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OSCAR WILDE

1854-1900
Irish

"It is absurd to divide people into good and bad.
People are either charming or tedious. "

Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born 16th October 1854 in Ireland to parents Sir William Wilde and Jane Francesca Elgee. His parents were writers – his father was an ear and eye surgeon who wrote books on archaeology and folklore and his mother was also a successful writer.

Educated at home until the age of nine by his philanthropist father and Irish nationalist mother, Wilde was an outstanding student who won awards and a scholarship to Magdalen College Oxford whilst studying classics at Trinity College. He graduated in 1878 with a double first in Classical Moderations and literae humanoires (‘greats’).

After graduation, Wilde returned to Dublin and fell in love with Florence Balcombe. After she became engaged to Bram Stoker, Wilde left Dublin and spent the next six years living in London, Paris and the US, where he travelled to deliver lectures. During this time he wrote The Happy Prince and other Stories (1888) and The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891). In London, Wilde had met Constance Lloyd and they were married in 1884 in Paddington, London. They had two sons, Cyril and Vyvyan. Constance died in 1898 following spinal surgery.
 

Although he was married, it is a well-known fact that Wilde had relationships with men as well as women, and numerous sexual encounters with rent boys. Wilde's first celebration of romantic love between men and boys can be found in The Portrait of Mr. W. H. (1889). He was convicted of gross indecency in May 1895 and sentenced to two years’ hard labour. During his time in prison, Wilde wrote a 50,000-word letter to Lord Alfred Douglas, with whom he had had a relationship. He was prevented from sending the letter whilst in prison, but it was published with the title De Profundis and The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ in 1905 (four years after Wilde’s death), although only about a third of it was included.

After his release from prison on 19th May 1897, Wilde spent his last years in the Hôtel D’Alsace, Paris, where he wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol. Here he was able to enjoy the pleasures he had been denied in England. He died of cerebral meningitis on 30th November 1900; whether it was caused by syphilis was much debated but ultimately decided to be unlikely.

Oscar Wilde was one of the most successful playwrights of late Victorian London, and one of the greatest celebrities of his day. His barbed wit and interesting life have led to many biographies being written about him, some by close friends such as Frank Harris. His works are still as popular as ever, and his plays, An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Ernest, and his novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, have been made into films in recent years.

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