(Yes, another non-early modern post… Sorry, but I love this guy!)
Today in 1854, Oscar Wilde was born. Celebrate with a green carnation in your lapel!
DOB: 16 October 1854
Birthplace: Dublin (at that time, part of the UK)
DOD: 30 November 1900
Place of Death: Paris
- Constance Lloyd (Married 1884)
- Lord Alfred Douglas (Met 1891)
- The Picture of Dorian Grey (1890)
- Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892)
- Salome (1893)
- An Ideal Husband (1895)
- The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)
- The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898)
Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born to Sir William Wilde and Jane Francesca Elgee, Lady Wilde. His mother was a successful writer and his father a successful doctor, thus Wilde was brought up in what amounted to a middle class, bourgeois life in Dublin. He excelled in his studies and eventually went to Trinity College, Dublin where he was awarded many prizes and eventually went to Oxford.
At Oxford, Wilde was exposed to the ideas of William Pater and the aestheticist movement, of which he eventually become one of the leading proponents. His writing talents garnered him the Newdigate Prize as he completed his degree and he moved to London to begin his career as a writer.
Wilde was already a celebrity. Within the first year of his being in London, he was lampooned on the stage as a comic character in Gilbert and Sullivan’s play Patience was clearly based on Wilde. He published a book of poems and then toured Canada and the United States, lecturing on “The English Renaissance” and “Decorative Art in America.” His early attempts at the stage (The Nihilists, The Duchess of Padua) were written during this time and, though they weren’t as successful or as critically praised as his later works like Salome and The Importance of Being Earnest, they set him up as an important playwright/poet/critic.
In 1884, Wilde married Constance Lloyd. Just over a year later, she had given birth to a son, with another son coming the same day one year hence. It was his growing family that probably convinced Wilde to take on the position of editor for Woman’s World magazine in 1887. Throughout this period, he wrote primarily prose and journalism.
In 1890, Wilde’s first great masterpiece, The Picture of Dorian Grey, was published. Critics were quick to pounce on the homosexual subtext and the decadence/aestheticist nature of the novel and dismiss it out of hand.
The 1890s began with success after success for him professionally, as his work was produced to large houses on the stage. In 1891, however, Wilde met and began an affair with Lord Alfred Douglas. When the Marquess of Queensbury (Douglas’ father) found out about the affair, he accused Wilde publicly of being a “somdomite” (sic) and Wilde laid libel charges against him.
The ensuing trials, first for libel and then for homosexuality, saw Wilde lose both times and have his sexual tastes displayed before refined London society. Wilde’s carefully cultivated performance of self or character as an aesthete came to haunt him as his sexual tastes were presented as the dalliances of a man wholly devoted to the pursuit of pleasure. Wilde was convicted of indecency and sentenced to two years hard labour.
In gaol (jail), Wilde’s spirit was broken irretrievably. When he was released in 1897, he left England, never to return. He died in Paris in 1900.