Author Spotlight: Oscar Wilde
We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.
Author of stories such as The Happy Prince and The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde is an Irish who is known for more than just his work. Wilde is also infamous for his imprisonment because of homosexuality.
Born in Dublin, Oscar Wilde is the son of an acclaimed doctor knighted for his work as a medical advisor and of a poetess associated with the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848. William Wilde also founded St. Mark’s Ophthalmic Hospital, funded from his own pocket, in order to treat the poor. Jane Francesca Elgee, on the other hand, was also a linguist who had an acclaimed English translation of Wilhelm Meinhold’s Sidonia the Sorceress.
As a child, Oscar was already intelligent and bookish. He also received many awards for his academic achievements. He took up Greek and Roman studies at Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, where he won the school’s prize for top classics student in his last two years. In 1871, he proceeded to attend Trinity College in Dublin after being awarded the Royal School Scholarship. There he received the college’s highest undergraduate honor, the Foundation Scholarship, after just one year. He graduated in 1874 and received the Berkeley Gold Medal for being the best student in Greek. He also received the demyship scholarship, which granted him further study in Oxford’s Magdalen College. He continued to excel academically in Oxford, and on the year of his graduation, he won the Newdigate Prize for his poem Ravenna.
After studying, he moved to London where he continued writing poetry. He published his first collection in 1881, called “Poems,” which received modest critical praise. In 1882, he then traveled to New York City, where he delivered 140 lectures in just nine months.
In the duration of his stay, he met with literary figures of the day such as Henry Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Walt Whitman, whom he greatly admired.
After the American lecture tours, he returned home and conducted another lecture tour in England and Ireland, which lasted until mid-1884. Wilde managed to establish himself as a proponent of the aesthetic movement, a theory of art and literature which emphasized the pursuit of beauty for beauty’s sake, rather than to promote social or political issues.
In 1884, he married Constance Lloyd, and they had two sons, Cyril and Vyvyan, in the two years that followed. In 1885, he was hired to run a once-popular English magazine called Lady’s World. Beginning 1888, Wilde entered a seven-year period of creativity. In between these years, he produced nearly all his most prolific literary works. In 1888, he published a collection of children’s stories titled “The Happy Prince and Other Tales.” In 1891, he published “Intentions,” an essay collection which argues the tenets of aestheticism.
His only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, was also published in 1891. The novel is a cautionary tale about Dorian Gray, a beautiful young man who successfully wishes to remain youthful as his portrait ages. This allows him to live a life of pleasure and sin. The novel is now revered as a great classic work, but it was criticized back then because of its lack of morality.
In 1892, his first play, Lady Windermere’s Fan, opened, leading him to shift his focus to playwriting. Some of his more famous plays are A Woman of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband (1895), and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). His plays are known to be highly satirical comedies with dark undertones.
Wilde’s literary success came to a halt after his affair with Lord Alfred Douglas. Douglas’s father, the Marquis of Queensberry, sent him a note which was addressed “Oscar Wilde: Posing Somdomite” (the Marquis misspelled sodomite). Wilde sued the Marquis for libel, which was a decision that ruined his life. During the trial, Queensberry and his lawyers presented proof of his homosexuality. These came in the form of love letters to Lord Alfred Douglas and homoerotic passages from his work. Wilde was convicted in 1895 for “gross indecency” and sentenced to two years in prison.
In 1897, he was set free and went into exile in France, where he reunited briefly with his lover. The only notable work completed during these final years was The Ballad of Reading Gaol, a poem about his experiences in prison. He died in 1900 at the age of 46 due to meningitis.
Today, Wilde is remembered for his commitment to aestheticism, his undeniable wit, and his beautiful literary work.
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