Thursday, December 2, 2010

Oscar Wilde: A Biographical Sketch


Oscar Wilde was born on the 16th October, 1854 at No. 21 Westland Row, Dublin (in Ireland). His father, William Wilde, was an eye-and-car specialist, and made such a reputation for himself in his field that he received a knighthood in 1864. Although a distinguished mass in the medical n, William Wilde was a notoriously dirty old man, sand his Personal uncleanliness leas one of the jokes in Dublin.
His private life was also notorious. He bad numerous illicit love-affairs, and produced a numbers of illegitimate; children. However, Aw was a man of outstanding and diverse abilities. William Wilde had married Jane Francesca Elgee who herself was a talented woman, and who became well-known as an Irish nationalist. Her artistic and poetic inclinations happily supplemented her husband’s scientific learning. Mrs. Wilde was better known by her pen-name, Speranza. Within a few years after her marriage, Speranza gradually withdrew from political activity and accepted the congenial role of hostess to her husband’s distinguished visitors and guests of whom there were many. William Wilde and Speranza then left their residence in Westland Row and Moved to the more fashionable locality of Dublin, known as Merrion Square. They were no longer Dr. Wilde and Speranza, but Sir William need Lady Wilde.

One of Three Children

Sir William and Lady Wilde had three children, two boys and a girl. The eldest, Willie Wilde, was born in 1853. One year later, in 1854, was bore Oscar Wilde. Oscar’s birth was somewhat of a disappointment to Speranza who had been longing for a girl. However, two years after Oscar’s birth, Speranza’s dearest wish was fulfilled by the arrival of a daughter who was named Isola. But, unfortunately, the girl died after a short illness at the age of ten. Isola’s death deeply affected Oscar, and many years later he wrote the poem Requiescat in her memory. In delicacy of feeling and in sadness without bitterness this poem has seldom been surpassed.


When Oscar Wilde was ten years old, he and his elder brother were both sent to Portora Royal School at Enniskillen. Whereas Willie Wilde was popular at school, Oscar was quite the reverse because he had little in common with the other boys. Oscar seemed to prefer his own company to that of his school-fellows. In 1871 when he was just seventeen, he won an entrance scholarship to Trinity College, Dublin, which is the Protestant University of Ireland. There he remained for three years and it was there that he fell under the spell of Professor Mahaffy who was a great scholar of Greek literature and culture and who exercised a very considerable influence on Oscar’s life. It was at Trinity College that a life-long rivalry began between Oscar Wilde and a contemporary by the name of Edward Carson*. Wilde completed his career at Trinity College by winning a scholarship which enabled him to go to Magadalen College, Oxford. It was in October 1874, when he was exactly twenty, that he went up to the University of Oxford where the seeds of aestheticism and the ideals of Greek beauty that had been sown in him by Professor Mahaffy began to sprout and Bower. Oxford made an immediate impression on him, and it was not long before he began to make an impression on Oxford by winning many academic distinctions. At Oxford he also came under the influence of John Ruskin, and of Walter Pater who was known as a great aesthete. Under the influence of Pater’s aesthetic theories, Oscar Wilde, who had already been addicted to wearing flambuoyant clothes, became even more so.

Visits to Italy and Greece

In the summer of 1875, Oscar Wilde made an extensive tour of Italy, visiting many historic cities. This Italian tour made a great impression on him and also increased his interest in the Roman Catholic Church. In 1877, Wilde accompanied Professor Mahaffy on a tour of Greece, and was enchanted by everything he saw there.

Writing Poems

In 1876, Wilde had begun seriously to write poetry, and in this and the two following years he contributed a number of poems to literary magazines. In his last year at Oxford he won the Newdigate Prize, the chief prize for poetry at that University, with a poem called Ravenna.

In London

Oscar’s father, Sir William, had died during Oscar’s second year at Oxford. His mother had left the Merrion Square house and gone to London to try to establish a salon* in London on the lines of the one in Dublin. So, after taking his degree from Oxford, Wilde went to London to see what that city had to offer him. His brother Willie had established himself in journalism, and he helped Oscar in his early struggles by introducing him to the editors of literary magazines. In London, Oscar shared his lodgings with an old Oxford friend; Frank Miles, who was an artist. It was at this time that Oscar Wilde began to attract attention by his unconventional and fantastic clothing.

His First Play, “Vera”, and His Collected Poems

Early in 1880, Oscar Wilde wrote his first play, Vera, centred round nihilism in Russia. However, for certain reasons, this play could not be performed on the London stage. In 1881, he published his collected poems, probably at his own expense. The reception given to this book was very mixed, and mostly hostile.

A Lecture-Tear of America

Oscar Wilde and his friend, Miles, were now finding themselves in monetary difficulties. So they left their expensive lodgings in Salisbury Street and. took up their abode in less expensive quarters in Tite Street, the same street in which Wilde was to live from the time of his marriage until the tragic events of 1895. There, at the request of Miss Mary Anderson, a New York actress, he wrote a tragic play, The Duchess of Padua, in blank verse. At the same time he received an offer to go on a lecture-tour to America, which he accepted. In America he delivered lectures in about seventy different towns, meeting with a mixed reception from his audiences, but nearly always a hostile Press. For the first two months after his return to England. Oscar Wilde was much in demand at parties in London where he entertained his companions with stories of America. However, be soon began to feel depressed, and he went on a visit to Paris where he met Robert Sherard who became a life-long friend.

