Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (October 16, 1854- November 30, 1900) was an Anglo-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, known for his barbed and clever wit, he suffered a dramatic downfall and was imprisoned after being convicted in a famous trial of "gross indecency" for homosexual acts.
Wilde was born into a Protestant Anglo-Irish family, at 21 Westland Row, Dublin, to Sir William Wilde and his wife Jane. Jane was a successful writer and an Irish nationalist, known also as 'Speranza', while Sir William was Ireland's leading ear and eye surgeon, and 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 in Enniskillen, Fermanagh 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 Wilde studied 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, the highest grade available for undergraduate degrees in the British university system.
During this time, Wilde became familiar with philosophies and writings on same-sex love, and lived for several years with a male lover he had met in 1876, the society painter Frank Miles. However, in keeping with the social mores of his day, such activities were kept secret from the straight world.
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 Queen's Counsel, 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, 1884 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). After Oscar's downfall Constance took the surname Holland for herself and the boys. She died in 1898 following spinal surgery and was buried in Staglieno Cemetery in Genoa, Italy. Cyril was killed in France in World War I. Vyvyan survived the war and went on to become an author and translator. He published his memoir in 1954. His son, Merlin Holland, has edited and published several Works about his grandfather.
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 dunking in the River Cherwell in addition to having his rooms (which still survive as dedicated function rooms at his old college) 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 in general was caricatured in Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta Patience (1881). Such was the success of "Patience" in New York that Richard D'Oyly Carte conceived the idea of sending Wilde to America on a lecture tour. This was duly arranged, Wilde arriving in January 1882. Although Wilde later claimed to have told the customs officer "I have nothing to declare except my genius", historians and biographers have concluded that this is an embellishment of Wilde's as there is no contemporary evidence that this occurred.
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, Wilde became one of the most prominent personalities of his day. Though he was ridiculed for them, his paradoxes and 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. 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.
Politically, Wilde endorsed an anarchistic brand of socialism, expounding his beliefs in the text "The Soul Of Man Under Socialism".
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 life and that of the book's protagonist, and it was used as evidence against him at his trial. Wilde contributed some feature articles to the art Reviews, and in 1891 re-published three of them as a book called Intentions.
His fame as a dramatist began with the production of