Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde
Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin into the family of a distinguished Irish surgeon and educated at Dublin and Oxford Universities. His mother "was a writer of poetry and prose. Under the influence of John Ruskin, Wilde joined the Aesthetic Movement and soon became its leader. He made himself the apostle of "art for art's sake" and of the cult of beauty. In 1882 he made a triumphant tour of the United States lecturing on the Aesthetic Movement in England.
The next ten years saw the appearance of all his major works. They include fairy-tales: The Happy Prince (1888), A House of Pomegranates (1891), stories: Lord Arthur Savile's Crime (1891), the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), several sparkling comedies, up to now repeatedly produced all over the world: Lady Windermere's Fan (1893), A Woman of No Importance (1894), An Ideal Husband (1895), The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). Oscar Wilde also wrote poems, political and literary essays (The Soul of Man under Socialism, Intentions, 1891) and various occasional pieces on history, drama and painting. He had the reputation of a brilliant society wit. Wilde's splendid literary career and social position suddenly collapsed when in 1895 he was sentenced to a two-years' term of imprisonment for immoral practices. After his release he lived in obscurity in France. In 1898 he published his best-known poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol.
An abridged version of his prose confession bearing the Latin name of De Profundis (Out of the Depths) was printed posthumously, its full text only to appear as late as 1962. The writer's aesthetic views are disclosed in the three essays of Intentions (The Decay of Lying, The Critic as an Artist, and Pen, Pencil and Poison) and, in his most brilliantly paradoxical style, in the famous preface to Dorian Gray:
The artist is the creator of beautiful things.
To reveal art and conceal the artist is art's aim...
They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty.
There is no such thing as moral or immoral book.
Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.
All art is quite useless.
Fortunately, Oscar Wilde's work disproves his own statements, thus adding another paradox to his life and work.
Irish wit, poet, and dramatist whose reputation rests on his comic masterpieces Lady Windermere's Fan (1892) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). He was a spokesman for the late 19th-century Aesthetic movement in England, which advocated art for art's sake; and he was the object of celebrated civil and criminal suits involving homosexuality and ending in his imprisonment (1895-97).
Wilde was born of professional and literary parents. His father, Sir William Wilde, was Ireland's leading ear and eye surgeon, who also published books on archaeology, folklore, and the satirist Jonathan Swift; his mother was a revolutionary poet and an authority on Celtic myth and folklore.
After attending Portora Royal School, Enniskillen (1864-71), Wilde went, on successive scholarships, to Trinity College, Dublin (1871-74), and Magdalen College, Oxford (1874-78), which awarded him a degree with honours. During these four years, he distinguished himself not only as a classical scholar, a poseur, and a wit but also as a poet by winning the coveted Newdigate Prize in 1878 with a long poem, Ravenna. He was deeply impressed by the teachings of the English writers John Ruskin and Walter Pater on the central importance of art in life and particularly by the latter's stress on the aesthetic intensity by which life should be lived. Like many in his generation, Wilde was determined to follow Pater's urging "to burn always with [a] hard, gemlike flame." But Wilde also delighted in affecting an aesthetic pose; this, combined with rooms at Oxford decorated with objets d'art, resulted in his famous remark: "Oh, would that I could live up to my blue china!"
In the early 1880s, when Aestheticism was the rage and despair of literary London, Wilde established himself in social and artistic circles by his wit and flamboyance. Soon the periodical Punch made him the satiric object of its antagonism to the Aesthetes for what was considered their unmasculine devotion to art; and in their comic opera Patience, Gilbert and Sullivan based the character Bunthorne, a "fleshly poet," partly on Wilde. Wishing to reinforce the association, Wilde published, at his own expense, Poems (1881), which echoed, too faithfully, his discipleship to the poets Algernon Swinburne, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and John Keats. Eager for further acclaim, Wilde agreed to lecture in the United States and Canada in 1882, announcing on his arrival in New York City that he had "nothing to declare but his genius." Despite widespread hostility in the press to his languid poses and aesthetic costume of velvet jacket, knee breeches, and black silk stockings, Wilde for 12 months exhorted the Americans to love beauty and art; then he returned to Great Britain to lecture on his impressions of America.
