It’s been a while since I’ve written a “Spotlight On:…” post. Today’s post is going to be all about the life of Oscar Wilde.
As always, the post will be divided up into 6 different parts:
1. A little bit about their life
2. Their works I have read
3. Their works I am yet to read
4. Great film/TV adaptations based on their works
6. An author biography recommendation
So without further ado…
A Little Bit About Their Life
Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born on October 16, 1854, in Dublin, Ireland. His father, William Wilde, was a doctor who was knighted for his work. William later founded St. Mark’s Ophthalmic Hospital, entirely at his own personal expense, to treat the city’s poor. Oscar Wilde’s mother, Jane Francesca Elgee, was a poet and skilled linguist and translator of books.
Wilde was a very intelligent child and at school he fell in love with Greek and Roman studies. He won a scholarship to attend Trinity College in Dublin and at the end of his first year in 1872, he placed first in the school’s classic examination and received the highest honour awarded to undergraduates.
After graduating in 1874, Oscar Wilde had received various prizes as well as a scholarship for further study at Magdalen College in Oxford. At Oxford, he received first class marks from his examiners in both classics and classical moderations. It was also whilst at Oxford that Wilde had his first attempt at creative riting. In 1878, the year of his graduation, his poem “Ravenna” won the Newdigate Prize for the best English verse composition by an Oxford undergraduate.
Upon graduating Oxford, Wilde moved to London to with his friend, Frank Miles, a popular portraitist. Wilde continued to focus on writing poetry, publishing his first collection called Poems in 1881. The book only received critical praise but it established Wilde as an up-and-coming writer. In 1882, he embarked on an American tour where he delivered 140 lectures in just nine months.
After his American tour, Wilde returned home and commenced another lecture circuit of England and Ireland that lasted until the middle of 1884. Through his lectures as well as his poetry, Wilde was established as a leader of the aesthetic movement, a theory of art and literature that emphaised the pursuit of beauty for its own sake rather than to promote any political or social viewpoint.
Oscar Wilde married Constance Lloyd in May 1884. Together they had two sons, Cyril born in 1885 and Vyvyan born in 1886.
In 1888 whilst serving as editor of the magazine Lady’s World, Wilde entered a period of intense creativity during which he produced nearly all of his great literary works; The Happy Prince and Other Tales in 1888, Intentions in 1891, and The Picture of Dorian Gray (his only novel) in 1891. Though this novel is now admired and praised, critics at the time were outraged by the book’s lack of morality. His first play, Lady Windermere’s Fan opened in February 1892 to widespread popularity and acclaim, encouraging Wilde to adopt playwriting as his main career. Over the years he produced several other grat plays includin A Woman of No Importance, An Ideal Husban, The Importance of Being Earnest…
Around the same time as he was enjoying his success, Wilde began an affair with a young man named Lord Alfred Douglas. On 18th February 1895, Douglas’ father, the Marquis of Queensberry, who had gotten wind of the affair left a calling card at Wilde’s home addressed to “Oscar Wilde: Posing Somdomite” (misspelled). Although Wilde’s homosexuality was no secret, he was so outraged by Queensberry’s note that he sued him for libel. The decision that ruined his life.
The trial began in March and Queensberry and his lawyers presented evidence of Wilde’s homosexuality – passages from his literary works as well as love letters to Douglas. This quickly dismissed Wilde’s libel case and Wilde was arrested on charges of “gross indecency”. Wilde was convicted on 25th May 1895 and sentenced to two years in prison.
In 1897 when Wilde was released from prison, he emerged physically and emotionally exhausted and broke. He went into exile in France where he briefly reunited with Douglas. Wilde wrote very little about these times and his only notable work was a poem called “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”.
Wilde died in 1900 on 30th November from meningitis at the age of 46. Wilde is remembered for his exuberant personality, his wite and infamous imprisonment for homosexuality. Perhaps he is more well-known for that than his literary work. Despite this The Importance of Being Earnest and The Picture of Dorian Gray remain two of the best Victorian works.
Their Works I Have Read/Those I Am Yet to Read
I have read (and really enjoyed) The Picture of Dorian Gray. I am currently in the process of reading The Happy Prince and Other Tales (in French). I would be interested in reading some of his poetry as I have never come across that before, as well as some of his plays such as The Importance of Being Earnest.
Great Film/TV Adaptations
The only adaptation of Wilde’s work I have seen is the 2009 film Dorian Gray based on The Picture of Dorian Gray. There is also a 1945 and a 1973 version of Dorian Gray that I am yet to watch.
“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”
“Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault. Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty. There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.”
“You don’t love someone for their looks, or their clothes, or for their fancy car, but because they sing a song only you can hear.”
“Experience is merely the name men gave to their mistakes.”
“Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.”
“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”
“Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”
“The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”
“If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.”
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
“With freedom, flowers, books, and the moon, who could not be perfectly happy?”
“Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.”
An Author Biography Recommendation
If you would like to read more about Oscar Wilde’s exuberant life and his career, I would recommend reading Oscar Wilde: The Unrepentant Years by Nicholas Frankel or Oscar: A Biography by Matthew Sturgis.
Thanks for reading!
Have you read any Oscar Wilde?
Love, Zoë xx