Skip to Main Content

Author Study: Oscar Wilde Curated by Emily Liu '23

Gallery of Oscar Wilde

Fun Facts About Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde himself described his school life as follow, “I was very childish… I was sensual and curious, as boys are, and had the usual boy imaginings, but I did not indulge in them excessively.”

When Oscar Wilde was at school, he had a nick-name of “Grey-crow”.

Due to the fact Oscar Wilde lost his rights to his literary properties, the play The Important of Being Earnest performed for a month with the author’s name removed from the program.

Wilde’s tomb was covered by lipstick print from all his worshippers around the world.

Oscar Wilde's wife changed her and her kids' surname to "Holland" after Oscar Wilde's trial. Oscar Wilde's grandson's name is Merlin Holland, and his great grandson's name is Lucian Holland (he's 42 right now).

Birth, Childhood, and Youth

          Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde (now just known as Oscar Wilde) was born on October 16th 1854 in Dublin. His father Sir William Wilde was a famous doctor and oculist, he had great accomplishment in the medical field, and was knighted for his achievements. (Harris, 2007) Sir William Wilde was married to a lady named Jane Francesca Elgee, later Jane Wilde. Jane Elgee was a famous Irish poet known by her pen name “Speranza”, she was a national heroine for calling young men to take arms for liberty. Later in her marriage life, Elgee dedicated her life to writing, her three children, and her salon, which was famous throughout Europe. (Lawler, 1987) Oscar Wilde was the second of the three children in his family. His older brother William was born in 1852, he was named after their father; the younger sister Isola was born in 1857, later tragically died at the age of 10. 


Oscar Wilde's Parents


Oscar Wilde's older brother, Willie Wilde

         One can say that Oscar Wilde’s writing was influenced by his family. Sir William Wilde was a womanizer, he had three illegitimate children who stays in the Wilde family during summer time. Later on in his work, Oscar Wilde constantly writes about mysterious birth and problems relate with legitimacy as one of the theme. (Kelly, 1998) For example, Arbuthnot’s mother in A Woman of No Importance is unmarried. The linguistic skills of Wilde’s mother influenced his writing, his mother’s salon also heavily influenced him on his later aesthetic and life style. The death of Isola influenced the Wildes in a great way, Oscar Wilde, who constantly visit his young sister’s grave, later on wrote the poem Requiescat to honor and memorize her. (Kelly, 1998)
              In the early years of Wilde’s boyhood, Oscar Wilde’s brother William was the more engaging and handsome one in the family. But, he soon caught up and even replaced his brother’s position in this family. (Kelly, 1998) Oscar Wilde went to Portora School at Enniskillen (one of the four Irish Royal school at the time) at the age of 9, a couple years after his brother. He stayed in Protora for seven years, until he won the Exhibition award and scholarship for Trinity College in Dublin when he was just 17. (Harris, 2007) Wilde was brilliant in college. He was first introduced to Greek culture at Trinity by professor Mahaffy, then he won the Berkeley Gold Medal of Greek in his years in Trinity College. (Lawler, 1987) Later, after Oscar Wilde renowned his pose as an Aesthete in Trinity College, he went to Oxford. In Oxford, Oscar Wilde was greatly influenced by people such as John Ruskin and Walter Pater. At Magdalen College, Oxford, his poem Ravenna won the Newdigate Prize in 1878. (Contemporary Authors, 2007) Oscar Wilde finished his college education with an Oxford double first, and was already start to become famous during that time.





Oscar Wilde in his early years


    Wilde’s published his first book, a poetry collection named Poems in 1881. During that time, he left Oxford and went to London. Most of the poems in that collection were his early work which have been published before in various of Irish periodicals. (Contemporary Authors, 2007) Some of the poems in this early collection showed his aspects towards art as an Aesthete. There were also poems that experimented and touched on many themes he farther developed later in his career. (Kelly, 1998)

    Oscar Wilde’s early career went as smooth as one can possibly imagine. By 1882, his fame spread across the Atlantic to Canada and the United States, he toured there to give lectures. Walter Hamilton even included a chapter on Oscar Wilde in his book The Aesthetic Movement in England. (Kelly, 1998) Of course, Wilde’s fame advanced the sale of his first poem collection, in less than one year, Poems went through five editions. (Lawler, 1987)

    After a year, in 1883, Oscar Wilde’s first play Vera was premiered in New York. Same year, he was engaged with a lady named Constance Lloyd, they got married on May 29th, 1884. The couple raised two sons (Cyril and Vyvyan) on the following years. In the early days of his marriage, Wilde wrote regularly for the Pall Mall Gazette and the Dramatic Review. In 1887, he started to edit a fashion magazine called The Lady’s World. (Kelly, 1998)

    Almost 7 years after the huge success of his first book, Oscar Wilde published his second book The Happy Prince and Other Tales. This fairy tale collection contains some of his most famous works in the field, include The Nightingale and The Rose and The Happy Prince. The book was meant to be read aloud to children by adults, it sure was a timeless exquisite collection. (Lawler, 1987) At this point, some of Oscar Wilde’s work started to become more controversial.

