OSCAR WILDE Biography - Famous Poets and dancers


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Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde (October 16, 1854-November 30, 1900) was an Irish playwright, novelist, poet, and short story writer. One of the most successful playwrights of late Victorian London, and one of the greatest celebrities of his day, he suffered a dramatic downfall and was imprisoned after being convicted of “gross indecency” for homosexual behavior.


Birth and early life


Wilde was born at 21 Westland Row, Dublin, to Sir William Wilde and his wife Jane, herself a successful writer and an Irish nationalist. Sir William, Ireland’s leading ear and eye surgeon, wrote books on archaeology and folklore. He was a renowned philanthropist, and his dispensary for the care of the city’s poor, situated in Lincoln Place at the rear of Trinity College, Dublin was the forerunner of the Dublin Eye and Ear Hospital , now located at Adelaide Road.


In June 1855, the family moved to 1 Merrion Square, a fashionable residential area. Here, Lady Wilde held a regular Saturday afternoon salon with guests including such figures as Sheridan le Fanu, Samuel Lever , George Petrie , Isaac Butt and Samuel Ferguson. Oscar was educated at home up to the age of nine. He attended Portora Royal School from 1864 to 1871, spending the summer months with his family in rural Waterford, Wexford and at William Wilde’s family home in Mayo. Here the Wilde brothers played with the young George Moore.


After leaving Portora, Oscar studied the classics at Trinity College, Dublin, from 1871 to 1874. He was an outstanding student, and won the Berkeley Gold Medal, the highest award available to classics students at Trinity. He was granted a scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he continued his studies from 1874 to 1878. While at Magdalen, Wilde won the 1878 Oxford Newdigate Prize for his poem Ravenna. He graduated with a double first.




While at Magdalen College, Wilde became particularly well known for his role in the aesthetic and decadent movements. He began wearing his hair long and openly scorning so-called “manly” sports, and began decorating his rooms with peacock feathers, lilies, sunflowers, blue china and other objets d’art.


His behaviour cost him a ducking in the River Cherwell in addition to having his rooms trashed, but the cult spread among certain segments of society to such an extent that languishing attitudes, “too-too” costumes and Aestheticism generally became a recognised pose. Aestheticism was caricatured in Gilbert and Sullivan’s mocking operetta Patience (1881).


Wilde was deeply impressed by the English writers John Ruskin and Walter Pater, who argued for the central importance of art in life. He later commented ironically on this view when he wrote, in The Picture of Dorian Gray, “All art is quite useless". This quote also reflects Wilde’s support of the aesthetic movement’s basic principle: Art for art’s sake. This doctrine was coined by the philosopher Victor Cousin, promoted by Theophile Gautier and brought into prominence by James McNeill Whistler.


The aesthetic movement, represented by the school of William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, had a permanent influence on English decorative art. As the leading aesthete, Oscar Wilde became one of the most prominent personalities of his day. Apart from the ridicule he encountered, his paradoxes and his witty sayings were quoted on all sides.


In 1879 Wilde started to teach Aesthetic values in London. In 1882 he went on a lecture tour in the United States and Canada. He was torn apart by no small number of critics - The Wasp, a San Francisco newspaper, published a cartoon ridiculing Wilde and Aestheticism - but also was surprisingly well-received in such rough-and-tumble settings as the mining town of Leadville, Colorado. [1] On his return to the United Kingdom, he worked as a reviewer for the Pall Mall Gazette in the years 1887-1889. Afterwards he became the editor of Woman’s World.


Marriage and family


After graduating from Magdalen, Wilde returned to Dublin, where he met and fell in love with Florence Balcome . She in turn became engaged to Bram Stoker. On hearing of her engagement, Wilde wrote to her stating his intention to leave Ireland permanently. He left in 1878 and was to return to his native country only twice, for brief visits. The next six years were spent in London, Paris and the United States, where he travelled to deliver lectures.


