Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900)
Key words – Victorian, Irish, aestheticism, comedy, decadence, LGBT
Who? – Oscar Wilde was born in Ireland and moved to London after university, where he became famous for his wit and flamboyance. He was married to Constance Wilde and had two children with her, but in his later life he became involved with other men and Lord Alfred Douglas (“Bosie”) in particular. A conflict with Douglas’ father, the Marquess of Queensberry, went sour and led to Wilde being convicted of “gross indecency.” He was sentenced to two years of hard labour in prison, after which he left for France where he would die, poor and disgraced, at the age of 46. From the 20th century onwards, Wilde is considered a gay icon and one of the most quotable writers of all time.
What? – Wilde wrote poetry, essays, and one novel, but during his lifetime he was best known as a popular playwright. He was a spokesperson for aestheticism, an art movement that valued beauty over social and political themes. Wilde’s earlier works were full of decadence and humour, but after prison his writing took on a darker tone and explored the downside of living for pleasure.
Where do I start? – The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) or The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)
Best known work? – The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)
You might also enjoy – Noel Coward, George Bernard Shaw, Evelyn Waugh, Robert Louis Stevenson
Further Reading -