Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, better known as Oscar Wilde, was born on October 16, 1854 in Dublin, Ireland. His mother was Jane Francesca Wilde, a poet who wrote under the pseudonym Speranza, and his father was (Sir) William Wilde, a Dublin surgeon. He had 2 siblings, Isola Wilde and Willie Wild (a successful poet and writer in his own right)
By all accounts, Oscar had a privileged childhood, both due to his father’s status as a surgeon as well as his mother’s successful poetry career. He learned to speak French and German as a child. He attended Trinity College in Dublin from 1781 to 1784 and Magdalen College at Oxford from 1874 to 1878. At Oxford, he wrote his first poem, Ravenna, for which he received the Newdigate Prize. It was also around this time that he became a part of the aesthetic movement, which championed “art for art’s sake.”
After he graduated from Oxford, Wilde moved to London to continue his literary career. He published Poems in 1881, which was his first book of poetry.
He left London in 1882 for New York City for a lecture tour of the United States, where he delivered 140 lectures in 9 months.
After he returned home to London, he embarked on yet another lecture tour of England and Ireland until 1884. It was during this time that he became known as a big proponent of the aesthetic movement, pursuing beauty for the sake of beauty.
He married Constance Lloyd on May 29, 1884, and they had two sons: Cyril Wilde (later known as Cyril Holland), born in 1885 and Vyvyan Wilde (later known as Vyvyan Holland), born in 1886.
He wrote The Happy Prince and Other Stories in 1888, a collection of fairy tales for children that were quite well received. He also wrote a second collection of children’s fairy tales, A House of Pomegranates, that was not as well received.
In 1891, Oscar Wilde wrote his most famous literary work, The Picture of Dorian Gray, a novel about a young man who makes a deal with the devil so that he remains young, while his portrait ages and reflects his every sin.
When it released, the general public was outraged at the novel, and the publishers even changed 500 of his original words.
He wrote his first successful play, Lady Windermere’s Fan, in 1891. It was also around this time that he met Lord Alfred Douglas. He and Douglas engaged in a homosexual love affair.
Their affair was discovered after Oscar Wilde sued Douglas’ father for defamation, after the latter insinuated that Wilde was a “sodomite.” This proved a disaster, as the lawsuit was thrown out and Oscar Wilde himself was arrested on charges of “gross indecency”.
He was put on trial in 1895 and quickly convicted. He was sent to prison for 2 years, most of which he spent in Reading Gaol. He was in prison from May 25, 1895 to May 18, 1897.
During this time, he wrote very little. The biggest piece of literature was his letter to Douglas (later published as De Profundis, some 50,000 words long) that he was not allowed to send, but was allowed to take with him when released.
As soon as he was released from prison, Oscar Wilde sailed to France. He spent the rest of his life impovrished, and never returned to England.
He reunited with Douglas in August of 1897, and they even lived together briefly, until their families forced them to separate.
Oscar Wilde died on November 30, 1900 of meningitis, and was buried in a cemetery outside Paris.