In London, he met Constance Lloyd, daughter of the wealthy QC, Horace Lloyd. She was visiting Dublin in 1884 when Oscar was in the city to give lectures at the Gaiety Theatre. He proposed to her and they married on May 29, 1885 in Paddington, London. Constance’s allowance of £250 allowed the Wildes to live in relative luxury. The couple had two sons, Cyril (1885) and Vyvyan (1886), who both later took the surname Holland.
  Literary works


He had already published in 1881 a selection of his poems, which, however, attracted admiration in only a limited circle. His most famous fairy tale, The Happy Prince and Other Tales, appeared in 1888, illustrated by Walter Crane and Jacob Hood . This volume was followed up later by a second collection of fairy tales, The House of Pomegranates (1892), acknowledged by the author to be “intended neither for the British child nor the British public".


His only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray was published in 1891. Critics have often claimed that there existed parallels between Wilde’s and the protagonist’s life. Wilde contributed some feature articles to the art reviews, and in 1891 re-published three of them as a book called Intentions.


Wilde’s favourite genres were the society comedy and the play. From 1892 on, almost every year a new work of Oscar Wilde was published. His first real success with the larger public was as a dramatist with Lady Windermere’s Fan at the St James’s Theatre in 1892, followed by A Woman of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband (1895) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), which became Wilde’s masterpiece in which he satirised the upper class.


The dramatic and literary ability shown in these plays, all of which were published later in book form, was as undisputed as their action and ideas were characteristically paradoxical. In 1893 the publisher refused to allow Wilde’s Salome to be produced, but it was produced in Paris by Sarah Bernhardt in 1894. This play formed the basis for one of Richard Strauss’ early operas (Salome, 1905).


Wilde’s sexuality


Wilde’s sexual preference has variously been considered bisexual or homosexual, depending on how the terms are defined. His inclination towards relations with other men was relatively well known, the first such relationship having probably been with Robert Ross, who proved his most faithful friend and would be his literary executor . In his writings, an early indication of Wilde’s sexuality is found in The Portrait of Mr. W. H. (1889), in which he propounds a theory that Shakespeare’s sonnets were written out of the poets’ homosexual love of a young man.


In 1891, Wilde became intimate with Lord Alfred Douglas, who went by the nickname “Bosie". Bosie’s father, John Sholto Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry, became increasingly enraged at his son’s involvement with Wilde. He confronted the two publicly several times, and although each time Wilde was able to mollify the elder Douglas, eventually the Marquess threw down the gauntlet. He planned to interrupt the opening night of Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest in February 1895 with an insulting delivery of vegetables, but somebody tipped Wilde off and the Marquess was barred from entering the theatre. On February 18, 1895, the Marquess publicly insulted Wilde with a misspelt note (actually a calling card) left at Wilde’s club, the Albemarle. The note read “For Oscar Wilde posing as a Somdomite.”
  The Queensberry scandal


Although Wilde’s friends advised him to ignore the insult, Lord Alfred later admitted that he egged Wilde on to charge Queensberry with criminal libel. Queensberry was arrested, and in April 1895, the crown took over the prosecution of the libel case against the Marquess. The trial lasted three days. The prosecuting counsel, Edward Clarke, was unaware that Wilde had had homosexual liaisons. Clarke asked Wilde directly whether there was any substance to Douglas’s accusations and Wilde denied that there was. Edward Carson, the barrister who defended Douglas, hired investigators who were able to locate a number of men with whom Wilde had been involved, either socially or sexually.


Wilde put on a tremendous display of drama in the first day of the trial, parrying Carson’s cross-examination with witticisms and sarcasm, often breaking the courtroom up with laughter. For instance, Carson asked Wilde whether he had ever adored any man younger than himself, and Wilde quipped, “I have never given adoration to anybody except myself.”


