Oscar Wilde was reknowned for his ability to converse on any subject imaginable. Once, at a dinner party, some of his companions decide to test this:

"What would be a good subject ... how about the Queen. Yes, the Queen!"

Oscar Wilde was quiet for a moment, then looked up and said, "The Queen ... is not a subject."

An update concerning Oscar Wilde's death:

South African scientists found evidence that Wilde died of a recurring ear infection that spread to the brain, not from meningitis caused by syphilis. Oscar died in a Paris hotel on November 30, 1900. The doctor who came to the ear infection conclusion believed "the syphilis rumour persisted because it suited the scandal and controversy of the writer's homosexuality."


Data from API Newswire, 24NOV2000.

His Life

Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born on October 16th, 1854 in Dublin, Ireland to eminent ocular surgeon, Sir William, and his wife, Lady Jane Francesca Wilde. Both of his parents were authors in their own right, with his fathers medical text books being standard reading for students, whilst his mothers poetry, written under the nom de plume Speranza, was popular amongst the supporters of the Irish Independence movement.

Wilde's school life began in 1863 at the Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, an instiution which steeped its pupils in a classical education. He went on to win a place to study at Trinity College in Dublin from 1871 where he won the Berkeley Gold Medal for Greek. He won a scholarship to study at Magdalen College, Oxford in 1874, from where he took a First Class in Classical Moderations in 1876, and two years later, a First Class in Literae Humaniores. Shortly before leaving 'going up' from university, Wilde published his first poem, entitled 'Ravenna' which won the prestigious Newdigate prize.

It was whilst studying at Oxford that Oscar came across Walter Pater and became an advocate for his 'Art for Art's Sake' movement. Wilde became notorious for his effeminate affectations as an aesthete under his influence, and started sporting more and more outlandish habits. He wore velvet and carried a jewel topped cane, lavender gloves, and wore a dyed green button hole flower. He developed an affection for Roman Catholicism, no doubt attracted by the pomp and ceremony of the Church, but Pater dissuaded him from converting to the faith, and instead instigated Wilde's ideas of a 'Hellenistic Ideal' whilst the pair toured Greece.

In 1879, Wilde moved to Chelsea, in London, and started to write for his living and became the self-styled 'Apostle of Aestheticism'. This was quite a stressful time, as his father died, leaving his family in dire financial straits, and he was jilted by his fiancee, Florence Balcombe, who ran off and married Bram Stoker.

A year after Ravenna was published, Wilde penned his first collection entitled 'Poems' and in 1882 he embarked on a lecture tour of the United States and Canada where he talked on the topic of the 'Cult of the Artificial'. He played the aesthetic dandy role to a tee, from the moment he stepped foot in the country, giving his famous reply to the customs officials, that he 'had nothing to declare but his genius'. This tour thrust him into the international spotlight, and Wilde eventually married Constance Mary Lloyd on May 29, 1884. The couples first son, Cyril, was born in 1885, and their second, Vyvyan, was born the next year. By 1887, Wilde had become the editor of Womens World, and seemed to become quite settled.

By 1889, he became bored with the tame turn his life had taken, and started to write more and more contravertial essays on aesthetics and Art for Art's Sake. In 1891, Wilde met and fell in love with the son of the Marquess of Queensbury, Lord Alfred Douglas, known as 'Bosie' who was then an undergraduate at Oxford. Bosie was taken with the brilliance of Wilde's conversation and wit, and the young lord's good looks and title entranced Wilde. The couples relationship marked on of the most productive phases of Wildes life, despite the ever increasing distance from his wife.

In 1895, The Marquess of Queensberry triggered Wildes downfall, after he left a visiting card at Wilde's London club, the Albemarle, upon which he had written,To Oscar Wilde posing as a sodomite. Wilde was incensed, and after encouragment from Bosie, sued the Marquess for libel. The Marquess then threatened to produce a string of witnesses who could testify as to his behaviour, and Wilde withdrew the case. Shortly afterwards, on the basis of the evidence shown in court by the Marquess, Wilde was charged under section II of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885, often called the 'Labouchere amendment'.

