Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde
1854-1900

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Oscar Wilde (his full name was Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wilde) was born on 16 October 1854 in Dublin, Eire to Sir William Wilde and his wife Jane Francesca Elgee. Sir William Wilde was Ireland's leading Ear and Eye surgeon and Lady Wilde was a successful writer and an Irish nationalist.

Oscar was educated at home until he was nine when he was sent away to Portora Royal School in Enniskillen. In 1871, Wilde went to Trinity College, Dublin to read Classics. He won the Berkeley Gold Medal, the highest award available to classics students at Trinity and was granted a scholarship to Magdalen College in 1874. In 1878, Wilde graduated with a double first in classical moderations and literae humaniores.

He returned to Eire and fell in love with Florence Balcombe. On hearing of Florence's engagement to Bram Stoker, Wilde wrote to her stating that he would leave Ireland for good. He left in 1878 and only visited Ireland twice more.

During his time at Magdalen, Wilde had become associated with the 'Aesthetics Movement' (a post-romantic movement in arts and literature characterised by the statement 'art for art's sake). With his long hair and flamboyant dress Wilde soon become a figurehead and was invited in 1881 (the year he published his fist poetry collection) to the United States to deliver a 50 lecture tour on Aesthetics. The schedule extended and he completed 140 lectures in little under a year. On his return to England he started a lecture tour of Britain and Eire.

Wilde met Constance lloyd in Dublin in 1884 during his lecture tour and they were married in the same year. They had two sons Cyril (born in 1885) and Vyvyan (born in 1886). Constance had a private income that allowed the family to live in relative luxury. In 1887 Wilde got a job as a reviewer for the Pall Mall Gazette and in 1889 he became the editor of Woman's World.

Wilde's private life now overtook his professional life. In 1885 he had started his first homosexual relationship with Robert Ross. In 1891 Wilde was introduced to Lord Alfred Douglas. Initially the relationship was a friendship but grew until they were living together more or less openly. Lord Alfred's father (John Sholto Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry) believed that Wilde was corrupting his son. Queensbury confronted Wilde at his home and was barred from the opening night of 'The Importance of Being Earnest' to prevent him causing a scene. When Wilde was out of the country on 18 February 1885, Queensbury left his calling card at Wilde's club with the hand written note 'For Oscar Wilde, posing Somdomite'.

Wilde brought a libel suite against Queensbury and the trial started on 3 April 1885. Queensberry's defence argued that the libel was published for the public good and their case was built on exposing every aspect of Wilde's life. The pressure was too much for Wilde and he dropped the case. Immediately after he left court Wilde was served with a warrant for hs arrest for 'gross indecency' under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885. His trial opened on 26 April 1895 but the jury could not reach a verdict. Wilde was retried on 25 May 1895, convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to two years hard labour. After short spells at other prisons he spent the majority of his sentence at Reading gaol. Constance took the children to Switzerland and reverted to an old family name, 'Holland.'

On his release, Wilde wrote 'The Ballad of Reading Gaol' a poetic response to the agony he experienced in prison. It was published shortly before Constance's death in 1898 following spinal surgery.

Wilde spent the last three years of his life in Europe, staying with friends and living in cheap hotels. He was never able to rekindle his creative fires and when an ear infection became serious meningitis set in, and Oscar Wilde died on 30 November 1900.

Only a month before his death Wilde is quoted as saying, 'My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or other of us has got to go.'

His tomb in Père Lachaise in Paris was designed by sculptor Sir Jacob Epstein, at the request of Robert Ross, who also asked for a small compartment to be made for his own ashes. Ross's ashes were transferred to the tomb in 1950.