Oscar Wilde part 1


Grace Chalhoub, Staff Writer

Early life and education

Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin on 16 Oct 1854  to the Irish Protestant Sir William Wilde, a renowned surgeon also known for his works on the history and culture of Ireland, and Francesca Elgee Wilde, a popular socialite, poetess and compiler of Celtic folklore. Sir William and Jane (who wrote under the pseudonym “Speranza”), raised Wilde in a highly academic and artistic household that embraced hard work, intellectualism and Irish nationalism. For the rest of his life, Wilde would be a diligent student, reader and writer, and an avid supporter of Irish independence and culture, embracing his Irish flamboyance in the face of staunch English Victorianism.

In 1871, Wilde began studying classics at Trinity College in Dublin, receiving top marks in Greek and winning the Berkeley Gold Metal, Trinity’s highest award for classics students. In 1874, Wilde began attending Magdalen College, Oxford on a scholarship. While at Oxford, Wilde began attracting some of the fame he had been hoping for. Wilde was an adherent of the aesthetic movement, a late 19th-century artistic movement that permeated lifestyle, emphasizing beauty in art, decor and clothing, rebelling against the stress on morality in 19th-century art and industrialization . He adorned his dormitory with aesthetic staples such as lilies, Japanese art and peacock feathers, and he daringly grew out his hair and dressed luxuriously. He studied under the tutelage of many influential and brilliant minds, including the great proponent of aestheticism John Ruskin,  and consorted with a variety of students, including comrades in the aesthetic movement and skeptics who made fun of Wilde. While at Oxford, he won the Newdigate Prize for his poem “Ravenna.” He graduated with a bachelor’s degree with highest honors in classics in 1878 and moved to London.

London and trip to America

As an Irishman in London, Wilde had to work hard to garner the attention of the English upper-class. His style and daring, which he often exhibited at upper-class parties and events attended by royalty, politicians and famous artists, quickly made him a popular object of both praise and ridicule among London’s elite. After only a year in London, newspapers and magazines were depicting Wilde in cartoons. In 1881, a musical librettist named W.S. Gilbert penned a satirical opera called “Patience” that mocked the aesthetes, basing his lead character Bunthorne on Wilde himself, whom he portrayed as a dandyish idiot. “Patience” landed in the United States the same year, but Americans were unfamiliar with the references and jokes. Persuading Wilde to go to the States and deliver lectures on aesthetics, Gilbert’s producer Richard D’Oyly Carte was certain that the Americans would have a good laugh at Wilde.

Carte’s plan not only failed, it backfired. Upon landing in New England, Wilde announced to the customs officers that he had “nothing to declare but [his] genius,” and he believed it, too. Wilde made connections with the top writers, artists, scholars and other intellectual elite, among them Walt Whitman, Louisa May Alcott and Ulysses S. Grant. Wilde delivered lectures on decorative arts, the English Renaissance, and Irish poetry, stunning Americans with his brilliant wit. Within the first few weeks of his arrival, Wilde learned about a trend that would alter his career forever. In New York, as well as in other parts of the United States, Americans enjoyed collecting 4-by-6 portrait photographs of their favorite celebrities, displaying them in their rooms and apartments. Wilde arranged for his own pictures to be taken, posing languidly in his signature costumes of silk stockings and luxurious coats. His image became famous. People recognized him in the streets and collected his cards. Wilde was famous, not for his literary accomplishments, but for simply being famous. The Americans had gotten a taste of his wit, but this trip was what ultimately launched Wilde into his period of writing.


Between 1883 and 1895, Wilde published the bulk of his work, including satires and comedies, works of Gothic fiction, homoerotic stories, fairy tales, sonnets, literary criticisms and essays regarding a range of topics including art, modeling, and libertarian socialism.

Many of Wilde’s works reflected his strong views about art and art’s aim. Before all else, art should be beautiful. Secondly, as Wilde wrote in his preface to “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” “there is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all,” a quote that would later be used against him in the future. Unlike Victorian society, Wilde did not believe in communicating a moral through literature, and he believed that artists should not attempt to communicate their views through their art. This opinion would subject Wilde to considerable controversy over the years.  

In 1883, Wilde published his play the “Duchess of Padua”; a year later, he married Constance Lloyd. His sons Cyril and Vyvyan were born in 1885 and 1886, respectively. In 1887, Wilde became editor of “The Woman’s World,” a magazine initially intended to educate middle-class women about trends in high society, but under Wilde became a feminist magazine. Between 1887 and 1888 Wilde published his short story “The Canterville Ghost,” a pseudo-gothic tragicomedy satirizing the English nobility and American pragmatism, and his first book of children’s stories “The Happy Prince and Other Tales.”

Between 1889 and 1890, Wilde published two of his most controversial works. The first was “The Portrait of Mr. W.H.,” a short story theorizing that Shakespeare’s first 126 sonnets were addressed to a young boy actor who portrayed female characters in Shakespeare’s dramas with whom Shakespeare shared a tumultuous romance. This story caused an uproar when it was first published in 1889, but not enough to unhinge Wilde’s fame. Wilde did risk his career, however, with the novel he published a year later.

Works cited