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Oscar Wilde

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Wilde, Oscar

I INTRODUCTION

Wilde, Oscar (1854-1900), Irish-born writer and wit, who was the chief proponent of the aesthetic movement, based on the principle of art for art's sake. Wilde was a novelist, playwright, poet, and critic.

II LIFE

He was born Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde on October 16, 1854, in Dublin, and educated at Trinity College, Dublin. As a youngster he was exposed to the brilliant literary talk of the day at his mother's Dublin salon. Later, as a student at the University of Oxford, he excelled in classics, wrote poetry (his long poem Ravenna won the coveted Newdigate Prize in 1878), and incorporated the Bohemian lifestyle of his youth into a unique way of life. At Oxford Wilde came under the influence of aesthetic innovators such as English writers Walter Pater and John Ruskin. As an aesthete, the eccentric young Wilde wore long hair and velvet knee breeches. His rooms were filled with various objets d'art such as sunflowers, peacock feathers, and blue china; Wilde claimed to aspire to the perfection of the china. His attitudes and manners were ridiculed in the comic periodical Punch and satirized in the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera Patience (1881). Nonetheless, his wit, brilliance, and flair won him many devotees.

Wilde's first book was Poems (1881). His first play, Vera, or the Nihilists (1882), was produced in New York, where he saw it performed while he was on a highly successful lecture tour. Upon returning to England he settled in London and married in 1884 a wealthy Irish woman, Constance Lloyd, with whom he had two sons. Thereafter he devoted himself exclusively to writing.

In 1895, at the peak of his career, Wilde became the central figure in one of the most sensational court trials of the century. The results scandalized the Victorian middle class; Wilde, who had been a close friend of the young Lord Alfred Douglas, was accused by Douglas's father, the Marquess of Queensberry, of sodomy, an accusation that was upheld by the courts on Wilde's retrial in May 1895. Sentenced to two years of hard labour in prison, he emerged financially bankrupt and spiritually downcast. He spent the rest of his life in Paris, using the pseudonym Sebastian Melmoth. He was converted to Roman Catholicism before he died of meningitis in Paris on November 30, 1900.

III WORKS

Wilde's early works included two collections of fairy stories, which he wrote for his sons, The Happy Prince (1888) and A House of Pomegranates (1892), and a group of short stories, Lord Arthur Savile's Crime (1891). His only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), is a melodramatic tale of moral decadence, distinguished for its brilliant, epigrammatic style. Although the author fully describes the process of corruption, the shocking conclusion of the story commits

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