World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Oscar Wilde

Article Id: WHEBN0000022614
Reproduction Date:

Title: Oscar Wilde  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: 1895 in the United Kingdom, Oscar Wilde, Chichester Festival production history, 1900 in literature, List of Irish writers
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde
Photograph taken in 1882 by Napoleon Sarony
Born Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde
(1854-10-16)16 October 1854
Dublin, Ireland
Died 30 November 1900(1900-11-30) (aged 46)
Paris, France
Occupation Writer, poet, playwright
Language English, French
Nationality Irish
Alma mater Trinity College, Dublin; Magdalen College, Oxford
Period Victorian era
Genre Drama, short story, criticism, dialogue, journalism
Literary movement Aestheticism
Notable works The Importance of Being Earnest, The Picture of Dorian Gray
Spouse Constance Lloyd (1884–98)
Children Cyril Holland, Vyvyan Holland
Relatives Sir William Wilde, Jane, Lady Wilde


Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900) was an Irish writer and poet. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, he became one of London's most popular playwrights in the early 1890s. Today he is remembered for his epigrams, his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, his plays, and the circumstances of his imprisonment and early death.

Wilde's parents were successful Anglo-Irish Dublin intellectuals. Their son became fluent in French and German early in life. At university, Wilde read Greats; he proved himself to be an outstanding classicist, first at Dublin, then at Oxford. He became known for his involvement in the rising philosophy of aestheticism, led by two of his tutors, Walter Pater and John Ruskin. After university, Wilde moved to London into fashionable cultural and social circles. As a spokesman for aestheticism, he tried his hand at various literary activities: he published a book of poems, lectured in the United States and Canada on the new "English Renaissance in Art", and then returned to London where he worked prolifically as a journalist. Known for his biting wit, flamboyant dress and glittering conversation, Wilde became one of the best-known personalities of his day.

At the turn of the 1890s, he refined his ideas about the supremacy of art in a series of dialogues and essays, and incorporated themes of decadence, duplicity, and beauty into his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). The opportunity to construct aesthetic details precisely, and combine them with larger social themes, drew Wilde to write drama. He wrote Salome (1891) in French in Paris but it was refused a licence for England due to the absolute prohibition of Biblical subjects on the English stage. Unperturbed, Wilde produced four society comedies in the early 1890s, which made him one of the most successful playwrights of late Victorian London.

At the height of his fame and success, while his masterpiece, The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), was still on stage in London, Wilde had the Marquess of Queensberry prosecuted for libel. The Marquess was the father of Wilde's lover, Lord Alfred Douglas. The charge carried a penalty of up to two years in prison. The trial unearthed evidence that caused Wilde to drop his charges and led to his own arrest and trial for gross indecency with other men. After two more trials he was convicted and imprisoned for two years' hard labour. In 1897, in prison, he wrote De Profundis, which was published in 1905, a long letter which discusses his spiritual journey through his trials, forming a dark counterpoint to his earlier philosophy of pleasure. Upon his release he left immediately for France, never to return to Ireland or Britain. There he wrote his last work, The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), a long poem commemorating the harsh rhythms of prison life. He died destitute in Paris at the age of 46.

Early life

Wilde Family home on Merrion Square
Statue of Oscar Wilde in Merrion Square, Dublin. The materials are granite, green nephrite jade, white jadeite and thulite.[1]

Oscar Wilde was born at 21 Westland Row, Dublin (now home of the Oscar Wilde Centre, Trinity College), the second of three children born to Sir William Wilde and Jane Wilde, two years behind William ("Willie"). Wilde's mother, under the pseudonym "Speranza" (the Italian word for 'Hope'), wrote poetry for the revolutionary Young Irelanders in 1848 and was a lifelong Irish nationalist.[2] She read the Young Irelanders' poetry to Oscar and Willie, inculcating a love of these poets in her sons.[3] Lady Wilde's interest in the neo-classical revival showed in the paintings and busts of ancient Greece and Rome in her home.[3] William Wilde was Ireland's leading oto-ophthalmologic (ear and eye) surgeon and was knighted in 1864 for his services as medical adviser and assistant commissioner to the censuses of Ireland.[4] He also wrote books about Irish archaeology and peasant folklore. A renowned philanthropist, his dispensary for the care of the city's poor at the rear of Trinity College, Dublin, was the forerunner of the Dublin Eye and Ear Hospital, now located at Adelaide Road.[4] On his father's side Wilde was descended from a Dutchman, Colonel de Wilde, who went to Ireland with King William of Orange's invading army in 1690. On his mother's side Wilde's ancestors included a bricklayer from County Durham who emigrated to Ireland sometime in the 1770s.[5][6]