    In 1889, The Portrait of Mr. W.H. was published in Blackwood’s Magazine. This particular short story pointed out boldly how Shakespeare was attracted by a young actor, who inspired Shakespeare on all his sonnets, many even advised Wilde not to publish it because of the homosexual content. (Kelly, 1998) Oscar Wilde’s one and only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray was first appeared in Lippincott’s Magazine in 1890, then published in 1891. The first version of this novel included a strong suggestion of homosexual relationship, which received adverse critical critics and reactions. Later, Oscar Wilde changed and expanded this novel to get it published. (Kelly, 1998) In the same year, Wilde also published his other collection of fairy tales and stories, named A House of Pomegranates, this second collection’s theme moved towards a darker moralism side. (Lawler, 1987)

    In his later career, Oscar Wilde focused on plays. Wilde stayed in Paris for a while, where he finished his only play in French, Salome. Like his own mother, many of Oscar Wilde’s work approach audiences from a feminist point of view, he wrote about many upper class female characters, and gave them brilliant epigrams and amusing paradoxes lines. (Contemporary Authors, 2007) The play Lady Windermere’s Fan was first performed on February 20th, 1892; A Woman of No Importance opened on Apirl 19th, 1983; quickly after that, An Ideal Husband was first performed on January 3rd, 1895 and soon became a hit; after the premier of An Ideal Husband, Oscar Wilde’s most famous and last play The Importance of Being Earnest soon went on to rehearsal. (Kelly, 1998)


Oscar Wilde with family

Scandal and Imprisoned

    Started at the later 1880s, Oscar Wilde kept a close relationship with several young man, one of them eventually lead Wilde to his famous scandal at the time. In 1886, Oscar Wilde met Robert Ross, as many biographers now admit, Wilde was captivated by Ross, they spend many times together discuss literature and art. (Lawler, 1987) Other than Ross, Wilde also met Robert Sherard, who he considered an incarnation of ideal male beauty. Later, Oscar Wilde also gained inspiration from John Gray, who signed his name as “Dorian” in his letters to Wilde. (Lawler, 1987) In year 1891, Oscar Wilde met Lord Alfred Douglas (commonly known as Bosie Douglas) at Oxford. Douglas praised the new novel of Wilde, and later Wilde offered to tutor Douglas since Douglas was studying classics in Oxford. (Lawler, 1987) This encounter will eventually lead Wilde’s miserable later life, as he was under arrested then went bankrupt.

Newspaper focused on Wilde's trail

Wilde and Alfred Douglas

    Started from the early 1890s, while Oscar Wilde’s fame as a playwright kept rising, he spent less time with his family, but more with Bosie Douglas. In 1895, Bosie Douglas’s father, the Marquis of Queensberry, left the accuse for “being homosexual” (although they don't clear evidence to support this). This case was first heard on April 5th, 1895, after three days of trial, Marquis Queensberry won the right to charge Wilde a large amount of guilty cost. All Oscar Wilde’s personal collections and his house were sold up as a bankrupt sale, Wilde also lost many of his manuscripts and his rights to his literary properties. Other than that, Wilde was also convicted and sentenced to two years of confinement. Wilde didn’t stop writing during his time in confinement, he wrote the famous long letter to Bosie Douglas named De Profundis.


Tragic Death

    Not only charged and did two years of confinement, in his later years, Oscar Wilde experienced great lost. His mother passed away during his imprisonment, his wife Constance Wilde died in 1898, his brother William Wilde died due to alcoholism in 1899. (Kelly, 1998) After being released from prison, Oscar Wilde stayed off public’s sight, he wandered in Europe for about three and a half years under the assumed name Sebastian Melmoth. On November 30th, 1900, Oscar Wilde died in a hotel in Paris. (Contemporary Authors, 2007) His tomb now located in Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France.