Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin Ireland on October 16, 1854. He is one of the most talented and most controversial writers of his time. He was well known for his wit, flamboyance, and creative genius and with his little dramatic training showing his natural talent for stage and theatre. He is termed a martyr by some and may be the first true self-publicist and was known for his style of dress and odd behavior.
His Father, William Wilde, was a highly accredited doctor and his mother, Jane Francesca Elgee, was a writer of revolutionary poems. Oscar had a brother William Charles Kingsbury along with his father’s three illegitimate children, Henry, Emily, and Mary. His sister, Isola Emily Francesca died in 1867 at only ten years of age from a sudden fever, greatly affecting Oscar and his family. He kept a lock of her hair in an envelope and later wrote the poem ‘Requiescat’ in her memory.
Oscar and his brother William both attended the Protora Royal School at Enniskillen. He had little in common with the other children. He disliked games and took more interest in flowers and sunsets. He was extremely passionate about anything that had to do with ancient Greece and with Classics.
Wilde during school years
In 1871, he was awarded a Royal School Scholarship to Trinity College in Dublin and received many awards and earned the highest honor the college offered to an undergraduate, the Foundation Scholarship. In 1874, he also won the College’s Berkley Gold Medal for Greek and was awarded a Demyship to Magdalen College, Oxford. After graduating from Oxford, Oscar moved to London with his friend Frank Miles, a well-known portrait painter of the time. In 1878 his poem Ravenna was published, for which he won the Newdigate poetry prize. In 1881, he published his first collection of poetry ‘Poems’, which was well liked by critics.
In late 1881, Oscar left to travel across the United States and deliver a series of lectures on the aesthetics, the belief that to create a sense of beauty was more important than anything else. The trip was only planned to last four months but instead lasted nearly a year with Oscar giving nearly three times as many lectures as planned. He met Henry Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Walt Whitman, on which he made a good impression. During this time he arranged for his play Vera to be staged in New York. The play was cancelled during rehearsal due to it concerning Nihilism in Russia which was delicate subject matter at the time and in New York it closed after only a week.
Oscar was married on May 29, 1884 to Constance Lloyd and they had two sons, Cyril and Vyvyan. He was extraordinarily fond of his children, although he did not spend much time with them
Constance with son Cyril
In 1887, Oscar accepted a position at a magazine called The Woman’s World which he was to help revitalize, but quit in 1889. He wrote about the folklore and superstition of Ireland. He published the prose The Happy Prince and Other Tales in 1888, which he wrote for his sons. He wrote the essay The Decay of Lying in 1889.
Oscar’s first play Dorian Gray Opened in 1890 and was later expanded and published as a book The Picture of Dorian Gray in 1891. The story is about moral decadence and is distinguished for its brilliance. Dorian, a man of extraordinary beauty is painted by a friend and he wishes he remain as in the portrait and that it bear his sins. Dorian goes on to lead a wicked life and kills himself in the end. The process of corruption in the story is fully described and the shocking conclusion commits to a moral stand against self-debasement. Its subject of criminal deviance and lack of morality caused public outrage and the play made very little money.
In 1891 two of his prose were published The House of Pomegranates, which he also wrote for his sons and Lard Arthur Savile’s Crime and Other Stories.
Over the next few years many of Oscar’s plays were produced. Salome was a drama about obsessive passion written in 1891. It was produced in Paris in 1894, made into an opera by German composer Richard Strauss and translated into English by Lord Alfred Douglas. The play was declared blasphemous because it concerned the death of John the Baptist.
In February 1892, Oscar opened the play Lady Windermere’s Fan. It dealt with a blackmailing divorcÃ©e driven to self-sacrifice by maternal love and was very successful, received excellent reviews and was noted for its witty dialogue. He wrote A Woman of No Importance in 1892, a story about an illegitimate child torn between father and mother, which was very successful. The Duchess of Padue, which he wrote in 1883 was not produced until 1893, The Sphinx in 1894, An Ideal Husband in 1895, which did better than all of his previous plays and dealt with blackmail, political corruption and public and private honor, and The Importance of being Earnest in 1895, for which he is most famous for and wrote during the worst period of his life and concerned two fashionable young gentlemen and their eventually successful courtship.
In 1891 he began an intimate relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas, also known as Bosie. Bosie was very demanding and often violent but Oscar worshiped him. Bosie’s father the Marquess of Queensbury looked down on their relationship and he did everything in his power to stop it and see Oscar’s downfall.
In 1895 Oscar was arrested and tried for 25 acts of gross indecency. His plays were closed, books were withdrawn and effects sold by bailiffs. The first trial resulted in a hung jury, while the second trial convicted him guilty on 24 of the 25 counts. He was sentenced to the harshest punishment possible, two years of hard labor, in which he had to work six hours a day on the treadmill, sleep on a bare board and have no personal possessions, only a Bible and Pilgrim’s Process.
De Profundis was written by Oscar while in prison apologizing for his life. It was considered a serious revelation by some and a sentimental and insincere work by others. The poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol was published in 1898. It portrays prison life and the desperation of the people there.
After his release from prison he spent his final years with friends in Paris, where he converted to Roman Catholicism. He died at age 46 on November 30, 1990 of a recurrent ear infection from an injury that occurred while in prison that became serious and became meningitis.
Hyde, Harford Montgomery. Oscar Wilde. Harford productions.1975
Pictures from: http://www.cmgww.com/historic/wilde/