Witty, eccentric, pompous, and mad for attention, Oscar Wilde has been called one of the first modern celebrities. He built his public persona with great care, delivering quotes that became immortalized instantly
“The world is divided into two classes, those who believe the incredible, and those who do the improbable.”
Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde established his place in the pantheon of literary greats with his play, ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ and his novel, ‘Picture of Dorian Gray’ and also his Poems like ‘Panthea’, ‘Symphony in Yellow’, etc.
Wilde was witty, charming and flamboyant. He had great conversation skills and people gathered around him to listen to his brilliant wit.
Throughout the course of his literary career, Wilde excelled in a variety of literary genres, his work often reflecting a close connection between his art and his own life. Early in his career, he wrote fairy tales in which, as in all good fairy tales, the good and pure always triumphed in the end. They differed, however, in one important aspect. Rather than depicting evil as an external force, Wilde chose to reveal the evil within human beings. Written for “children from eight to eighty”, the tales can be read as a representation of Oscar Wilde’s own inner battle against the evil forces within himself, and of his wish to remain in a world of childlike innocence.
While Wilde was a larger-than-life figure in his time, due to his many witticisms and social standing, he is now regarded as one of the greatest producers of Irish literature. His works have always been an essential part of every English course in schools or colleges.
His well-known legacy pervades his many published essays, plays and his novel ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’. This being his best-known novel created a public outcry when it was published in 1891. The novel’s implied homosexual theme was considered immoral by Victorian society, a society in which homosexuality was considered not only immoral and unnatural, but was also a serious criminal offence punishable by imprisonment.
The greatest dialogue writer in the history of English literature, Oscar Wilde, was born on this day on October 16, 1854 in 21 Westland Row (now home of the Oscar Wilde Centre for Irish Writing) and later moved to No. 1 Merrion Square, where his mother, Lady Jane ‘Speranza’ Wilde, held a weekly salon which attracted the best and brightest of Dublin’s intellectuals. The young Oscar was encouraged by both parents to sit among such visitors or amuse adults with his stories, and so began the honing of his skills as a master of conversation.
Wilde attended Portora Royal School, Trinity College Dublin (1871-74) and Magdalen College Oxford (1874-78). In Trinity, Wilde did particularly well in his Classics course, ranking first in his examinations in 1872 and earning a Foundation Scholarship. In 1874, Oscar won the College’s Berkeley Gold Medal for Greek and was awarded a scholarship to Oxford.
After completing his education, Wilde settled in London where he continued to write poetry and published his first collection in 1881, ‘Poems’, which received mixed reviews by critics. Later that year, Wilde set out on a tour to America and Canada to deliver lectures on aestheticism, where on his arrival he was famously quoted: “I have nothing to declare but my genius.”
General theme of his work
Oscar Wilde’s overall theme is the aestheticism, which harmonizes with the dominant philosophical and literary streams in West Europe towards the end of the 19th century. Such motives like the controversy of art versus life or the antagonism between the artist and the bourgeois (Victorian) society are typical for his work. A joy as the highest moral, superiority of art over life and art as “the secrecy of life” seems to be his guiding ideas.
Wrote Only One Novel
Despite having a reputation for being a writer, Oscar Wilde only published one novel throughout his life. The Picture of Dorian Gray was met with critical reviews due to its decadence and homoerotic content. Today, the novel is widely taught in schools and revered for its dedication to the aesthetic movement of the nineteenth century.
For The Kids
With two children himself, Oscar Wilde was also an accomplished children’s book author. His short story collection ‘The Happy Prince and Other Tales’ was published in May of 1888. This collection included popular tales such as ‘The Happy Prince’, ‘The Nightingale and the Rose’, and ‘The Selfish Giant’.
After studying Greek for nearly nine years, Oscar Wilde was an exceptional linguist and spoke many languages. He was fluent in English, German, French and had a working knowledge of Italian and Greek. Conversely, he could not speak a single word of Irish.
A great conversationalist
Bernard Shaw, when asked shortly before his own death what persons he would most like to meet, replied: “I do not want to talk to anybody, alive or dead, but if I craved for entertaining conversation by a first-class raconteur, I should choose Oscar Wilde.” Even George Moore, who hated Wilde with that peculiar intensity which Irishmen reserve for each other, agreed after a dinner where Wilde was present that the latter’s conversation was one of the most delightful things in life. And Yeats, who thought little of Wilde as a writer, was unreserved in his praise of Wilde as a talker.
Fashion & interior design
“Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.”
Wilde was well-known for his flamboyant fashion sense – for example, he would often wear green carnations in his jacket lapel when going out. Other than this, he also wanted his home to represent his style in the best possible way, so he would decorate his room with dragons painted on the rich blue ceiling and colourful peacock feathers glued to the walls.
Rock Star of Aestheticism
Wilde was one of the first authors at the time that acknowledged the importance of the so-called “Art for Art’s sake” movement and decided to go on tours around North America, giving lectures on aestheticism to perspective young students. Wilde’s essays, plays, and novels led the aesthetic movement for other artists and he was a prominent example of aestheticism movement for other authors writing in the 19th century.
It is claimed that, while studying at Magdalen College in Oxford, he was famous for his ability to learn long passages of writing by heart and later effortlessly recall them. This capacity surely helped him be one of the most successful students.
This Seems Interesting
During his time at Magdalen College, Wilde developed an intense interest in Catholicism. He even spoke with several clergymen about converting to the Catholic faith. When his father found out, he disapproved immensely and threatened to cut off his financial support if Wilde became Catholic. Wilde himself, however, was encouraged by his own sense of individualism to call off his conversion. His fascination with Catholicism, however, remained with him for the rest of his life.
No Turning Back
Wilde’s trial for gross indecency led him to being sentenced to two years’ hard labour, but what people don’t necessarily remember about that trial is that it initially ended with the jury being unable to make up their minds on whether Wilde was guilty or not. The suggestion was made to simply drop the case, as some felt that Wilde was being treated abhorrently by the legal system and the press, but the Solicitor General Frank Lockwood declined to let up on Wilde, as he felt the case was too politicized.
Wilde the Socialist
Another thing that people don’t always remember about Wilde was that he had a great interest in politics. Wilde wrote an essay called ‘The Soul of Man Under Socialism’. Wilde advocated for socialism, as he believed that one’s natural creativity is crushed under capitalism because everyone is too busy to try and solve the social issues which are created in capitalism.
Epitome Of Last Words
Wilde was known to be extraordinarily clever and articulate during his time and despite being ill with cerebral meningitis, his infamous last words were just as witty as his many remarks he made when he was well. His last words are reported to be: ‘My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or other of us has got to go.’
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