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Oscar Wilde: Life, Works, and Legacy


British Literature  •  22 May, 2024  •  1,730 Views  •  ⭐ 1.5

Written by Shivani Chourasia


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Oscar Wilde stands as one of the most brilliant and controversial literary figures of the 19th century. Known for his sharp wit, flamboyant style, and profound literary works, Wilde's influence extends far beyond his time. This blog delves into the life and legacy of Oscar Wilde, highlighting his significant contributions to literature and his unique connection to New York City.

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Early Life and Education

Legacy and Lament: The Life and Works of Oscar Wilde as Told by his Son  Vyvyan Holland - Scraps from the loft
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Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born on 16 October 1854 in Dublin, Ireland. He was the second of three children. His father, Sir William Wilde, was a renowned ear and eye surgeon who authored books on medicine and archaeology, while his mother, Jane Wilde, known as "Speranza," was a poet and a staunch supporter of Irish nationalism. The Wilde household was one of intellectual fervour and artistic expression, providing a rich environment that influenced Oscar’s literary and cultural interests.

Wilde's early education at the Portora Royal School in Enniskillen laid the foundation for his academic excellence. At Portora, Wilde excelled in classics, winning prizes for his studies. In 1871, he won a scholarship to Trinity College, Dublin, where he further distinguished himself in classics, earning the prestigious Berkeley Gold Medal.

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In 1874, Wilde was awarded a scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford. At Oxford, Wilde's academic prowess flourished. He won the Newdigate Prize for his poem "Ravenna" and was known for his flair in dress and his advocacy for the aesthetic movement, which emphasised art for art's sake. His time at Oxford was crucial in shaping his literary style and his philosophy of life.

Literary Career

Why Oscar Wilde's Life Was a Work of Art | Essay | Zócalo Public Square
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Oscar Wilde's literary career is marked by a series of notable works across various genres, each contributing to his reputation as a master of wit and a keen observer of society.

Books by Oscar Wilde

The Life and Times of Oscar Wilde | Book Riot
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Wilde's only novel, "The Picture of Dorian Gray," published in 1890, remains a masterpiece of gothic literature. The novel explores themes of aestheticism, moral duplicity, and the consequences of a hedonistic lifestyle. It tells the story of a young man, Dorian Gray, who remains youthful and beautiful while his portrait ages, reflecting the moral decay of his actions. The novel was initially controversial and criticised for its perceived immorality, but it has since been recognised as a profound critique of the obsession with beauty and superficiality.

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Collections of Short Stories and Essays

Oscar Wilde | Biography, Books, & Facts | Britannica
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Wilde also authored several short stories and essays, showcasing his versatility and narrative skills.

Short Stories

The Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888): This collection includes "The Happy Prince," "The Nightingale and the Rose," "The Selfish Giant," "The Devoted Friend," and "The Remarkable Rocket." These stories, though written for children, offer deep moral and philosophical insights.

A House of Pomegranates (1891): This collection features "The Young King," "The Birthday of the Infanta," "The Fisherman and His Soul," and "The Star-Child."

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Essays

Intentions (1891): This collection includes some of Wilde's most famous essays, such as "The Decay of Lying," "Pen, Pencil and Poison," "The Critic as Artist," and "The Truth of Masks."

De Profundis (written 1897, published 1905): A long letter written by Wilde during his imprisonment, addressed to Lord Alfred Douglas, reflecting on his life, his relationships, and his philosophical outlook.

Oscar Wilde Plays

Oscar Wilde: The Unrepentant Years and Oscar's Ghost review – Wilde after  prison | Biography books | The Guardian
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Wilde's plays, particularly his comedies, are celebrated for their wit and satire.

Major Plays:

Vera; or, The Nihilists (1880): Wilde's first play, set in Russia, dealing with political themes.

The Duchess of Padua (written 1883, published 1891): A tragic melodrama set in Italy.

Lady Windermere's Fan (1892): This play explores themes of hypocrisy and morality in high society.

A Woman of No Importance (1893): A critique of the double standards faced by women.

An Ideal Husband (1895): Explores political corruption and personal integrity.

The Importance of Being Earnest (1895): Perhaps his most famous play, a farcical comedy that critiques Victorian social norms.

Oscar Wilde Poems

Oscar Wilde's birthday: LGBTQ+ creatives inspired by his works
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Wilde's early foray into poetry produced works like "Ravenna," which won the Newdigate Prize in 1878. His collection, "Poems," published in 1881, showcases his lyrical prowess and his ability to blend classical themes with contemporary issues.

Other notable poems include:

The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898): Written after his release from prison, this poem is a poignant reflection on the brutal realities of the penal system and a powerful critique of the death penalty.

The Sphinx (1894): A long poem rich in mythological and decadent imagery.

Life in New York City

Oscar Wilde: Biography, Author, Playwright, Imprisonment
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Oscar Wilde's visits to New York City were significant cultural events. His first visit in 1882 was part of a lecture tour across America, during which he captivated audiences with his lectures on aesthetics. Wilde's charm and flamboyance left a lasting impression on the city. He famously remarked upon his arrival, "I have nothing to declare except my genius," setting the tone for his visit.

