Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde
Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin into the family of a distinguished Irish surgeon and educated at Dublin and Oxford Universities. His mother "was a writer of poetry and prose. Under the influence of John Ruskin, Wilde joined the Aesthetic Movement and soon became its leader. He made himself the apostle of "art for art's sake" and of the cult of beauty. In 1882 he made a triumphant tour of the United States lecturing on the Aesthetic Movement in England.
The next ten years saw the appearance of all his major works. They include fairy-tales: The Happy Prince (1888), A House of Pomegranates (1891), stories: Lord Arthur Savile's Crime (1891), the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), several sparkling comedies, up to now repeatedly produced all over the world: Lady Windermere's Fan (1893), A Woman of No Importance (1894), An Ideal Husband (1895), The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). Oscar Wilde also wrote poems, political and literary essays (The Soul of Man under Socialism, Intentions, 1891) and various occasional pieces on history, drama and painting. He had the reputation of a brilliant society wit. Wilde's splendid literary career and social position suddenly collapsed when in 1895 he was sentenced to a two-years' term of imprisonment for immoral practices. After his release he lived in obscurity in France. In 1898 he published his best-known poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol.
An abridged version of his prose confession bearing the Latin name of De Profundis (Out of the Depths) was printed posthumously, its full text only to appear as late as 1962. The writer's aesthetic views are disclosed in the three essays of Intentions (The Decay of Lying, The Critic as an Artist, and Pen, Pencil and Poison) and, in his most brilliantly paradoxical style, in the famous preface to Dorian Gray:
The artist is the creator of beautiful things.
To reveal art and conceal the artist is art's aim...
They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty.
There is no such thing as moral or immoral book.
Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.
All art is quite useless.
Fortunately, Oscar Wilde's work disproves his own statements, thus adding another paradox to his life and work.
Irish wit, poet, and dramatist whose reputation rests on his comic masterpieces Lady Windermere's Fan (1892) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). He was a spokesman for the late 19th-century Aesthetic movement in England, which advocated art for art's sake; and he was the object of celebrated civil and criminal suits involving homosexuality and ending in his imprisonment (1895-97).
Wilde was born of professional and literary parents. His father, Sir William Wilde, was Ireland's leading ear and eye surgeon, who also published books on archaeology, folklore, and the satirist Jonathan Swift; his mother was a revolutionary poet and an authority on Celtic myth and folklore.
After attending Portora Royal School, Enniskillen (1864-71), Wilde went, on successive scholarships, to Trinity College, Dublin (1871-74), and Magdalen College, Oxford (1874-78), which awarded him a degree with honours. During these four years, he distinguished himself not only as a classical scholar, a poseur, and a wit but also as a poet by winning the coveted Newdigate Prize in 1878 with a long poem, Ravenna. He was deeply impressed by the teachings of the English writers John Ruskin and Walter Pater on the central importance of art in life and particularly by the latter's stress on the aesthetic intensity by which life should be lived. Like many in his generation, Wilde was determined to follow Pater's urging "to burn always with [a] hard, gemlike flame." But Wilde also delighted in affecting an aesthetic pose; this, combined with rooms at Oxford decorated with objets d'art, resulted in his famous remark: "Oh, would that I could live up to my blue china!"
In the early 1880s, when Aestheticism was the rage and despair of literary London, Wilde established himself in social and artistic circles by his wit and flamboyance. Soon the periodical Punch made him the satiric object of its antagonism to the Aesthetes for what was considered their unmasculine devotion to art; and in their comic opera Patience, Gilbert and Sullivan based the character Bunthorne, a "fleshly poet," partly on Wilde. Wishing to reinforce the association, Wilde published, at his own expense, Poems (1881), which echoed, too faithfully, his discipleship to the poets Algernon Swinburne, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and John Keats. Eager for further acclaim, Wilde agreed to lecture in the United States and Canada in 1882, announcing on his arrival in New York City that he had "nothing to declare but his genius." Despite widespread hostility in the press to his languid poses and aesthetic costume of velvet jacket, knee breeches, and black silk stockings, Wilde for 12 months exhorted the Americans to love beauty and art; then he returned to Great Britain to lecture on his impressions of America.
In 1884 Wilde married Constance Lloyd, daughter of a prominent Irish barrister; two children, Cyril and Vyvyan, were born, in 1885 and 1886. Meanwhile, Wilde was a reviewer for the Pall Mall Gazette and then became editor of Woman's World (1887-89). During this period of apprenticeship as a writer, he published The Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888), which reveals his gift for romantic allegory in the form of the fairy tale.
In the final decade of his life, Wilde wrote and published nearly all of his major work. In his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (published in Lippincott's Magazine, 1890, and in book form, revised and expanded by six chapters, 1891), Wilde combined the supernatural elements of the Gothic novel with the unspeakable sins of French decadent fiction. Critics charged immorality despite Dorian's self-destruction; Wilde, however, insisted on the amoral nature of art regardless of an apparently moral ending. Intentions (1891), consisting of previously published essays, restated his aesthetic attitude toward art by borrowing ideas from the French poets Th?ophile Gautier and Charles Baudelaire and the American painter James McNeill Whistler. In the same year, two volumes of stories and fairy tales also appeared, testifying to his extraordinary creative inventiveness: Lord Arthur Savile's Crime, and Other Stories and A House of Pomegranates.
But Wilde's greatest successes were his society comedies. Within the conventions of the French "well-made play" (with its social intrigues and artificial devices to resolve conflict), he employed his paradoxical, epigrammatic wit to create a form of comedy new to the 19th-century English theatre. His first success, Lady Windermere's Fan, demonstrated that this wit could revitalize the rusty machinery of French drama. In the same year,rehearsals of his macabre play Salom?, written in French and designed, as he said, to make his audience shudder by its depiction of unnatural passion, were halted by the censor because it contained biblical characters. It was published in 1893, and an English translation appeared in 1894 with Aubrey Beardsley's celebrated