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  • 10/17/2004

Oscar Wilde

(16 October 1854 _ 29 November 1900)

Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born at 21Westland Row, Dublin, on16 October 1854.

His father was an eminent eye and ear specialist; his mother wrote under the pen-name 'Speranza'. They soon moved to1 Merrion Square, where Oscar was allowed to frequent his mother's salon.

Wilde defeated Edward Carson for the foundation scholarship in classics atTrinity College, Dublin, and in 1874 won a scholarship toMagdalen College, Oxford, where he was influenced by John Ruskin, Walter Pater and Cardinal Newman. He became a disciple of aestheticism, pursuing beauty for beauty's sake; his poemRavenna (1878) won the Newdigate Prize.

Wilde's wit and eccentric dress attracted attention, and in 1882 he undertook a lecture tour inAmerica, advising a customs officer that he had 'nothing to declare but my genius'. In 1884, he married Constance Lloyd, a barrister's daughter, and embarked on a literary career. His first success wasThe Happy Prince (1888), but his novelThe Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) offended Victorian susceptibilities.

The triumph of his playLady Windermere's Fan (1892) inaugurated his most glorious years. It was followed byA Woman of No Importance (1893),An Ideal Husband (1895) andThe Importance of Being Earnest (1895). Audiences were delighted by such epigrams as 'To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune ... to lose both seems like carelessness' and 'All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his.'

However, Wilde had formed a liaison with the young Lord Alfred 'Bosie'Douglas, whose bullying father, the Marquis of Queensberry, accused Wilde of sodomy. In a libel case, Wilde collapsed under cross-examination by his old rival Carson, and in 1895 was sentenced to two years' hard labour for homosexual offences, which inspiredThe Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898). Prurient Victorian England denounced Wilde and sentenced him to more than prison. Performances of his plays were cancelled. Wilde's wife changed her surname and with her two young sons, moved abroad to escape the scandal. On his release, Wilde lived in Paris. He was received into the Catholic Church on 29 November 1900, and died a day later.

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