Wilde was given the chance to leave the country to escape punishment when the Marquess left him another note at his club saying ''I will not prevent your flight but if you take my son with you, I will shoot you like a dog,. Wilde didn't listen and was arrested hours later, four days after the first night on 'The Importance of being Earnest'.

Wilde served 2 years hard labour, the first six months at Wandsworth, and the remainder in Reading. After his conviction his family disowned him, his children changed their name from Wilde to Holland, his house and assets were seized after he was declared bankrupt, and many of his friends deserted him.

Upon leaving prison on May 19th 1897, Wilde moved to Berneval, France under the name Sebastian Melmoth, where he was briefly reunited with Bosie, but the loss of his family, his home and his fortune had left him a broken man. He died of suspected cerebral meningitis on 30th. November, 1900, in the Hotel d'Alsace, Paris. He was buried in Bagneux Cemetery in Paris, but was reinterred in the French National Cemetery at Pére Lachaise in 1909.

His Work

Wilde's work is inspirational. His characters, in both plays and books show such witty turns of phrase, and the elegance of his writing is astounding. Despite writing only one full length adult novel, he seems to be remembered more as a writer and a wit, than a playwright.

Bibliography

It has proved to be very awkward to get a complete bibliography for Wilde, especially with dates. Where possible I've arranged his work chronologically, else it's alphabetical

Stories

The Birthday of the Infanta
The Canterville Ghost
The Devoted Friend
The Fisherman and His Soul
The Happy Prince (1888)
Lord Arthur Savile's Crime (1891)
The Model Millionaire
The Nightingale and the Rose
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)
The Remarkable Rocket
The Selfish Giant
The Sphinx without a Secret
The Star-Child
The Young King

Plays

Vera, or the Nihilists (1882)
The Duchess of Padua (1883)
Lady Windermere's Fan(1892)
Salome(1893)
A Woman of No Importance(1893)
An Ideal Husband(1895)
A Florentine Tragedy
The Importance of Being Earnest
La Sainte Courtisane

Prose and Poetry

Ave Imperatix
Ave Maria Gratia Plena
Athanasia
Amor Intellectualis
At Verona
Apologia
Agamemnon of Aeschylos
The Artist's Dream or San Artysty.......
The Artist
By The Arno
The Burden of Itys
La Bella Donna della mia Mente
Ballade de Marguerite
Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898)
Chanson
Charmides
Camma
Canzonet
Chorus of Cloud Maidens
The Dole of the King's Daughter
Desespoir
The Disciple
The Doer of Good
E Tenebris
Endymion
Easter Day
Fabien dei Franchi
Flower of Love
From Spring Days to Winter
The Garden of Eros
The Grave of Keats
The Grave of Shelley
The Harlot's House
Helas!
Her Voice
House of Judgement
Humanitad
In the Forest
In the Gold Room
Italia
Le Jardin des Tuileries
Libertatis Sacra Fames
Lotus Leaves
Louis Napoleon
Madonna Mia
Magdalen Walks
The Master
My Voice
The New Helen
The New Remorse
On the sale by auction of Keat's Love Letters
Pan
Panthea
Phedre
Portia
Quantum Mutata
Queen Henrietta Maria
Quia Multum Amavi
Ravenna
Requiescat
Rome Unvisited
San Miniato
Santa Decca
Serenade
Silentium Amoris
Song of Lamentation
The Sphinx
Symphony in Yellow
Taedium Vitae
Teacher of Wisdom
Theocritus
Theoretikos
To L.L.
To Milton
To My Wife
Tristitiae
The True Knowledge
Under the Balcony
Urbs Sacra Aeterna
A Vision
Vita Nuova
Wasted Days
With a copy of House of Pomegranates
Sonnets
- on Approaching Italy
- on the Massacre of Christians in Bulgaria
- on Hearing the Dies Irae Sung
- Holy Week at Genoa
- to liberty
Impressions
- du matin
- du voyage
- la fuite de la lune
- silhouettes
- le jardin
- la mer
- le reveillon
Decoratives
- Le Panneau
- Les Ballons

