Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900) was an Irish poet, novelist, and writer of plays and short stories.
His father was a surgeon and founder of a hospital in Dublin, and his mother was a writer who was active in the early movement for women's rights. Wilde studied at Trinity College, Dublin, and Magdalen College, Oxford, receiving his BA in 1878.
Wilde married Constance Lloyd in 1884, and they had two sons, but the relationship ended in 1893. Wilde then had a relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas, which eventually led to a conviction for "gross indecency" in 1895 for which he was sentenced to two years hard labor. He later wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol and De Profundis about his experiences in prison.
Wilde died in 1900, three years after his release from prison. In the past he was thought to have died of syphilis, but more recent studies by Dr Ashley Robins of the University of Cape Town in South Africa report that he died of meningoencephalitis, following a serious ear infection.
Wilde's sexual orientation has been debated over the years and some considered him as either bisexual, homosexual, and even pederastic. Wilde himself believed that he belonged to a culture of "male love" inspired by the Greek pederastic tradition, through his association with the Uranians. This tradition believed that it was an adult male's duty to bring boys into manhood via sexuality.
In describing his own sexual identity, Wilde used the term Socratic. He may have had significant sexual relationships with Frank Miles, Constance Lloyd (Wilde's wife), Robert Baldwin Ross, and Lord Alfred Douglas. Wilde also had numerous sexual encounters with working-class male youths, who were often called rent boys.
Wilde was a well-known playwright and celebrity, and is still renowned for his wit today. Some of his lines, such as the following from The Picture of Dorian Gray, are still often quoted:
- "There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written."
Other memorable lines, from "The Critic as Artist", include:
- "The public is wonderfully tolerant. It forgives everything except genius."
- "A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal."
- "There is no sin except stupidity."
- "...nothing worth knowing can be taught."
Wilde's most frequently produced play is the high comedy The Importance of Being Earnest. It includes such gems as:
- "The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means."
- "London society is full of women of the very highest birth who have, of their own free choice, remained thirty-five for years."
- "The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility!"
Works of Oscar Wilde
- Lady Windermere's Fan (1892)
- Salomé (French version) (1893, first performed in Paris 1896)
- A Woman of No Importance (1893)
- An Ideal Husband (1895)
- The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)
- Vera; or, The Nihilists (1880)
- The Duchess of Padua (1883)
- Salomé: A Tragedy in One Act: Translated from the French of Oscar Wilde by Lord Alfred Douglas with Illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley (1894)
- La Sainte Courtisane and A Florentine Tragedy Fragmentary. First published 1908 in Methuen's Collected Works
(Dates are dates of first performance, which approximate better with the probable date of composition than dates of publication)
- Ravenna (1878)
- Poems (1881)
- The Sphinx (1894)
- The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898)
- The Canterville Ghost (1887)
- The Happy Prince and Other Stories (1888, fairy tales)
- Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories (1891)
- Intentions (1891, critical dialogues and essays)
- The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891, Wilde's only novel)
- The Soul of Man under Socialism (First published in the Pall Mall Gazette, 1891, first book publication 1904)
- De Profundis (1905)
- The Rise of Historical Criticism (published in incomplete form 1905 and completed form in 1908)
- The Letters of Oscar Wilde (1960) This was rereleased in 2000, with letters uncovered since 1960, and new, detailed, footnotes by Merlin Holland.
- Teleny or The Reverse of the Medal (Paris, 1893) has been attributed to Wilde, but was more likely a combined effort by a several of Wilde's friends, which he may have edited.