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Oscar Wilde

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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  • more of a ‘force for good’

  • Less of a ‘force for good’


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