Essays and Miscellaneous Notes

Two Letters to the Daily Chronicle....
The Decay of Lying
Pen, Pencil and Poison
The Critic as Artist
The Critic as Artist part 2
The Truth of Masks
The English Renaissance of Art
House Decoration
The Soul of Man Under Socialism
The Rise of Historical Criticism
Art and the Handicraftsman
Lecture to Art Students
London Models
Three Letters to Robert Ross
Portrait of Mr. W.H. (1889)
A Few Maxims for the Instruction of the Over-educated
Phrases & Philosophies for the Use of the Young
De Profundis (1905)

Sources include:
http://landow.stg.brown.edu/victorian/decadence/wilde/wildebio.html
http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/Bistro/5720/
www.sbu.ac.uk/stafflag/oscarwilde.htm
etext.lib.virginia.edu/subjects/salome/bio.html etext.lib.virginia.edu/subjects/salome/bio.html

Just as an FYI kind of thing, my friends and I wrote this as our final project for AP English senior year. We entitled it "Where the Wilde Things Are," in honor of the man's ability to turn a phrase better than... something that turns phrases really well.

Oscar Wilde: author, poet, playwright, and… well, yeah. A man’s man, insofar as you can read into that. The simple fact that the man remained as popular as he did during one of the most sexually repressive periods in human history (the Victorian age) is testament to his innate skill and talent. As a creative visionary, both in his work, and in his tumultuous life, Wilde refused to conform, and, in fact, went out of his way to be noticeably distinct (the hair, the clothing, everything he said in public…). Wilde, in fact, has been called “the first modern man,” despite the very glaring fact that he, in fact, represented an extremely quiet minority in his time. As his career progressed, and his fame grew, Wilde did become more comfortable with himself as a person, and with his sexuality. He evolved from “a rather odd fellow” (insert funny British accent) into a highly respected artist, in the eyes of the public. His work followed rather the same line of progression; what the public viewed as anti-conformist eventually morphed into the pinnacle of satiric genius. This veneration did not last forever. Like his tragic counterparts betrayed by their hamartias, Wilde fell due to his socially unacceptable nature.

In his 1881 compilation entitled Poems, Wilde included “The Garden of Eros”, a poem containing strong yet subtle personal declarations. In lines 109 through 112, Wilde writes, “Who for thy sake would give their manlihood/ And consecrate their being, I at least/ Have done so, made thy lips my daily food”. Here, Wilde speaks of personal sacrifice, forsaking his public image for his true self. Taken out of context, the gender of the object of his words remains unclear. However, the last half of the stanza subtly yet firmly declares the nature of the relationship between Wilde and his object: “And, in thy temples found a goodlier feast/ Than this starved age can give me, spite of all/ Its new-found creeds so sceptical and so dogmatical.” Here, Wilde addresses his preference for the free, socially unrestricted Romantic ages as opposed to the sexually restrictive Victorian Era in which he lived. Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act (1885) declared any “ ‘gross indecencies’ – regardless of the age of the victim – punishable as a misdemeanor” and, although originally intended to protect young girls, was socially applied to homosexuality as well. Indeed, this was the same Act Wilde was later convicted of violating. Wilde felt the pain of the restraints placed upon him by current views and “creeds”, yet he committed himself to these for the sake of his lover. Had the first half of the stanza been addressed to a woman, Wilde would have had no reason for contrasting her with “this starved age”. Sexual love between men and women, especially in poetry and other literary works, was still widely acceptable. Homosexuality and relations between people of largely differing ages, however, had been made completely taboo. Wilde cleverly integrates his subtle admission of homosexuality by keeping the gender of his object unclear, and puts the key to his declaration in imagery and, as in this case, ambiguous references.

Due to the popular reception of his collection, Wilde began his transformation into the social giant of the Victorian Age. So warm was the welcome that Wilde was invited to America on a lecture tour, where, far away from home, he did not have to fear social rejection. During the tour, Wilde had the fortunate occasion to meet with both Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Walt Whitman, to whom he became rather partial. Following their meeting, Wilde privately bragged, “The kiss of Walt Whitman is still on my lips.” However, Wilde was not the only one to retain tangible memories of the occasion. Whitman himself “remarked that Wilde ‘had the good sense to take a fancy to me!’”

