Pride Month Special: Oscar Wilde

“Life is much too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it.”

Oscar Wilde was an Irish author, playwright, and poet born on October 16th, 1854. A well known literary figure in late Victorian England, he was famous for his quick wit, flamboyant lifestyle and his infamous imprisonment for homosexuality.

His father, Sir William Wilde, was an acclaimed doctor. He founded St. Mark’s Ophthalmic Hospital, entirely at his own expense, for the free treatment of Dublin’s poor. Oscar’s mother, Jane Francesca Elgee, was a gifted linguist and poet who penned revolutionary poems for a weekly Irish newspaper. Oscar was an extraordinary academic and was awarded the Royal School Scholarship to attend Trinity College in Dublin. He excelled in his classes, particularly his classics classes, placing first in his examinations and earning the highest honor the college could bestow on an undergraduate, a Foundation Scholarship. Oscar crowned his successes at Trinity by winning the college’s Berkeley Gold Medal for Greek. He was awarded a Demyship scholarship to attend Magdalen College in Oxford where he established himself as a Classical scholar and poet by winning the coveted Newdigate Prize in 1878 with a long poem, Ravenna.

In 1881, Wilde published his first collection, Poems which established Wilde as an up-and-coming writer. Eager for further acclaim, he traveled to USA and Canada in 1882 for a lecture series lasting for 12 months after which he returned to Great Britain to lecture his impressions on America. In 1884, Wilde married Constance Lloyd, daughter of a prominent Irish barrister. The couple had two children, Cyril and Vyvyan.

Beginning in 1888, Wilde entered a 7 year period of intense creativity when he wrote and published nearly all of this major work. He published The Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888), a collection of children stories followed by Intentions (1891) and his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891). Though the novel is now considered one of his greatest works, it was widely criticized during his time for being immoral. Wilde’s greatest successes, however, were his plays. His first play, Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892) opened to widespread popularity and critical acclaim, prompting Wilde to adopt playwriting at his primary literary form. Over the next few years, he produced several witty and highly satirical plays including A Woman of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband (1895) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), his most famous play.

Around the same time he was enjoying his literary success, Wilde commenced an affair with a young man named Lord Alfred Douglas. Douglas’s father, the Marquis of Queensberry, had gotten wind of the affair and left a calling card at Wilde’s home. Wilde was so outraged by Queensberry’s note that he sued him for libel. The decision ruined his life.

When the trial began in March, Queensberry and his lawyers presented evidence of Wilde’s homosexuality that quickly resulted in the dismissal of Wilde’s libel case and his arrest on charges of “gross indecency.” Wilde was convicted on May 25, 1895, and sentenced to two years in prison. Wilde was released from prison in 1987, broke and emotionally depleted. He wrote minimally after his release, his only notable work being The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), which was about his experiences in prison. Wilde died from meningitis on November 30th, 1900 at the age of 46.

“Life is never fair…And perhaps it is a good thing for most of us that it is not.”

Centuries after his death, Wilde remains one of the most well-known figures in the literary world. His witty, humorous, and brilliantly imaginative works continue to be admired by people worldwide.

Written by- Sriya Peri

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