Wilde was baptised as an infant in St. Mark's Church, Dublin, the local Church of Ireland (Anglican) church. When the church was closed, the records were moved to the nearby St. Ann's Church, Dawson Street.[7]

In addition to his children with his wife, Sir William Wilde was the father of three children born out of wedlock before his marriage: Henry Wilson, born in 1838, and Emily and Mary Wilde, born in 1847 and 1849, respectively, of different maternity to Henry. Sir William acknowledged paternity of his illegitimate children and provided for their education, but they were reared by his relatives rather than with his wife and legitimate children.[8]

In 1855, the family moved to No. 1 Isaac Butt, William Rowan Hamilton and Samuel Ferguson.[3]

Until he was nine, Oscar Wilde was educated at home, where a French bonne and a German governess taught him their languages. He then attended George Moore.

Isola died aged nine of meningitis. Wilde's poem "Requiescat" is dedicated to her memory:[11]

"Tread lightly, she is near
Under the snow
Speak gently, she can hear
the daisies grow"

University education: 1870s

Trinity College, Dublin

Wilde left Portora with a royal scholarship to read classics at Trinity College, Dublin, from 1871 to 1874,[12] sharing rooms with his older brother Willie Wilde. Trinity, one of the leading classical schools, placed him with scholars such as R. Y. Tyrell, Arthur Palmer, Edward Dowden and his tutor, J. P. Mahaffy who inspired his interest in Greek literature. As a student Wilde worked with Mahaffy on the latter's book Social Life in Greece.[13] Wilde, despite later reservations, called Mahaffy "my first and best teacher" and "the scholar who showed me how to love Greek things".[14] For his part, Mahaffy boasted of having created Wilde; later, he named him "the only blot on my tutorship".[15]

The University Philosophical Society also provided an education, discussing intellectual and artistic subjects such as Rossetti and Swinburne weekly. Wilde quickly became an established member – the members' suggestion book for 1874 contains two pages of banter (sportingly) mocking Wilde's emergent aestheticism. He presented a paper entitled "Aesthetic Morality".[16] At Trinity, Wilde established himself as an outstanding student: he came first in his class in his first year, won a scholarship by competitive examination in his second, and then, in his finals, won the Berkeley Gold Medal, the University's highest academic award in Greek.[17] He was encouraged to compete for a demyship to Magdalen College, Oxford – which he won easily, having already studied Greek for over nine years.

Magdalen College, Oxford

Oscar Wilde posing for a photograph, looking at the camera. He is wearing a checked suit and a bowler hat. His right foot is resting on a knee high bench, and his right hand, holding gloves, is on it. The left hand is in the pocket.
Oscar Wilde at Oxford

At Magdalen, he read Greats from 1874 to 1878, and from there he applied to join the Oxford Union, but failed to be elected.[18]

Attracted by its dress, secrecy, and ritual, Wilde petitioned the Apollo Masonic Lodge at Oxford, and was soon raised to the "Sublime Degree of Master Mason".[19] During a resurgent interest in Freemasonry in his third year, he commented he "would be awfully sorry to give it up if I secede from the Protestant Heresy".[20] He was deeply considering converting to Catholicism, discussing the possibility with clergy several times. In 1877, Wilde was left speechless after an audience with Pope Pius IX in Rome.[21] He eagerly read Cardinal Newman's books, and became more serious in 1878, when he met the Reverend Sebastian Bowden, a priest in the Brompton Oratory who had received some high profile converts. Neither his father, who threatened to cut off his funds, nor Mahaffy thought much of the plan; but mostly Wilde, the supreme individualist, balked at the last minute from pledging himself to any formal creed. On the appointed day of his baptism, Father Bowden received a bunch of altar lilies instead. Wilde retained a lifelong interest in Catholic theology and liturgy.[22]

