Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was an Irish poet and playwright. After experimenting with different forms, he became one of the most accomplished playwrights in London in the early 1890s. It is quite difficult to encapsulate Wilde’s brilliance in a few short sentences as there is no dearth of literary accomplishments when it comes to him. In his lifetime, he carved a niche for himself churning out several, critically acclaimed masterpieces, the relevance of which are even profound to this day. He went on to make eminent contributions during the aesthetic and decadent movement, making him one of the most prolific writers of his era.
Oscar Wilde was born to an Anglo – Irish couple in Dublin, Ireland on October 16, 1856. He had two siblings, an older brother named Willie, and a sister, Isola, who unfortunately died at the age of 10. Wilde’s mother, identified as an Irish nationalist and wrote under the alias, Speranza. She attracted many other intellectuals and artists who frequented her place. The seeds of art, culture and literature were sown in the Wilde kids’ lives quite early on. They learnt to appreciate scholarly conversations by mingling with the guests. Wilde’s childhood left a lasting impression on his life.
Till the age of nine, Wilde was homeschooled. He joined his brother later on at the Portora Royal School. His peers were awed by his disposition, while many considered him a prodigy for his speed reading abilities.
Contributions to Literature
Wilde is most fondly remembered for the iconic novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. He found great fame and fortune after releasing three very successful comedies- Lady Windermere’s Fan, An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Ernest. Also, he authored critical essays like Intentions (1891), and his long letter to Lord Alfred Douglas, De Profundis, several fairy tales and various proses. Later on, he diversified into shorter tales, publishing works like The Happy Prince and Other Tales. In 1891 he published two more collections, Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime and Other Stories, and A House of Pomegranates. Wilde poured his unmatched wit and dazzling flamboyance into his stories which made his work incredibly engaging for the readers. His illustrious career made him a Victorian celebrity.
Trial and Conviction
Wilde’s life was riddled with problems as well as scandals. Although he was married and had two children, he led a double life by being a frequent visitor of male brothels. Homosexuality was a crime in the United Kingdom until the 1960s and the punishment meted out, if convicted, was severe. Lord Alfred Douglas and Oscar Wilde began an affair in secret. Douglas was a British poet and aristocrat, and also 16 years his junior. The romantic tryst was eventually uncovered and Douglas’ father put forth a public accusation by calling Wilde a ‘sodomite’. Wilde sued him for libel, subsequently lost and was found guilty of gross indecency arising from indulgence in homosexuality. Soon he was rounded up and sent to prison, where he spent two very difficult years. He first arrived at Newgate Prison in London and was later shifted to Pentonville Prison. The court had sentenced him to hard labour, which comprised of picking oakum and several hours of walking on the treadmill. After a few months, he was again moved to a different prison where the grueling conditions started taking a toll on his fragile health. On one such day, he collapsed from illness and hunger. The fall ruptured his ear drum, which played a major role in his eventual death.
Following his imprisonment, Wilde was shunned by society and left bankrupt. His immaculate public image was tarnished after the invasive court trials. He spent his last years in Europe, strolling in boulevards and drowning in his miseries. The little money he had was spent on alcohol. Wilde soon died of cerebral meningitis which stemmed majorly from his prison injury, leaving behind a rich legacy. He is a celebrated figure even today.