Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde, author of The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest. Portrait photograph by Napoleon Sarony.
Oscar Wilde by Napoleon Sarony, British Library

Biography

Born in Dublin on 16 October 1854, Oscar Wilde was a flamboyant and sparklingly witty Anglo-Irish playwright, poet and critic. ‘I put all my genius into my life, I put only my talent into my books’, he said to the French writer André Gide.

Wilde shone at both Trinity College, Dublin and Magdalen College, Oxford. In London, he was a famous proponent of aestheticism, the controversial theory of art. A collection of poems (1881) was followed by The Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888) as well as lectures and essays promoting his ideas of art and beauty. In 1884, he married Constance Lloyd, with whom he had two sons.

He published his Faustian novel The Picture of Dorian Gray in 1890, and fell in love with the much younger Lord Alfred Douglas. He then began a double life: winning fame and fortune with three hugely successful society comedies, Lady Windermere's Fan (1892), An Ideal Husband (1895) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), but secretly spending time in male brothels. ‘The danger was half the excitement,’ he recalled in his great apologia, a long letter to Douglas entitled De Profundis.

In February 1895, Douglas's father, the Marquis of Queensberry, accused Wilde of being a ‘somdomite’ [sic]. Wilde sued him for libel, lost, and was subsequently found guilty of gross indecency. He spent two years in prison, most of it in Reading Gaol, where he wrote De Profundis; in the month of his release he composed The Ballad of Reading Gaol. Both were published posthumously. Bankrupt and shunned by society, his health broken by imprisonment, he spent the rest of his life in Europe. He died in Paris on 30 November 1900 aged 46.

Name
Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde
Occupation
Novelist, Journalist, Playwright
Born
Died
Gender
Male
Literary period
Victorian
Genre
Victorian Literature

Related articles

Aestheticism and decadence

Article by
Carolyn Burdett
Theme: 
Fin de siècle

‘Art for art’s sake’? Aestheticism and decadence shocked the Victorian establishment by challenging traditional values, foregrounding sensuality and promoting artistic, sexual and political experimentation. Dr Carolyn Burdett explores the key features of this unconventional artistic period.

An introduction to The Importance of Being Earnest

Article by
John Stokes
Theme: 
Fin de siècle

The Importance of Being Earnest draws on elements of farce and melodrama in its depiction of a particular social world. Professor John Stokes considers how Oscar Wilde combined disparate influences into a brilliant satire which contained hidden, progressive sentiments.

Gothic fiction in the Victorian fin de siècle: mutating bodies and disturbed minds

Article by
Greg Buzwell
Themes: 
Fin de siècle, The Gothic

The Victorian period saw Gothic fiction evolving and taking on new characteristics. With a focus on the late 19th century curator Greg Buzwell traces common themes and imagery found in Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Dracula and The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Related collection items

Related people

Related works

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Created by: Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde’s (1854 – 1900) Gothic tale first appeared in Lippincott’s Magazine in 1890. It was ...

Salome

Created by: Oscar Wilde

A play by Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900) composed in 1891, and inspired by Stéphane Mallarmé’s ...

The Importance of Being Earnest

Created by: Oscar Wilde

Subtitled ‘A Trivial Comedy for Serious People’, Oscar Wilde’s (1854 – 1900) masterpiece was ...