In 1884 Wilde married Constance Lloyd, daughter of a prominent Irish barrister; two children, Cyril and Vyvyan, were born, in 1885 and 1886. Meanwhile, Wilde was a reviewer for the Pall Mall Gazette and then became editor of Woman's World (1887-89). During this period of apprenticeship as a writer, he published The Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888), which reveals his gift for romantic allegory in the form of the fairy tale.
In the final decade of his life, Wilde wrote and published nearly all of his major work. In his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (published in Lippincott's Magazine, 1890, and in book form, revised and expanded by six chapters, 1891), Wilde combined the supernatural elements of the Gothic novel with the unspeakable sins of French decadent fiction. Critics charged immorality despite Dorian's self-destruction; Wilde, however, insisted on the amoral nature of art regardless of an apparently moral ending. Intentions (1891), consisting of previously published essays, restated his aesthetic attitude toward art by borrowing ideas from the French poets Théophile Gautier and Charles Baudelaire and the American painter James McNeill Whistler. In the same year, two volumes of stories and fairy tales also appeared, testifying to his extraordinary creative inventiveness: Lord Arthur Savile's Crime, and Other Stories and A House of Pomegranates.
But Wilde's greatest successes were his society comedies. Within the conventions of the French "well-made play" (with its social intrigues and artificial devices to resolve conflict), he employed his paradoxical, epigrammatic wit to create a form of comedy new to the 19th-century English theatre. His first success, Lady Windermere's Fan, demonstrated that this wit could revitalize the rusty machinery of French drama. In the same year, rehearsals of his macabre play Salomé, written in French and designed, as he said, to make his audience shudder by its depiction of unnatural passion, were halted by the censor because it contained biblical characters. It was published in 1893, and an English translation appeared in 1894 with Aubrey Beardsley's celebrated illustrations.
A second society comedy, A Woman of No Importance (produced 1893), convinced the critic William Archer that Wilde's plays "must be taken on the very highest plane of modern English drama." In rapid succession, Wilde's final plays, An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest, were produced early in 1895. In the latter, his greatest achievement, the conventional elements of farce are transformed into satiric epigrams--seemingly trivial but mercilessly exposing Victorian hypocrisies.
I suppose society is wonderfully delightful. To be in it is merely a bore. But to be out of it simply a tragedy.
I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.
All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his.
I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time. That would be hypocrisy.
In many of his works, exposure of a secret sin or indiscretion and consequent disgrace is a central design. If life imitated art, as Wilde insisted in his essay "The Decay of Lying" (1889), he was himself approximating the pattern in his reckless pursuit of pleasure. In addition, his close friendship with Lord Alfred Douglas, whom he had met in 1891, infuriated the Marquess of Queensberry, Douglas' father. Accused, finally, by the marquess of being a sodomite, Wilde, urged by Douglas, sued for criminal libel. Wilde's case collapsed, however, when the evidence went against him, and he dropped the suit. Urged to flee to France by his friends, Wilde refused, unable to believe that his world was at an end. He was arrested and ordered to stand trial.
Wilde testified brilliantly, but the jury failed to reach a verdict. In the retrial he was found guilty and sentenced, in May 1895, to two years at hard labour. Most of his sentence was served at Reading Gaol, where he wrote a long letter to Douglas (published in 1905 in a drastically cut version as De Profundis) filled with recriminations against the younger man for encouraging him in dissipation and distracting him from his work.
