Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin, the second child of Sir William Wilde, a well-known Irish ophthalmic surgeon, and Jane Francesca Wilde, an accomplished writer and a model poet for young Irish revolutionaries. His father had been knighted in 1864 for services to medical science.
In June 1855 the family moved to a posh area. Wilde’s sister Isola was born here. Jane Wilde organized parties here on Saturday evenings, to which she invited Sheridan le Fanu, Samuel Lever, George Petrie, Isaac Butt and Samuel Ferguson. Wilde was home-schooled until the age of 9 and then enrolled at the Portora Royal School. Spending summers with the family, the Wilde brothers played games with George Moore.
Marriage and family
After graduating from Portora, he studied at Trinity College in Dublin from 1871 to 1874. He was an exceptional student, winning the Berkeley gold medal, the highest award for Trinity students, and also a scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford University. He studied there from 1874 to 1878 and became part of the aesthetic movement, one of the most important principles of which was to bring life closer to art. While at Magdalen, he won the 1878 Newdigate Prize for his poem Ravenna. He read this poem in Encaenia and lost it, but later won the prize for his essay The Rise of Historical Criticism.
After graduating from Oxford, Wilde traveled to his native Dublin, where he met Florence Balcomb. But when Florence became engaged to the writer Bram Stoker, Oscar wrote to her that he was leaving Ireland. He left Ireland in 1878 and returned only twice, for small visits. He spent the next six years in Paris, London and the USA.
In London, he met Constance Lloyd, daughter of Horace Lloyd, one of the Queen’s advisors. Wilde and Lloyd were married on May 29, 1884 in Paddington, London. Constance’s salary of 250 pounds sterling enabled them both to live a luxurious life. The couple had two children from this marriage: Cyril (1885) and Vyvyan (1886). After their father’s high-profile trial, Constance and the children took the surname Holland. Constance died in 1898 after spinal surgery. Cyril died fighting in France in World War I. Vyvyan worked as a translator and writer for a long time. He published his memoirs in 1954. Vyvyan’s son Merlin did research on his grandfather. Wilde’s niece Dolly is known for her lesbian relationship with writer Natalie Clifford Barney.
Aestheticism and philosophy
While at Magdalen College, Wilde became known for his ideas in the aestheticism movement. He grew his hair long, expressed his disdain for “masculine” sports at every opportunity and decorated his room with daisies, tulips and other objects.
The move reportedly led to an attempt to strangle him at River Cherwell and the trashing of his room, but the idea of aestheticism became more familiar and commonplace among the public. Some publications, such as the Springfield Republican, decided after Wilde’s speeches on aestheticism during his trip to Boston that his conception was more an act of fame than a tribute to beauty and aesthetics. Wilde’s style of dress also became the focus of critics like Higginson. In a letter to Unmanly Manhood, Higginson expressed concern that Wilde’s femininity would influence the behavior of men and women and that her poetry would bring men closer to feminine snobbery. In addition, he analyzed Wilde’s literature, homosexuality and self-image and declared that he found his lifestyle and works immoral.
Wilde was deeply influenced by John Ruskin and Walter Pater. These two literary figures had published essays on the place of art in life. Wilde would later comment ironically on Pater’s depressive feelings: “Had he ever lived before?” he said upon news of Pater’s death. In Pater’s style, he said in The Portrait of Dorian Gray, “All art is in fact useless.” This comment had to be read in a literary sense because it embodied the ideology of “Art is for art’s sake” created by the philosopher Victor Cousin. In 1879, Wilde began lecturing on aestheticism in London.
The aestheticism introduced by the school of William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rosetti had gained a great place in English architecture. Wilde, England’s leading aesthetic artist, became one of the most prominent figures of his time. Nevertheless, he was occasionally ridiculed for his paradoxes and witty remarks.
Aestheticism in general was caricatured in Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera Patience (1881). While Patience was a great success in New York, Aestheticism was still a meaningless name in the rest of America. Richard D’Oyly Carte therefore invited Wilde to give a series of lectures in America. D’Oyly Carte believed that this trip would further increase the success of Patience. The trip began on January 3, 1882, when Wilde arrived in America aboard the SS Arizona. Although there is no evidence of this event, Wilde is rumored to have told a customs officer, “I have nothing to declare except my genius.”