In Paris

It was in Paris that he completed The Duchess of Padua. The play was produced in New York but met with no success. Wilde remained in Paris for two more months, idling the time away and meeting all the most distinguished French authors and artists of the time.

Another American Tour, and Marriage

Wilde returned to London in May 1883 and went on another visit to America in August of the same year. After delivering about sixty lectures in that country, he returned to London, determined to make: his living by his pen. In November 1883, in the middle of his tour of America, he had announced his engagement to Miss Constance Mary Lloyd, the daughter of a well-known Irish barrister, whom, he had first met in 1881. They were married on the 29th May. 1884 In London. Wilde and Constance settled down in. Tite Street, and Oscar began to look round to decide what to do next.

Monetary Difficulties

Wilde was now, thirty years of age, married, his name known to everyone, with extravagant tastes, no money, and no fixed occupation. Constance’s dowry was not adequate to provide even the minimum necessities of life. Oscar had really achieved nothing so far but a reputation as a conversationalist and a great deal of notoriety. The famous periodical magazine, Punch, had been making him a target of satirical attacks and publishing caricatures of him. Early in 1885, Wilde got a book-reviewer’s job with the Pall Mall Gazette. In 1887 he was appointed editor of a monthly magazine entitled The Woman’s World. But, two years later, finding the discipline of the job to be irksome, he resigned.

A Successful Playwright

In 18.87, Wilde published a book of short stories. In 1891, he produced a book of essays, called Intentions. In the same year he produced a novel called The Picture of Dorian Gray which had already appeared in an abbreviated form in a monthly magazine. The novel possessed literary brilliance, but it earned the bitter disapproval of critics, because of its alleged immorality. However, by now Wilde bad begun to be regarded as a writer who could not be ignored and his play Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892) established him as one of the leading dramatists of the English stage and brought him a lot of money. It was followed by A Woman of No Importance and An Ideal Husband. Then came The Importance of Being Earnest which rightly achieved an immense success by its wit and technical success. Another play Salami was, however, banned in England, and was produced in Paris in 1896.

Trial on Charges of Homosexuality and Imprisonment

Wilde’s morals had become the target off criticism among friends, acquaintances, and even the general public and all kinds of stories had been in circulation. Although his literary successes made him acceptable in society, people began to say that he had been indulging in homosexual practices, but far from hiding his unnatural habits he openly moved in the company of male prostituted and other disreputable characters. An open accusation of homosexuality was made against him by the Marquis of Queensberry. Wilde filed a suit for criminal libel against the Marquis who was defended by Edward Carson (his contemporary at Trinity College). The trial which began on April 1895 ended three days later with the acquittal of the Marquis. But the evidence against Wilde was so weighty that the government had to prosecute him on charges of homosexuality. The first trial of Wilde ended with a disagreement among the jury. The second ended with Wilde’s conviction under the provisions of the Criminal Law. Amendment Act which bad been passed ten years before. He was sentenced to two years’ rigorous imprisonment. During the period of imprisonment, he wrote an Apologia, De Profoundest (“from the depths of the heart”). He also wrote, after his release, The Ballad of Reading Goal (1898) which has passages of great power and beauty. These two productions overshadowed everything else he had ever written. The prison experiences had chastened him. In contact with stern facts, Wilde unlearned all the philosophy of pleasure to which he had devoted his life, and he now stood almost on the verge of moral salvation.

Release, and Departure For France

The sentence of two years’ imprisonment took effect from the 20th May, 1895. In the meantime, soon after his arrest, his wife had left him and was living with their two children (Cyril and Vyvyan) in Genoa (in Italy). On the evening of the 18th May, 1897, on the eve of his release, Wilde was secretly transferred from Reading Goal to Bentonville Prison in order to avoid any possible demonstration by Queensberry’s friends. On the morning of the 19th May, 1897, he was duly released. His faithful friend Robert Ross received him at the gate. The same evening, Wilde left for France, and never went back to England again. He first stayed at Dieppe under the assumed name of Sebastian Melmoth. He was accompanied by his two great friends, Robert Ross and Reginald Turner. In Dieppe, Wilde passed a peaceful fortnight during which he wrote a long and moving letter to a newspaper on the cruelties of prison life. This letter made such a strong impression that sweeping reforms were introduced in the British prison system. Ross and Turner then returned to England, while Wilde moved to the small village of Berneval where he wrote most of his last work. The Ballad of Reading Gaol. Thus he had begun his literary life as a poet and ended it as a poet also.

Death at the Age of Fortysix

Wilde’s mother had died at the beginning of 1896, while he was in prison. The news had been brought to him by his wife who had travelled especially to England from Genoa. In April 1898, his wife died too. In May 1899, he went to Paris where he took a room in a hotel. By this time he had realized that the future held nothing for him, and he made no effort to do any more literary work In the middle of the following year (1900) he began to suffer from recurrent headaches, and on the 30th November 1900, he died in his hotel. Only on the previous day, he’ had got himself converted to the Roman Catholic faith, and so the last rites were performed in accordance with his new faith. He was buried three days later at Bagneux Cemetery, in the presence of Robert Ross. Reginald Turner, and Alfred Douglas. In 1909 his remains were removed to the French national cemetery of Pere Lachaise, where they now rest beneath the famous Epstein monument. In 19540 the London County Council, in commemoration of the hundredth anniversary of Oscar Wilde’s birth, placed a plaque on the house in Tite Street, London, where he had lived and worked between 1894 and 1893.

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