In May 1897 Wilde was released, a bankrupt, and immediately went to France, hoping to regenerate himself as a writer. His only remaining work, however, was The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), revealing his concern for inhumane prison conditions. Despite constant money problems he maintained, as George Bernard Shaw said, "an unconquerable gaiety of soul" that sustained him, and he was visited by such loyal friends as Max Beerbohm and Robert Ross, later his literary executor; he was also reunited with Douglas. He died suddenly of acute meningitis brought on by an ear infection. In his semiconscious final moments, he was received into the Roman Catholic church, which he had long admired.
Wilde, Oscar (1854-1900), Irish-born writer and wit, who was the chief proponent of the aesthetic movement, based on the principle of art for art’s sake. Wilde was a novelist, playwright, poet, and critic.
He was born Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde on October 16, 1854, in Dublin, and educated at Trinity College, Dublin. As a youngster he was exposed to the brilliant literary talk of the day at his mother’s Dublin salon. Later, as a student at the University of Oxford, he excelled in classics, wrote poetry, and incorporated the Bohemian life-style of his youth into a unique way of life. At Oxford Wilde came under the influence of aesthetic innovators such as English writers Walter Pater and John Ruskin. As an aesthete, the eccentric young Wilde wore long hair and velvet knee breeches. His rooms were filled with various objets d’art such as sunflowers, peacock feathers, and blue china; Wilde claimed to aspire to the perfection of the china. His attitudes and manners were ridiculed in the comic periodical Punch and satirized in the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera Patience (1881). Nonetheless, his wit, brilliance, and flair won him many devotees.
Wilde’s first book was Poems (1881). His first play, Vera, or the Nihilists (1882), was produced in New York City, where he saw it performed while he was on a highly successful lecture tour. Upon returning to England he settled in London and married in 1884 a wealthy Irish woman, with whom he had two sons. Thereafter he devoted himself exclusively to writing.
In 1895, at the peak of his career, Wilde became the central figure in one of the most sensational court trials of the century. The results scandalized the Victorian middle class; Wilde, who had been a close friend of the young Lord Alfred Douglas, was convicted of sodomy. Sentenced in 1895 to two years of hard labor in prison, he emerged financially bankrupt and spiritually downcast. He spent the rest of his life in Paris, using the pseudonym Sebastian Melmoth. He was converted to Roman Catholicism before he died of meningitis in Paris on November 30, 1900.
Wilde’s early works included two collections of fairy stories, which he wrote for his sons, The Happy Prince (1888) and A House of Pomegranates (1892), and a group of short stories, Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime (1891). His only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), is a melodramatic tale of moral decadence, distinguished for its brilliant, epigrammatic style. Although the author fully describes the process of corruption, the shocking conclusion of the story frankly commits him to a moral stand against self-debasement.
Wilde’s most distinctive and engaging plays are the four comedies Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892), A Woman of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband (1895), and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), all characterized by adroitly contrived plots and remarkably witty dialogue. Wilde, with little dramatic training, proved he had a natural talent for stagecraft and theatrical effects and a true gift for farce. The plays sparkle with his clever paradoxes, among them such famous inverted proverbs as “Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes” and “What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.”
In contrast, Wilde’s Salomй is a serious drama about obsessive passion. Originally written in French, it was produced in Paris in 1894 with the celebrated actor Sarah Bernhardt. It was subsequently made into an opera by the German composer Richard Strauss. Salomй was also translated into English by Lord Alfred Douglas and illustrated by English artist Aubrey Beardsley in 1894.
While in prison Wilde composed De Profundis (From the Depths; 1905), an apology for his life. Some critics consider it a serious revelation; others, a sentimental and insincere work. The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), written at Berneval-le-Grand, France, just after his release and published anonymously in England, is the most powerful of all his poems. The starkness of prison life and the desperation of people interned are revealed in beautifully cadenced language. For years after his death the name of Oscar Wilde bore the stigma attached to it by Victorian prudery. Wilde, the artist, now is recognized as a brilliant social commentator, whose best work remains worthwhile and relevant.