Wilde, Oscar (Fingal O'Flahertie Wills)

Wilde, Oscar (Fingal O'Flahertie Wills)

biographical name


Oscar Wilde, 1882.—Courtesy of the William Andrews Memorial Library of the University of California, Los Angeles

(born Oct. 16, 1854, Dublin, Ire.—died Nov. 30, 1900, Paris, France) Irish poet and dramatist. Son of an eminent surgeon, Wilde attended Trinity College, Dublin, and later Oxford University, becoming widely known for his wit while still an undergraduate. A spokesman for Aestheticism, in the early 1880s he gave a lecture tour in the U.S. and established himself in London circles by his wit and flamboyance. His only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), combines gothic elements with mockery of bourgeois morality. His macabre play Salomé (1893) was later adapted as the libretto of Richard Strauss's opera; his other plays, all successes, include Lady Windermere's Fan (1893), A Woman of No Importance (1893), and An Ideal Husband (1895). His greatest work was the comedy The Importance of Being Earnest (1899), a satire of Victorian social hypocrisy. Two critical dialogues, “The Decay of Lying” and “The Critic as Artist,” are admired as equally brilliant. Though happily married, in 1891 he began an intimate relationship with the young Lord Alfred Douglas, son of the marquess of Queensberry. Accused by Queensberry of being a sodomite, Wilde sued for libel and lost, then was arrested for sodomy and convicted in a trial that became internationally notorious. Imprisoned at Reading Gaol (1895–97), he wrote a recriminatory letter to his lover that was edited and published as De Profundis (1905). After his release, he moved to Paris; his only later work was The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), on inhumane prison conditions. He died suddenly of acute meningitis.

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