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Oscar Wilde, born on October 16, 1854, in Dublin, Ireland, left an indelible mark on literature and culture with his wit, poetry, and plays. His legacy rests on timeless works such as “The Picture of Dorian Gray” (1891), “Lady Windermere’s Fan” (1892), and “The Importance of Being Earnest” (1895). Beyond his literary achievements, Wilde was a leading figure in the late 19th-century Aesthetic movement, advocating art for art’s sake. However, his life was marked by controversy, particularly concerning his homosexuality, which ultimately led to his imprisonment from 1895 to 1897.

Wilde was born into a family of professional and literary backgrounds. His father, Sir William Wilde, was a prominent ear and eye surgeon in Ireland, as well as a published author on archaeology and folklore. His mother, known by her pen name Speranza, was a revolutionary poet and an authority on Celtic myth and folklore.

Educated at Portora Royal School in Enniskillen from 1864 to 1871, Wilde then received scholarships to attend Trinity College, Dublin (1871–74), and later Magdalen College, Oxford (1874–78), where he distinguished himself academically. During his time at Oxford, Wilde not only excelled as a Classical scholar but also gained recognition as a poet, winning the esteemed Newdigate Prize in 1878 with his poem “Ravenna.”

In the early 1880s, Wilde emerged as a prominent figure in the social and artistic circles of literary London, captivating audiences with his wit and flamboyance. However, his flamboyant persona also made him a target for satire, notably by the periodical Punch, which lampooned the Aesthetes for their devotion to art. Despite the mockery, Wilde’s lectures in the United States and Canada in 1882 further solidified his reputation as a proponent of beauty and art.

In 1884, Wilde married Constance Lloyd, with whom he had two children. During this period, he pursued a career in writing, serving as a reviewer for the Pall Mall Gazette and later as the editor of Woman’s World (1887–89). It was during this time that he published “The Happy Prince and Other Tales” (1888), showcasing his talent for romantic allegory in the form of fairy tales.

The final decade of Wilde’s life marked the peak of his literary career. In 1890, his only novel, “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” was published, combining elements of Gothic fiction with themes of decadence. Despite criticism of its perceived immorality, Wilde defended the amoral nature of art. The same year saw the publication of “Intentions,” a collection of essays that reiterated his aesthetic philosophy. Additionally, Wilde produced volumes of stories and fairy tales, including “Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime, and Other Stories” and “A House of Pomegranates.”

Wilde’s greatest successes, however, came with his society comedies. “Lady Windermere’s Fan,” “A Woman of No Importance,” and “An Ideal Husband,” produced in rapid succession, showcased his wit and satirical prowess. Yet, it was “The Importance of Being Earnest” that solidified his reputation as a master of comedy. With its clever wordplay and biting social commentary, the play remains a classic of English literature.

Despite his literary achievements, Wilde’s personal life would lead to disaster. His love affair with Lord Alfred Douglas, whom he met in 1891, led to public scandal and legal trouble. In 1895, Wilde sued Douglas’s father for criminal libel, but the case backfired, resulting in Wilde’s arrest and subsequent imprisonment on charges of homosexuality.

During his two years of hard labour at Reading Gaol, Wilde composed a poignant letter to Douglas, later published as “De Profundis,” reflecting on his downfall and spiritual journey. Upon his release in 1897, Wilde fled to France, where he lived in exile until his death in 1900. 

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Samuel Beckett was an author, critic, and playwright, and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969. He wrote in both French and English and is perhaps best known for his plays, especially En attendant Godot (1952; Waiting for Godot).

Beckett was born in Foxrock, Co. Dublin and, as a teenager went to the Portora Royal School in Enniskillen. From 1923 to 1927, he studied Romance languages at Trinity College, Dublin, where he received his bachelor’s degree. After a brief spell of teaching in Belfast, he became a reader in English at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris in 1928. There he met the self-exiled Irish writer James Joyce, the author of the controversial and seminally modern novel Ulysses, and joined his circle. 

He returned to Ireland in 1930 to take up a post as lecturer in French at Trinity College, but after only four terms he resigned, in December 1931, and embarked upon a period of restless travel in London, France, Germany, and Italy. In 1937 Beckett decided to settle in Paris. As a citizen of a country that was neutral in World War II, he was able to remain there even after the occupation of Paris by the Germans, but he joined an underground resistance group in 1941. When, in 1942, he received news that members of his group had been arrested by the Gestapo, he immediately went into hiding and eventually moved to the unoccupied zone of France. Until the liberation of the country, he supported himself as an agricultural labourer.