During his tour of America and Canada, Wilde was condemned by many town critics. The Wasp Wilde included in his newspaper a caricature that disparaged aestheticism.
After returning to England, Wilde was a columnist for the Pall Mall Gazette from 1887 to 1889. She later became editor of Woman’s World magazine.
Wilde supported socialism for most of his life. He also showed his libertarian side with his poem Sonnet to Liberty. Wilde was also a pacifist. He said, “When liberty comes with bloody hands, it will be hard to shake hands with her.” Apart from his main article on politics, “The Human Spirit Under the Influence of Socialism”, he wrote articles for the Daily Chronicles in favor of prison reform.
In Lady Florence Dixie’s 1890 novel Gloriana, or the Revolution of 1900, Gloriana, in the guise of Hector l’Estrange, was elected to the House of Commons and women gained the right to vote. It is clear that Dixie based her characterization of l’Estrange on Wilde.
Although Wilde was often described as bisexual, he identified with a Greek tradition of male love and claimed to be Socratic. He had partnerships with (in chronological order): Frank Miles, Constance Lloyd (his wife), Robert Baldwin and Lord Alfred Douglas. Wilde was also involved with many gigolos.
Historians generally say that Wilde realized his homosexuality after falling in love with 17-year-old Robert Ross. Neil McKenna’s biography The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde says that Wilde became aware of his homosexuality at the age of 16 when he kissed another young man. According to McKenna, Wilde discovered his sexual orientation after arriving at Oxford in 1874 and learned that he was more attracted to dark and skinny men. By the late 70s, Wilde had a group of friends who shared his same-sex love, and it was around this time that he met Walt Whitman. He is known to have said to a friend, “Walt’s kiss is still on my lips”, revealing Whitman’s sexual orientation. Wilde married Constance Lloyd in 1884.
Wilde was still not fully aware of his own sexuality when he first met Ross. Ross admired Wilde before he met her and was indifferent to the rigid morality of the Victorian era. Later, Ross told Lord Douglas that he was Wilde’s first man, sparking a great jealousy between them. Wilde was soon thrown into a life of young men. For him, intercourse was like feasting with panthers and danger was half the pleasure. He dealt with same-sex love for the first time in his work The Portrait of Mr. W.H.
In the summer of 1891, Lord Douglas introduced him to the poet Lionel Johnson. A great friendship began between them. Lord Douglas would later say that this relationship had no sexual content, it was only on an intellectual level.
His trial, imprisonment and transfer to Reading Dungeon
After a while, Wilde’s affairs with Lord Douglas and Alfred Taylor began to appear in the press. With the help of actor Charles Brookfield, the police uncovered Wilde’s relationship with London criminals and Wilde was prosecuted.
The trial began on April 3, 1895, to great public interest, and likewise ended on May 25, with Wilde sentenced to two years in the galleys for gross indecency.
First in Pentonville and then in Wandsworth, Wilde was eventually transferred to Reading Dungeon.
Wilde, then known as prisoner C.3.3., was not even given pen and paper at first, but later his needs were met. He wrote a 50,000-word letter to Douglas during his imprisonment days, but never had the chance to send it. After his death, the letter was abridged by Ross and published as De Profundis. In 1962 it was published in full as The Letters of Oscar Wilde.
His release and death
Prison life did Wilde no favors and he spent the remaining three years of his life penniless. Nevertheless, he quickly returned to his old pleasures. The Ballad of Reading Dungeon was published during these years. At the Hotel d’Alsace, where he spent his last years, he is said to have done more daring things than he had ever done before. (citation needed)
Wilde died of meningitis on November 30, 1900. Just before his death he was reconverted to Catholicism by the priest Cuthbert. As he was dying, with the hotel owner and the priest by his side, he uttered the famous line “Either the wallpaper goes, or I go.” After his death, he was buried in the Cimetiere de Bagneur cemetery, but was later moved to the famous Pere Lachaise in Paris, where he was buried under a tombstone designed by Sir Jacob Epstein with male angels. Even today her grave is covered with kiss marks from her admirers.