While at Magdalen College, Wilde became particularly well known for his role in the aesthetic and decadent movements. He wore his hair long, openly scorned "manly" sports though he occasionally boxed,[19] and decorated his rooms with peacock feathers, lilies, sunflowers, blue china and other objets d'art, once remarking to friends whom he entertained lavishly, "I find it harder and harder every day to live up to my blue china."[23] The line quickly became famous, accepted as a slogan by aesthetes but used against them by critics who sensed in it a terrible vacuousness.[23] Some elements disdained the aesthetes, but their languishing attitudes and showy costumes became a recognised pose.[24] Wilde was once physically attacked by a group of four fellow students, and dealt with them single-handedly, surprising critics.[25] By his third year Wilde had truly begun to create himself and his myth, and saw his learning developing in much larger ways than merely the prescribed texts. This attitude resulted in him being rusticated for one term, when he nonchalantly returned to college late from a trip to Greece with Prof. Mahaffy.[26]

Wilde did not meet Walter Pater until his third year, but had been enthralled by his Studies in the History of the Renaissance, published during Wilde's final year in Trinity.[27] Pater argued that man's sensibility to beauty should be refined above all else, and that each moment should be felt to its fullest extent. Years later, in De Profundis, Wilde called Pater's Studies... "that book that has had such a strange influence over my life".[28] He learned tracts of the book by heart, and carried it with him on travels in later years. Pater gave Wilde his sense of almost flippant devotion to art, though it was John Ruskin who gave him a purpose for it.[29] Ruskin despaired at the self-validating aestheticism of Pater, arguing that the importance of art lies in its potential for the betterment of society. Ruskin admired beauty, but believed it must be allied with, and applied to, moral good. When Wilde eagerly attended Ruskin's lecture series The Aesthetic and Mathematic Schools of Art in Florence, he learned about aesthetics as simply the non-mathematical elements of painting. Despite being given to neither early rising nor manual labour, Wilde volunteered for Ruskin's project to convert a swampy country lane into a smart road neatly edged with flowers.[29]

Wilde won the 1878 Newdigate Prize for his poem "Ravenna", which reflected on his visit there the year before, and he duly read it at Encaenia.[30] In November 1878, he graduated with a double first in his B.A. of Classical Moderations and Literae Humaniores (Greats). Wilde wrote to a friend, "The dons are 'astonied' beyond words – the Bad Boy doing so well in the end!"[31]

Apprenticeship of an aesthete: 1880s

1881 caricature in Punch, the caption reads: "O.W.", "Oh, I eel just as happy as a bright sunflower, Lays of Christy Minstrelsy, "Æsthete of Æsthetes!/What's in a name!/The Poet is Wilde/But his poetry's tame."

Debut in society

1 (now 44) Tite Street SW3

After graduation from Oxford, Wilde returned to Dublin, where he met again Florence Balcombe, a childhood sweetheart. She became engaged to Bram Stoker and they married in 1878.[32] Wilde was disappointed but stoic: he wrote to her, remembering "the two sweet years – the sweetest years of all my youth" they had spent together.[33] He also stated his intention to "return to England, probably for good." This he did in 1878, only briefly visiting Ireland twice.[34]

Unsure of his next step, he wrote to various acquaintances enquiring about Classics positions at Oxford or Cambridge.[35] The Rise of Historical Criticism was his submission for the Chancellor's Essay prize of 1879, which, though no longer a student, he was still eligible to enter. Its subject, "Historical Criticism among the Ancients" seemed ready-made for Wilde – with both his skill in composition and ancient learning – but he struggled to find his voice with the long, flat, scholarly style.[36] Unusually, no prize was awarded that year.[36][Notes 1] With the last of his inheritance from the sale of his father's houses, he set himself up as a bachelor in London.[37] The 1881 British Census listed Wilde as a boarder at 1 (now 44) Tite Street, Chelsea, where Frank Miles, a society painter, was the head of the household.[38] Wilde spent the next six years in London and Paris, and in the United States where he travelled to deliver lectures.

He had been publishing lyrics and poems in magazines since his entering Trinity College, especially in Kottabos and the Dublin University Magazine. In mid-1881, at 27 years old, Poems collected, revised and expanded his poetic efforts.[39] The book was generally well received, and sold out its first print run of 750 copies, prompting further printings in 1882. It was bound in a rich, enamel, parchment cover (embossed with gilt blossom) and printed on hand-made Dutch paper; Wilde presented many copies to the dignitaries and writers who received him over the next few years.[40] The Oxford Union condemned the book for alleged plagiarism in a tight vote. The librarian, who had requested the book for the library, returned the presentation copy to Wilde with a note of apology.[41][42] Richard Ellmann argues that Wilde's poem "Hélas!" was a sincere, though flamboyant, attempt to explain the dichotomies he saw in himself:[43]

To drift with every passion till my soul
Is a stringed lute on which all winds can play

Punch was less enthusiastic, "The poet is Wilde, but his poetry's tame" was their verdict.

