Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, better known as Oscar Wilde was an Irish poet, author and one of the most successful playwrights of the Victorian Era. Many of his plays such as The Importance of Being Earnest and Salome are translated in to foreign languages and are adopted into films and poems written by him made their presence in the list of bestsellers of his time and still continue to be read worldwide. The most celebrated novelist and author of his time, Oscar Wilde was appreciated by and acquainted with many influential artists of the day including English author John Ruskin, American poet Walt Whitman and George Bernard Shaw. Wilde witnessed an ill-fated downfall in 1885, when the author was arrested and imprisoned on account of his iniquitous homosexuality that made him leave his country for ever. He was also harshly criticized for his outspoken atheism and active role in atheistic movements in the country.
Oscar Wilde Childhood & Education
Born on 16 October 1854 in Ireland, Oscar Wilde was the second son of his Anglo-Irish parents. His father Sir William Wilde was a successful eye-ear surgeon in Ireland and his mother Jane Francesca Wilde was a renowned writer and poet of her time. Sir William Wilde, a philanthropist, was knighted in 1864 for his remarkable work in medicine. A widely read and learned person; he wrote books on archaeology and folklore and was the founder of the Dublin Eye and Ear Hospital. In 1855, Oscar’s family moved to Merrion Square where his sister Isola was born after one year in 1856.
After initial schooling at home, Oscar went on to study at Portora Royal School in Fermanagh. Upon leaving the school, he enrolled in the Trinity College in Dublin in 1871 and studied classics with his elder brother Willie Wilde for two years. A devoted student and outstanding performer Oscar was, he won the Berkeley Gold Medal at Trinity and was awarded a scholarship to the Oxford University. He studied there from 1874 to 1878 and became involved with the Atheistic movement. While at Oxford, he recited his first poem in 1878 for which he was awarded the Newdigate Prize. In the same year, he graduated with a double first in classical moderations. His first collection of poetries titled as Poems was published in 1881.
Marriage & Family
It was after graduating from Oxford, when he met and courted Florence Balcombe. However, when she rejected his proposal to marriage, Oscar left Ireland permanently in 1878. In 1884, he met Constance Lloyd in London and fell in love with her. They married on 29 May 1884 and the couple had two sons Cyril, who was born in 1885 and Vyvyan, who arrived the next year in 1886. Constance died in 1898 after a spinal surgery and was buried in Staglieno Cemetery in Genoa, Italy. After the arrest of Oscar, she had her hand their son’s last name changed to ‘Holland’. His elder son Cyril was killed in France during the World War I. Oscar’s second son Vyvyan, who also served in the war, became an author following his father’s footprints and penned his memoir Son of Oscar Wilde in 1954.
Wilde was involved in aesthetic and decadent movements during his days at Oxford and since then became well known for his scandalous acts. His views on aestheticism were influenced by the contemporary writers John Ruskin and Walter Pater who advocated for and preached the central importance of art in one’s life. Now an important personality and a principle aesthete, Oscar began to teach Aesthetic Values in London in 1879.Though he was often scoffed at for his aestheticism and was targeted by his critics, his sayings-sometimes outrageous- became popular. During 1887-1889 he worked as a reviewer for the Pall Mall Gazette and soon after he was appointed the editor of The Woman’s World.
Sexuality & Relationships
Oscar Wilde’s sexual orientation has been considered homosexual or bisexual. He first acknowledged this during his Oxford Days and since then he developed several ‘passionate and scandulous’ relationship with his mates and colleagues. The most prominent among them was with Lord Alfred Douglas, a junior at Oxford. The two developed a tumultuous relation that would eventually lead to the downfall of Oscar Wilde who did not try to conceal his sexual interest and openly lived with him for years. They even went as far as to come out with a ‘Law Reform’ appeal with other upper class supporters who suggested making homosexuality legal. However, their effort went unheeded.
Downfall and Imprisonment
Alfred had a turbulent relationship with his father John Douglas, who took offence at the growing intimacy between Oscar and his son. He disapproved of their living together and often confronted Oscar who successfully placated him each time when confronted. John was determined to end their contemptuous relationship and embarked on ruining Oscar’s image. It was the opening night of The Importance of Being Earnest, when John planned to publicly expose and humiliate him and did so going as far as calling him by obscene names in public. Wilde filed a case against him and had John arrested for a brief period. He was later freed on bail and this time he fall pry into his own trap. The legal committee became inquisitive of his association with male prostitutes, Alfred, and others as the lofty details of Wilde’s lifestyle began to come out in the light.
His first trial was scheduled for 3rd April 1895. After a series of cross questioning and examination the evidences, trial was ended without a verdict. In his final trial, which was on 25 May 1895, Wilde was convicted of Homosexuality-a gross indecency- and given a two-year sentence with hard labor. By this time, he had Alfred out of the country despite his constant resistance and willingness to take a stand for him. Wilde was imprisoned in Pentonville and sent to Wandsworth and then finally to Reading prison, a place 30 miles west of London. While in prison, Wilde wrote a 50,000 word-long letter addressed to Douglas, which he gave to his friend Robert Ross on his release. A heavily edited form of the letter was published in 1905. Further, Vyvyan published it again in 1999, though its first complete and unedited version was published in 1962, titled as The Letters of Oscar Wilde.
Release & Death
Oscar Wilde was released on 19 May 1897 after which he took a self exile from society, though he did not end his association with his male friends including Canadian journalist Robert Ross. Now adapting the name Sebastian Melmoth, he settled in Paris and reunited with his previous social circle.
Oscar Wilde died of Meningitis on 30 November 1900 and he now rests in Pe`re Lachaise Cemetery in Paris where Robert Ross’s ashes were added in the angel-adorned tomb after his death. Oscar was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church by Robert Ross before his death.