his collected works, ed. by R. Ross (1969); letters, ed. by R. Hart-Davis (1962); complete letters, ed. by M. Holland and R. Hart-Davis (2000); notebooks, ed. by P. E. Smith 2d and M. S. Helfant (1989); Oscar Wilde in America: The Interviews (2010), ed. by M. Hofer and G. Scharnhorst; biographies by R. Ellman (1988), P. Raby (1988), J. Pearce (2005), N. McKenna (2006), R. Stach (2 vol., 2010, tr. 2013), R. Morris, Jr. (2012), and S. Friedländer (2013); studies by M. Fido (1974), N. Kohl (1989), G. Woodcock (1989), T. Wright (2009), J. Bristow, ed. (2013), and D. M. Friedman, (2014).

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Wilde, Oscar

Wilde, Oscar (1854–1900). Dublin-born aesthete, dramatist, and, by his own declaration, genius. At Oxford Pater and Ruskin entranced him more than his classical studies, though a visit to Greece confirmed his commitment to the artist's life. His early Poems (1881) were derivative but his personality, extravagantly displayed on an American tour the following year, was original. ‘To become a work of art is the object of living,’ he wrote, anticipating The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), though much of his art went into his conversation. Something of its brilliance survives in essays like ‘The Critic as Artist’ but in the theatre he found his true métier: ‘I took the drama, the most objective form known to art, and made it as personal … as the lyric or sonnet.’ At the height of his powers, his ambivalent relationship to Victorian society most subtly deployed with The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), disaster struck. Publicly reviled, convicted of sodomy, he was sentenced to two years' hard labour in Reading gaol. Five years later, neglected in Paris, he was dead.

John Saunders

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Wilde, Oscar

Wilde, Oscar (1854–1900) ( Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills) Irish dramatist, poet, prose writer, and wit. He wrote one novel, The Picture of Dorian Grey (1891), but most characteristic of his gift for dramatizing serious issues with epigrammatic wit are his plays, which include Lady Windermere's Fan (1892), A Woman of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband (1895), and his masterpiece The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). He was convicted of homosexual practices in 1895, and sentenced to two years' hard labour. While in prison he wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898).

http://www.cmgww.com/historic/wilde/

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