Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, playwright, novelist, essayist, and poet, is born on October 16, 1854, at 21 Westland Row, Dublin, now home of the Oscar Wilde Centre, Trinity College. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, he becomes one of London‘s most popular playwrights in the early 1890s. He is remembered for his epigrams, his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, his plays, as well as the circumstances of his imprisonment and early death.
Wilde’s parents are successful Anglo-Irish Dublin intellectuals. Their son becomes fluent in French and German early in life. At university, Wilde read Greats and proves himself to be an outstanding classicist, first at Dublin, then at Magdalen College, Oxford. He becomes known for his involvement in the rising philosophy of aestheticism, led by two of his tutors, Walter Pater and John Ruskin. After university, Wilde moves to London into fashionable cultural and social circles.
As a spokesman for aestheticism, Wilde tries his hand at various literary activities. He publishes a book of poems, lectures in the United States and Canada on the new “English Renaissance in Art,” and then returns to London where he works prolifically as a journalist. Known for his biting wit, flamboyant dress and glittering conversation, Wilde becomes one of the best-known personalities of his day.
At the turn of the 1890s, he refines his ideas about the supremacy of art in a series of dialogues and essays, and incorporates themes of decadence, duplicity, and beauty into his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). The opportunity to construct aesthetic details precisely, and combine them with larger social themes, draws Wilde to write drama. He writes Salome (1891) in French in Paris but it is refused a licence for England due to the absolute prohibition of Biblical subjects on the English stage. Unperturbed, Wilde produces four society comedies in the early 1890s, which make him one of the most successful playwrights of late Victorian London.
At the height of his fame and success, while his masterpiece, The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), is still on stage in London, Wilde has the John Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry prosecuted for libel. The Marquess is the father of Wilde’s lover, Lord Alfred Douglas. The charge carries a penalty of up to two years in prison. The trial unearths evidence that causes Wilde to drop his charges and leads to his own arrest and trial for gross indecency with men. After two more trials he is convicted and imprisoned for two years’ penal labour.
In 1897, in prison, he writes De Profundis, which is published in 1905, a long letter which discusses his spiritual journey through his trials, forming a dark counterpoint to his earlier philosophy of pleasure. Upon his release he leaves immediately for France, never to return to Ireland or Britain. There he writes his last work, The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), a long poem commemorating the harsh rhythms of prison life.
Wilde dies destitute of cerebral meningitis in Paris on November 30, 1900. at the age of 46. He is initially buried in the Cimetière parisien de Bagneux outside Paris. In 1909 his remains are disinterred and transferred to Père Lachaise Cemetery, inside the city.