During his tour, Wilde spoke on a variety of topics, including "The English Renaissance of Art" and "Household Decoration." His lectures were well-attended and often met with both admiration and controversy. Wilde's influence extended beyond his lectures; he became a fixture of New York's social scene, attending parties and mingling with the city's elite.

Today, the Oscar Wilde Bar NYC, located in Manhattan, pays homage to his legacy, offering a glimpse into the grandeur and wit associated with Wilde. The bar is adorned with Victorian-era decor, reflecting Wilde's aesthetic sensibilities, and serves as a popular spot for those wishing to immerse themselves in a bit of literary history.

Personal Life and Controversies

Oscar Wilde's Stirring Love Letters to Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas – The  Marginalian
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Oscar Wilde's personal life was as colourful and controversial as his works. He was known for his relationships with both men and women, most notably his affair with Lord Alfred Douglas, also known as "Bosie." This relationship led to Wilde's downfall, culminating in a highly publicised trial where he was accused of "gross indecency" due to his homosexual relationships. The question "Was Oscar Wilde Gay?" is often discussed in the context of his trial and the impact it had on his life and career.

Wilde defended his relationships during the trials, articulating his belief in the "love that dare not speak its name." Despite his eloquence, he was convicted and sentenced to two years of hard labour. The trial and imprisonment were a profound personal and professional blow, marking the end of his public career and leading to his social ostracism.

Wilde's sexuality was a central aspect of his identity, influencing both his personal life and his literary themes. His works often explore the tensions between public and private personas, the nature of desire, and the constraints of societal norms.

Famous Quotes

Oscar Wilde - 24 inspirational quotes about classical music - Classic FM
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Oscar Wilde's wit is immortalised in his numerous famous quotes. Some of the most memorable include:

"Be yourself; everyone else is already taken."
"To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all."
"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."
"Experience is merely the name men gave to their mistakes."
"The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself."

These quotes reflect Wilde's keen insight into human nature, his irreverence towards societal norms, and his enduring wisdom.

Later Years and Death

Oscar Wilde's last years | Daily Telegraph
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Oscar Wilde's later years were marked by hardship. After serving two years of hard labour, Wilde was released in 1897, a broken man. He spent his last years in France under the name Sebastian Melmoth. Wilde struggled financially and emotionally, relying on the support of friends and living in relative obscurity.

Despite his circumstances, Wilde continued to write. His final work, "The Ballad of Reading Gaol," is a haunting reflection on his prison experience and a powerful critique of the penal system. The poem was well-received and remains one of his most moving works.

Wilde died of meningitis on 30 November 1900 at the age of 46. He is buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, where his grave has become a pilgrimage site for admirers. The tomb, designed by sculptor Jacob Epstein, features an Art Deco angel and has been the subject of both admiration and controversy over the years.

Legacy

The Importance Of Being Earnest - 5 Oscar Wilde Quotes To Up Your Wit | The  Economic Times
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Oscar Wilde's influence on literature and popular culture is enduring. His works continue to be studied and celebrated for their wit, insight, and critique of societal norms. Wilde's sharp social commentary and exploration of the human condition resonate with readers and audiences today, ensuring his place in the literary canon.

Modern tributes to Wilde include the Oscar Wilde Bar NYC, which stands as a testament to his lasting impact on the arts and culture. The bar is not only a celebration of Wilde's life but also a gathering place for those who appreciate his contributions to literature and his enduring spirit.

Wilde's legacy is also evident in the continued adaptation of his works for stage and screen. "The Importance of Being Earnest" and "The Picture of Dorian Gray" have seen numerous adaptations, reflecting their timeless appeal and the universal themes they explore.

Comprehensive List of Works by Oscar Wilde

what is your favourite Oscar Wilde quote? : r/DarkAcademia
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Plays

  1. Vera; or, The Nihilists (1880)
  2. The Duchess of Padua (1883)
  3. Lady Windermere's Fan (1892)
  4. Salomé (1893)
  5. A Woman of No Importance (1893)
  6. An Ideal Husband (1895)
  7. The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)

Novel

  1. The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)

Short Story Collections

  1. The Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888)
  2. A House of Pomegranates (1891)

Essays and Dialogues

  1. The Decay of Lying (1889)
  2. Pen, Pencil and Poison (1889)
  3. The Critic as Artist (1891)
  4. The Soul of Man under Socialism (1891)
  5. De Profundis (1905)

Poems

  1. Poems (1881)
  2. The Sphinx (1894)
  3. The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898)

Oscar Wilde's extensive body of work, spanning plays, novels, short stories, essays, and poems, showcases his versatility as a writer and his enduring influence on literature. His sharp wit, keen social commentary, and exploration of the human condition resonate with readers and audiences today, ensuring his place in the literary canon for generations to come.

Conclusion

Oscar Wilde's life was a blend of brilliance and controversy, leaving a legacy that continues to inspire and provoke thought. His works, from his novels and plays to his poems and quotes, remain relevant and revered. Wilde's unique connection to New York City and his lasting influence on literature and culture ensure that his name will be remembered for generations to come.

Wilde's ability to combine wit with profound social critique, his courage in the face of personal adversity, and his unwavering commitment to his artistic vision make him a literary icon whose work continues to captivate and challenge audiences around the world.


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