One of the great ‘stars’ of the world of literature
“Somehow or other I’ll be famous, and if not famous, I’ll be notorious” declared the young Oscar Wilde. He proved to be both!
From a childhood in an eminent Protestant Dublin family, then time as a flamboyant student at Oxford, and his arrival on the London scene, Oscar Wilde was a larger-than-life figure in his time. He was a playwright, wit, advisor on home decoration, novelist, and poet. Wilde’s genius as a raconteur and coiner of epigrams made him the most quoted man in London. He translated his genius into stories, plays, poems and a novel and gained a place amongst the great Victorian writers.
Oscar Wilde has gone down as one of history’s most versatile authors. He wrote essays, brilliant letters, plays that have been regularly performed around the world, moving fairy tales, one controversial novel, and some superb poems. He once stated that he had put only his talent into his works but had put his genius into his life.
“There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is NOT being talked about.”
― Oscar Wilde
A great place to start your Oscar Wilde discovery journey is with my video talk The Importance of Being Oscar: The Life and Works of Oscar Wilde. In this fully illustrated 60 minute video talk, I discuss Oscar Wilde’s life and work. Purchase it to watch any time.
Oscar Wilde was a deliberate debunker of Victorian gravity and solemnity, and was a closely aligned with the Aesthetic Movement that he helped to create. The Aesthetic Movement stressed the importance of beauty and aestheticism in literature, art, house decoration etc, in preference to a stress on social and political ideas. For Wilde and his fellow Aesthetes, there simply was no other choice: life is the greatest of all works of art, they believed, and the goal of the Aesthete is to savor the experience of beauty. He always loved colour – vermillion, deep purples and rich golds and works such as The Birthday of the Infanta and The Happy Prince are full of references to different vivid hues.
In April 1895 London was fascinated and shocked by the trial where Oscar Wilde sued the Marquess of Queensberry (father of Bosie, Oscar’s lover) for libel. But there was so much evidence against him that Wilde had to drop the prosecution and the Marquess was acquitted. Oscar had to pay the expenses, which left him bankrupt, but more importantly he was in danger of arrest. In fact, as he left the court, a warrant for his arrest was applied for on charges of sodomy and gross indecency.
Wilde did have time to catch the boat train to France, where he could have lived out his life comfortably and safely. However, the man who had accepted all the good that society could give him, now felt he also had to accept the bad. He went to the Cadogan Hotel and dithered there with his friend Robert Ross. Soon police arrived, he was arrested, and of course, after another trial he was sentenced.
Poor Oscar did two years’ hard labour in three different prisons – his health was destroyed, and apart from The Ballad of Reading Gaol, which was published under his prison number C.3.3., he never wrote another word.
Oscar Wilde uttered the best known literary last words, saying “My wallpaper and I have been fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has got to go”. A true wit until his last breath.
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Scroll down to where I list many of the books, movies, and resources available – about Oscar Wilde’s life, times, characters, style, and influence. It’s a compilation of items that I have referenced over many years and is by no means exhaustive, rather, just a starting point for your own Oscar Wilde discovery.