America: 1882

A Satirical cartoon shows a dandy figure, fancily dressed in a long coat and breeches, floating across the crowd in a tightly packed ballroom.
Keller cartoon from the Wasp of San Francisco depicting Wilde on the occasion of his visit there in 1882

Aestheticism was sufficiently in vogue to be caricatured by Gilbert and Sullivan in Patience (1881). Richard D'Oyly Carte, an English impresario, invited Wilde to make a lecture tour of North America, simultaneously priming the pump for the US tour of Patience and selling this most charming aesthete to the American public. Wilde journeyed on the SS Arizona, arriving 2 January 1882, and disembarking the following day.[Notes 2] Originally planned to last four months, it continued for almost a year due to the commercial success.[44] Wilde sought to transpose the beauty he saw in art into daily life.[45] This was a practical as well as philosophical project: in Oxford he had surrounded himself with blue china and lilies, and now one of his lectures was on interior design. When asked to explain reports that he had paraded down Piccadilly in London carrying a lily, long hair flowing, Wilde replied, "It's not whether I did it or not that's important, but whether people believed I did it".[45] Wilde believed that the artist should hold forth higher ideals, and that pleasure and beauty would replace utilitarian ethics.[46]

Wilde and aestheticism were both mercilessly caricatured and criticised in the press; the Springfield Republican, for instance, commented on Wilde's behaviour during his visit to Boston to lecture on aestheticism, suggesting that Wilde's conduct was more a bid for notoriety rather than devotion to beauty and the aesthetic. T.W. Higginson, a cleric and abolitionist, wrote in "Unmanly Manhood" of his general concern that Wilde, "whose only distinction is that he has written a thin volume of very mediocre verse", would improperly influence the behaviour of men and women.[47] Though his press reception was hostile, Wilde was well received in diverse settings across America; he drank whiskey with miners in Leadville, Colorado and was fêted at the most fashionable salons in every city he visited.[48]

London life and marriage

His earnings, plus expected income from The Duchess of Padua, allowed him to move to Paris between February and mid-May 1883. Whilst there he met Robert Sherard, whom he entertained constantly. "We are dining on the Duchess tonight", Wilde would declare before taking him to a fancy restaurant.[49] In August he briefly returned to New York for the production of Vera, his first play, after it was turned down in London. He reportedly entertained the other passengers with "Ave Imperatrix!, A Poem on England", about the rise and fall of empires. E.C. Stedman, in Victorian Poets describes this "lyric to England" as "manly verse – a poetic and eloquent invocation".[50][Notes 3] The play was initially well received by the audience, but when the critics wrote lukewarm reviews attendance fell sharply and the play closed a week after it had opened.[51]

A small head-portrait of a young, pale man with dark hair.
Robert Ross at twenty-four

Wilde was left to return to England and lecturing on topics including Personal Impressions of America, The Value of Art in Modern Life, and Dress.

In London, he had been introduced in 1881 to Constance Lloyd, daughter of Horace Lloyd, a wealthy Queen's Counsel. She happened to be visiting Dublin in 1884, when Wilde was lecturing at the Gaiety Theatre. He proposed to her, and they married on 29 May 1884 at the Anglican St. James Church in Paddington in London.[52] Constance's annual allowance of £250 was generous for a young woman (equivalent to about £22,700 in current value), but the Wildes had relatively luxurious tastes, and they had preached to others for so long on the subject of design that people expected their home to set new standards.[53] No. 16, Tite Street was duly renovated in seven months at considerable expense. The couple had two sons, Cyril (1885) and Vyvyan (1886).