However, when Clarke found that Wilde had deceived him, he withdrew from the prosecution, and the case went against Wilde. After losing the libel suit, based on the evidence that Carson had uncovered, Wilde was charged with “committing acts of gross indecency with other male persons” under Section 11 of the 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act, this being little more than a euphemism for any homosexual act, public or private. He and Lord Alfred Douglas were both arrested on April 6, 1895.
  Imprisonment in Reading jail


Wilde was convicted on May 25, 1895 of gross indecency and sentenced to serve two years hard labor. He was imprisoned at Reading, a town some 30 miles west of London. At first he wasn’t even allowed paper and pen to write. During his time in prison, Wilde wrote a 30,000 word letter to Douglas, which he handed to Ross, who sent a copy to Douglas. It was published in 1905 (long after Wilde’s death) with the title De Profundis . In 1949 his son Vyvyan Holland published it again, including parts formerly omitted.


The manuscripts of A Florentine Tragedy and an essay on Shakespeare’s sonnets were stolen from his house in 1895. In 1904 a five-act tragedy, The Duchess of Padua , written by Wilde about 1883 for Mary Anderson, but not acted by her, was published in a German translation (Die Herzogin von Padua, translated by Max Meyerfeld) in Berlin.


After his release


Prison was unkind to Wilde’s health and when he was released on May 19, 1897 he spent his last years penniless, in self-inflicted exile from society and artistic circles. He went under the assumed name of ‘Sebastian Melmoth’, after the central character of the gothic novel Melmoth the Wanderer. After his release, he wrote the famous poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol ("For he who lives more lives than one, more deaths than one must die").


On his deathbed he converted to the Roman Catholic church, which he had long admired.


Wilde died of cerebral meningitis on November 30, 1900 in a Paris hotel. Different opinions are given on the cause of the meningitis; Richard Ellmann claimed it was syphilitic; Merlin Holland thought this to be a misconception, noting that Wilde’s meningitis followed a surgical intervention, perhaps a mastoidectomy ; Wilde’s physicians, Dr. Paul Cleiss and A’Court Tucker reported that the condition stemmed from an old suppuration of the right ear (une ancienne suppuration de l’oreille droite d’ailleurs en traitement depuis plusieurs annees) and do not allude to syphilis.


Wilde was buried in the Cimetiere de Bagneux outside Paris but was later moved to Le Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. His tomb in the Pere Lachaise was designed by the sculptor Sir Jacob Epstein.
  Biographies and biographical films


After Wilde’s death, Wilde’s friend Frank Harris wrote a biography of Wilde: Oscar Wilde. His Life and Confessions.
  Two films of his life are The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1960) starring Peter Finch and Wilde (1997) starring Stephen Fry.
  In 1987 Richard Ellmann published “Oscar Wilde", a very minute biography.
  2003 saw the publication of the first complete account of Wilde’s sexual and emotional life in The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde by Neil McKenna (published by Century/Random House).
  A multiple-issue ‘chapter’ of Dave Sim’s comic book Cerebus the Aardvark, entitled Melmoth, (later collected as a single volume under that title) retells the story of Wilde’s final months with the names and places slightly altered to fit the world of the Cerebus storyline, while Cerebus himself spends most of the chapter as a passive observer.






Poems (1881)
  The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898)




Salome (French version) (1893)
  Lady Windermere’s Fan (1893)
  A Woman of No Importance (1894)
  Salome: A Tragedy in One Act : Translated from the French of Oscar Wilde (1894)
  The Importance of Being Earnest (1899) [2]
  An Ideal Husband (1899) [3]
  A Florentine Tragedy (1908)




The Canterville Ghost (1887)
  The Happy Prince and Other Stories (1888) [4]
  The Portrait of Mr. W. H. (1889)
  Lord Arthur Saville’s Crime and other Stories (1891)
  Intentions (1891)
  The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)
  House of Pomegranates (1891)
  The Soul of Man Under Socialism (First published in the Pall Mall Gazette, 1891, first book publication 1904)
  De Profundis (1905)
  The Letters of Oscar Wilde (1962)