Before the war, Beckett’s works included essays on Joyce and Proust, along with More Pricks Than Kicks (1934), chronicling Belacqua Shuah’s Dublin adventures, and Murphy (1938), exploring an Irishman’s London escapades. He penned poetry in Whoroscope (1930) and Echo’s Bones (1935), with scattered short stories. Dream of Fair to Middling Women remained unfinished until 1992. During wartime in unoccupied France, he completed Watt, published in 1953.

In 1945 he returned to Ireland but volunteered for the Irish Red Cross and went back to France as an interpreter in a military hospital in Saint-Lô, Normandy. In the winter of 1945, he finally returned to Paris and was awarded the Croix de Guerre for his resistance work.

There followed a period of intense creativity, the most fruitful period of Beckett’s life. Between 1946 and 1949, Beckett produced a number of stories, the major prose narratives Molloy (1951), Malone meurt (1951; Malone Dies), and L’Innommable (1953; The Unnamable), and two plays, the unpublished three-act Eleutheria, and Waiting for Godot. It was not until 1951, however, that these works saw the light of day. After many refusals, Suzanne Deschevaux-Dumesnil Beckett’s lifelong companion, finally succeeded in finding a publisher for Molloy. When this book not only proved a modest commercial success but also was received with enthusiasm by the French critics, the same publisher brought out the two other novels and Waiting for Godot.

It was with the amazing success of Waiting for Godot at the small Théâtre de Babylone in Paris, in January 1953, that Beckett’s rise to world fame began. Beckett continued writing, but more slowly than in the immediate postwar years. Plays for the stage and radio and a number of prose works occupied much of his attention. 

Beckett continued to live in Paris, but most of his writing was done in a small house secluded in the Marne valley, a short drive from Paris. His total dedication to his art extended to his complete avoidance of all personal publicity, of appearances on radio or television, and of all journalistic interviews. When, in 1969, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature, he accepted the award but declined the trip to Stockholm to avoid the public speech at the ceremonies. 

Suzanne died on 17 July 1989. Beckett died on 22 December 1989. The two were interred together in the cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris and share a simple granite gravestone that follows Beckett’s directive that it should be “any colour, so long as it’s grey”.

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Edmund Burke was an Anglo-Irish statesman, parliamentary orator, and influential political thinker during the late 18th century. His impact on political theory, particularly his advocacy for conservatism in contrast to the radicalism of Jacobinism, remains significant. 

Burke’s journey began at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1744, followed by studies at the Middle Temple in London in 1750. He initially pursued legal studies but eventually drifted away, spending time in England and France. In 1756, he anonymously published “A Vindication of Natural Society,” a satirical critique of revealed religion’s criticism and the trend of returning to nature. His work “A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful” gained him recognition and admiration from intellectuals across Europe. Burke also initiated The Annual Register, a yearly survey of world affairs, establishing his presence in both literary and political circles.

Burke entered politics in 1765 as the secretary to the Marquess of Rockingham, a prominent Whig leader. He played a crucial role in unifying the Whig faction under Rockingham’s leadership. Burke’s notable contributions to political thought include his pamphlet “Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents” (1770), advocating for ministerial selection based on public approval through Parliament rather than personal favouritism. Elected as a member of Parliament for Bristol in 1774, Burke emphasized the representative role of MPs, asserting their obligation to serve the nation’s best interests rather than merely following constituents’ demands.

Burke supported limited parliamentary reform, aiming to reduce the crown’s influence, and actively engaged in debates concerning Britain’s policies toward its American colonies. He opposed coercive measures and advocated for conciliation and pragmatic solutions to the colonial crisis, emphasizing understanding and accommodation rather than rigid enforcement.

Burke’s concern extended beyond Britain to Ireland and India. He advocated for easing economic and penal regulations in Ireland, despite facing opposition from his constituents in Bristol and accusations of partiality. In India, Burke opposed the East India Company’s unchecked power, proposing reforms to curb corruption and promote good governance.

The outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 provoked Burke’s strong opposition, leading to his seminal work “Reflections on the Revolution in France” (1790). He criticized the revolution’s radical ideals, emphasizing the importance of tradition, hierarchy, and gradual change over sudden upheaval. Burke’s writings influenced counterrevolutionary thought in Europe and left a lasting impact on English political discourse, advocating for constitutional conventions, the role of political parties, and the independence of parliamentary representatives.

Edmund Burke’s legacy lies in his defence of established institutions, respect for tradition, and scepticism toward radical change. Despite occasional political missteps, his writings continue to resonate, offering insights into the complexities of governance and the enduring value of stability amidst societal transformation.

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