Wilde became the sole literary signatory of Haymarket massacre in Chicago in 1886.[54]

Robert Ross had read Wilde's poems before they met, and was unrestrained by the Victorian prohibition against homosexuality, even to the extent of estranging himself from his family. By Richard Ellmann's account, he was a precocious seventeen-year-old "so young and yet so knowing, was determined to seduce Wilde".[55] According to Daniel Mendelsohn, Wilde, who had long alluded to Greek love, was "initiated into homosexual sex" by Ross, while his "marriage had begun to unravel after his wife's second pregnancy, which left him physically repelled".[56]

Prose writing: 1886–91

Journalism and editorship: 1886–89

A tall man rests on a chaise longue, facing the camera. On his knees, which are held together, he holds a slim, richly bound book. He wears knee breeches which feature prominently in the photograph's foreground.
Oscar Wilde reclining with Poems, by Napoleon Sarony in New York in 1882. Wilde often liked to appear idle, though in fact he worked hard; by the late 1880s he was a father, an editor, and a writer.[57]

Criticism over artistic matters in the [58] Wilde, like his parents before him, also supported the cause of Irish Nationalism. When Charles Stewart Parnell was falsely accused of inciting murder Wilde wrote a series of astute columns defending him in the Daily Chronicle.[54]

His flair, having previously only been put into socialising, suited journalism and did not go unnoticed. With his youth nearly over, and a family to support, in mid-1887 Wilde became the editor of The Lady's World magazine, his name prominently appearing on the cover.[59] He promptly renamed it The Woman's World and raised its tone, adding serious articles on parenting, culture, and politics, keeping discussions of fashion and arts. Two pieces of fiction were usually included, one to be read to children, the other for the ladies themselves. Wilde worked hard to solicit good contributions from his wide artistic acquaintance, including those of Lady Wilde and his wife Constance, while his own "Literary and Other Notes" were themselves popular and amusing.[60] The initial vigour and excitement he brought to the job began to fade as administration, commuting and office life became tedious.[61] At the same time as Wilde's interest flagged, the publishers became concerned anew about circulation: sales, at the relatively high price of one shilling, remained low.[62] Increasingly sending instructions to the magazine by letter, he began a new period of creative work and his own column appeared less regularly.[63][64] In October 1889, Wilde had finally found his voice in prose and, at the end of the second volume, Wilde left The Woman's World.[65] The magazine outlasted him by one volume.[63]

If Wilde's period at the helm of the magazine was a mixed success from an organizational point of view, one can also argue that it played a pivotal role in his development as a writer and facilitated his ascent to fame. Whilst Wilde the journalist supplied articles under the guidance of his editors, Wilde the editor is forced to learn to manipulate the literary marketplace on his own terms.[66]

Shorter fiction

Wilde published The Happy Prince and Other Tales in 1888, and had been regularly writing fairy stories for magazines. In 1891 he published two more collections, Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories, and in September A House of Pomegranates was dedicated "To Constance Mary Wilde".[67] "The Portrait of Mr. W. H.", which Wilde had begun in 1887, was first published in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine in July 1889.[68] It is a short story, which reports a conversation, in which the theory that Shakespeare's sonnets were written out of the poet's love of the boy actor "Willie Hughes", is advanced, retracted, and then propounded again. The only evidence for this is two supposed puns within the sonnets themselves.[69] The anonymous narrator is at first sceptical, then believing, finally flirtatious with the reader: he concludes that "there is really a great deal to be said of the Willie Hughes theory of Shakespeare's sonnets."[70] By the end fact and fiction have melded together.[71] Arthur Ransome wrote that Wilde "read something of himself into Shakespeare's sonnets" and became fascinated with the "Willie Hughes theory" despite the lack of biographical evidence for the historical William Hughes' existence.[72] Instead of writing a short but serious essay on the question, Wilde tossed the theory amongst the three characters of the story, allowing it to unfold as background to the plot. The story thus is an early masterpiece of Wilde's combing many elements that interested him, conversation, literature and the idea that to shed oneself of an idea one must first convince another of its truth.[73] Ransome concludes that Wilde succeeds precisely because the literary criticism is unveiled with such a deft touch. Though containing nothing but "special pleading", it would not, he says "be possible to build an airier castle in Spain than this of the imaginary William Hughes" we continue listening nonetheless to be charmed by the telling.[72] "You must believe in Willie Hughes," Wilde told an acquaintance. "I almost do, myself".[71]

