Oscar Wilde

Irish poet, playwright, and aesthete (1854–1900)

Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900) was an Irish writer, poet and playwright. He wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the plays Salomé, The Importance of Being Earnest, An Ideal Husband, and Lady Windermere's Fan.

Wilde was bisexual. He had a wife and two children. He had an affair with a younger man named Lord Alfred Douglas. This affair ruined his life.

Biography change

Memorial plaque in Dublin

Wilde was born in Ireland in 1854. He went to school at Trinity College in Dublin. Then he went the Magdalen College (part of Oxford University.) In London, he worked as a journalist for four years.

He was very well known in his time. This was because he dressed well and was very good at conversation. He was also well known because he wrote a novel called The Picture of Dorian Gray. He also wrote plays. In 1891, he wrote a play called Salomé. He wrote it in French while living in Paris. No one could perform it in England, because there were characters from the Bible in it. This did not discourage him. He then wrote four comedic plays in the early 1890s. He was one of the most successful playwrights of the time. His masterpiece was the play called The Importance of Being Earnest.

When he was very famous, he sued his lover's father for libel (lying about someone in print). There were many trials. In the end, the court sentenced Wilde to two years of work in Reading Gaol (jail). The crime was gross indecency (sexual contact with other men). After he went to prison, his wife went to Switzerland with their children. She changed their last names to Holland.

While he was in prison, he wrote a long letter called De Profundis. De Profundis was about his experiences during the trials. It was very sad compared to his earlier work.

When he got out of prison, he went to France. He never went back to the British Isles. In France, he wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol, which was a poem about prison. It was his last work.

In Paris, he lived in a hotel. He did not have very much money, or very many friends. He died of cerebral meningitis (swelling in his brain) in Paris. He was forty-six. Before he died, he said, "My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One of us has got to go".[1]p546

The affair change

Two men in suits sit on a bench with their legs crossed. Wilde and his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, in 1893.

Wilde was in a romantic relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas. Douglas was the son of the Marquess of Queensberry. Queensberry argued a lot with his son. He spoke to Wilde and Douglas several times about their relationship. In June of 1894, Queensberry visited Wilde with no warning. Queensberry threatened to beat up Wilde if he saw Wilde with his son in a restaurant again.

Trials change

Wilde vs Queensberry change

The Marquess of Queensberry left Wilde a calling card on February 18, 1895. On the card he wrote: "For Oscar Wilde, posing as a sodomite".[2]

Sodomy (men having sex with other men) was a crime. This note accused Wilde of having committed a crime. Because of this, Wilde sued him for libel (lying about someone else in print). His friends thought this was a bad idea, but Douglas encouraged him.

In the trial, Queensberry only had to prove that Wilde had posed as a sodomite. But he also presented evidence that suggested Wilde had committed sexual acts with male prostitues. On the advice of his lawyer, Wilde withdrew his case. The court decided Queensberry was not guilty. They thought Queensberry was telling the truth when he wrote that Wilde was posing as a sodomite.[3]

Because of the Libel Act of 1843, Wilde had to pay Queensberry's lawyers. After this, Wilde was declared bankrupt.

The Crown vs Wilde change

Wilde left court. The government wanted to arrest him for sodomy and gross indecency. His friends told him to try to flee to France, but his mother said he should stay in England. The government put him in prison before his trial. Douglas visited him daily, until Wilde told him to go to Paris to avoid punishment.

Wilde's trial began on April 26, 1895. He pled not guilty. During the trial, he spoke about "the love that dare not speak its name". He described it as strong love between an older and a younger man. He said it was misunderstood and that it was the reason he was on trial.[4] Saying these things was not helpful, because it convinced the jury that he had sex with men.

The jury could not decide what to do. His lawyer got the court to agree on a bail.[5] Reverend Stewart Headlam paid his bail, so he could leave prison.[6] Wilde went into hiding at his friends' house.

The lawyer for the government wanted to give up the case, but many people knew about it. Another government lawyer thought it was too well known to give up.[1]p435 Wilde went to court again. The court sentenced him to (made him do) two years of work in prison. They also sentenced another man, named Alfred Taylor.[7] The judge thought it was not harsh enough, but it was illegal to keep him in prison for longer.[8] Wilde tried to respond to the judge, but others in the courtroom yelled "Shame", so that no one could hear him.[9]

Quotations change

  • I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.
  • A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.
  • Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.
  • A poet can survive everything but a misprint.
  • We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language.
  • On George Bernard Shaw: An excellent man: he has no enemies, and none of his friends like him.
  • Hard work is simply the refuge of people who have nothing whatever to do.
  • Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life.
  • Anybody can make history. Only a great man can write it.
  • Truth, in the matters of religion, is simply the opinion that has survived.
  • The one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it.
  • I can resist everything except temptation. (Lord Darlington in Lady Windermere's Fan)
  • Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it. (Lord Darlington in Lady Windermere's Fan)
  • We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. (Lord Darlington in Lady Windermere's Fan)
  • What a pity that in life we only get our lessons when they are of no use to us. (Lady Windermere)
  • In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. (Mr Dumby)
  • Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes. (Mr Dumby)
  • The English country gentleman galloping after a fox—the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable. (Lord Illingworth)
  • Children love their parents. Eventually they come to judge them. Rarely do they forgive them. (Mrs. Arbuthnot)
  • To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.

Bibliography change


  • The Canterville Ghost (1887)
  • The Happy Prince and Other Stories (1888)
  • Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories (1891)
  • Intentions (1891)
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)
  • A House of Pomegranates (1891)
  • The Soul of Man under Socialism (First published in the Pall Mall Gazette, 1891, first book publication 1904)
  • De Profundis (1905)
  • The Letters of Oscar Wilde (1960) This was rereleased in 2000, with letters uncovered since 1960, and new, detailed, footnotes by Merlin Holland.
  • Teleny or The Reverse of the Medal (Paris,1893)

Plays change

References change

  1. 1.0 1.1 Ellmann, Richard (1988). Oscar Wilde. Vintage. ISBN 0-394-75984-2.
  2. Holland, Merlin, ed 2003. Irish Peacock and Scarlet Marquess: the real trial of Oscar Wilde. New York: Fourth Estate. p300
  3. Trial transcript
  4. Transcript of Wilde's trial, published online by University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School Archived 2010-12-23 at the Wayback Machine; See also Ellmann (1988:435)
  5. Oscar Fingal O'Fflahartie Wills Wilde, Alfred Taylor, Sexual Offences > sodomy, 22nd April 1895". Old Bailey Proceedings Online. Retrieved 22 April 2010.
  6. Holland (2003) – Introduction by Sir Travers Humphrey QC
  7. Oscar Fingal O'Fflahartie Wills Wilde, Alfred Waterhouse Somerset Taylor, Sexual Offences > sodomy, 20th May 1895". Old Bailey Proceedings Online. Retrieved 22 April 2010.
  8. Hyde, Harford Montgomery (1973). The Trials of Oscar Wilde. Courier Corporation. p. 19. ISBN 978-0-486-20216-7.
  9. Sentencing Statement of Justice Wills Archived 2010-12-23 at the Wayback Machine. Criminal Trial Transcript Page, University of Missouri-Kansas Law School. Retrieved 22 April 2010.