Having returned to England after this immensely successful tour, Wilde began his “correspondence” with the son of the Marquis of Queensbury, Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas. These meetings led to forbidden relations between them, in the eyes of the public, the law, and most importantly the Marquis of Queensbury. Wilde’s letters to Bosie were unfortunately confiscated in order to be used against him in his criminal trial. These letters contained Wilde’s private admissions of burning love for the younger Bosie. “It is a marvel that those red-roseleaf lips of yours should be made no less for the madness of music and song than for the madness of kissing." This should speak for itself. As should this, “I would sooner be blackmailed by every renter in London than to have you bitter, unjust, hating. You are the divine thing I want . . . Why are you not here, my dear, my wonderful boy?” Wilde was as eloquent in his private writings as he was in his public ones.

Published the same year as the criminal trials began, 1895, Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, widely regarded as his greatest theatrical work, contains yet more hints of his lifestyle. Arp arp. “Bunburying”, acting one way under the pretense of doing something completely different, parallels Wilde’s style, both in his writing and his life. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde’s tendency toward duplicity surfaces most plainly. The main character, Dorian Gray, lives his life without consequences of his actions or of time while a portrait of himself acquires all of these burdens. Wilde himself leads a similar life of duplicity in that the consequences of his burdens remain hidden until near the end of his life. Similarly, the harsh effects of Dorian’s life assail him suddenly when he can no longer stand the concealment of the painting. This novel, considered by many to be an autobiography of sorts, seemed to serve as a grim prophecy concerning the end of Wilde’s life.

Wilde’s pinnacle of social success was cut short when the father of Lord Alfred Douglas expressed his anger toward Douglas and Wilde’s relationship by needlessly defaming Wilde, calling him a “sodomite.” Shortly thereafter, Wilde sued the Marquis for libel. During the trial, Wilde’s true feelings for Bosie were brought out into the open, and the issue of the letters Wilde had written him became evident. As “non-reproductive sex” was still a crime under British law, sufficient evidence was brought against Wilde for a criminal trial, which quickly got under way.

As the first criminal trial began, Wilde did his best to make a mockery of the proceedings and spit out as many of his witty aphorisms as he possibly could. Under cross-examination by Mr. C.F. Gill, his story began to crumple. When the poem “Sweet Youth” was brought to the court’s attention, and specifically the final line, which reads, “I am the Love that dare not speak its name.” Gill requested that he define that final line, and, in response, Wilde explains that “’The love that dare not speak its name’ in this century is such a great affection of an elder man for a younger man as there was between David and Jonathan, such as Plato made the very basis of his philosophy, and such as you find in the sonnets of Michelangelo and Shakespeare. It is that deep spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect” . In saying all this, Wilde effectively shot himself in the foot. While the first trial resulted in a hung jury, the proverbial cat had been let out of the even more proverbial bag, and had been released into the still more proverbial forest to run away, and not, in fact, be run over by the extremely proverbial coach made from the somewhat proverbial pumpkin that the not-so-proverbial fairy godmother created for Cinderella (the mice, however, were as proverbial as one can get without becoming metaphoric).

Upon running into the forest, the proverbial cat ran straight into the second criminal trial of (the most definitely NOT proverbial) Oscar Wilde. These proceedings essentially mirrored the first trials with the exception of the outcome. Justice Wills had this to say at the sentencing: “People who can do these things must be dead to all sense of shame, and one cannot hope to produce any effect upon them. It is the worst case I have ever tried . . . You, Wilde, have been the center of a circle of extensive corruption of the most hideous kind among young men.” Upon the fall of the (once again NOT proverbial) gavel, Wilde was sentenced to two years of hard labor, and following his release he never wrote again. He was lived out the rest of his days under the alias Sebastian Melmoth. He died of a persistent ear infection (isn’t that ironic?) in the year 1900, on the floor of a seedy Parisian hotel.

Oscar Wilde’s sexuality and resulting sense of duality dominated his writings and his life. However, his artful literary mastery allowed him to subtly hint at his homosexuality and his radical ideas in cleverly worded references and subtle imagery. This further created his duplicity, and, although his talent led to his greatest glory, his refusal to deny his true self led to his ultimate downfall.

Hubris.

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