Essays and dialogues

Sheet music cover, 1880s

Wilde, having tired of journalism, had been busy setting out his aesthetic ideas more fully in a series of longer prose pieces which were published in the major literary-intellectual journals of the day. In January 1889, The Decay of Lying: A Dialogue appeared in The Nineteenth Century, and Pen, Pencil and Poison, a satirical biography of Thomas Griffiths Wainewright, in the Fortnightly Review, edited by Wilde's friend Frank Harris.[74] Two of Wilde's four writings on aesthetics are dialogues: though Wilde had evolved professionally from lecturer to writer, he retained an oral tradition of sorts. Having always excelled as a wit and raconteur, he often composed by assembling phrases, bons mots and witticisms into a longer, cohesive work.[75]

Wilde was concerned about the effect of moralising on art, he believed in art's redemptive, developmental powers: "Art is individualism, and individualism is a disturbing and disintegrating force. There lies its immense value. For what it seeks is to disturb monotony of type, slavery of custom, tyranny of habit, and the reduction of man to the level of a machine."[76] In his only political text, The Soul of Man Under Socialism, he argued political conditions should establish this primacy, and concluded that the government most amenable to artists was no government at all. Wilde envisions a society where mechanisation has freed human effort from the burden of necessity, effort which can instead be expended on artistic creation. [77]

This point of view did not align him with the Fabians, intellectual socialists who advocated using state apparatus to change social conditions, nor did it endear him to the monied classes whom he had previously entertained.[78][79] Hesketh Pearson, introducing a collection of Wilde's essays in 1950, remarked how The Soul of Man Under Socialism had been an inspirational text for Tsarist revolutionaries in Russia but laments that in the Stalinist era "it is doubtful whether there are any uninspected places in which it could now be hidden".[79]

Wilde considered including this pamphlet and The Portrait of Mr. W.H., his essay-story on Shakespeare's sonnets, in a new anthology in 1891, but eventually decided to limit it to purely aesthetic subjects. Intentions packaged revisions of four essays: The Decay of Lying, Pen, Pencil and Poison, The Truth of Masks (first published 1885), and The Critic as Artist in two parts.[80] For Pearson the biographer, the essays and dialogues exhibit every aspect of Wilde's genius and character: wit, romancer, talker, lecturer, humanist and scholar and concludes that "no other productions of his have as varied an appeal".[81] 1891 turned out to be Wilde's annus mirabilis, apart from his three collections he also produced his only novel.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

The first version of The Picture of Dorian Gray was published as the lead story in the July 1890 edition of Lippincott's Monthly Magazine, along with five others.[82] The story begins with a man painting a picture of Gray. When Gray, who has a "face like ivory and rose leaves", sees his finished portrait, he breaks down. Distraught that his beauty will fade while the portrait stays beautiful, he inadvertently makes a Faustian bargain in which only the painted image grows old while he stays beautiful and young. For Wilde, the purpose of art would be to guide life as if beauty alone were its object. As Gray's portrait allows him to escape the corporeal ravages of his hedonism, Wilde sought to juxtapose the beauty he saw in art with daily life.[45]

Reviewers immediately criticised the novel's decadence and homosexual allusions; The Daily Chronicle for example, called it "unclean," "poisonous," and "heavy with the mephitic odours of moral and spiritual putrefaction."[83] Wilde vigorously responded, writing to the editor of the Scots Observer, in which he clarified his stance on ethics and aesthetics in art – "If a work of art is rich and vital and complete, those who have artistic instincts will see its beauty and those to whom ethics appeal more strongly will see its moral lesson."[84][85] He nevertheless revised it extensively for book publication in 1891: six new chapters were added, some overtly decadent passages and homo-eroticism excised, and a preface was included consisting of twenty two epigrams, such as "Books are well written, or badly written. That is all."[86][87] Contemporary reviewers and modern critics have postulated numerous possible sources of the story, a search Jershua McCormack argues is futile because Wilde "has tapped a root of Western folklore so deep and ubiquitous that the story has escaped its origins and returned to the oral tradition."[88] Wilde claimed the plot was "an idea that is as old as the history of literature but to which I have given a new form".[89] Modern critic Robin McKie considered the novel to be technically mediocre, saying that the conceit of the plot had guaranteed its fame, but the device is never pushed to its full.[90]

Theatrical career: 1892–95

Jokanaan and Salome. Illustration by Aubrey Beardsley for the 1893 edition of Salome.


The 1891 census records the Wildes' residence at 16 Tite Street,[91] where he lived with his wife Constance and two sons. Wilde though, not content with being better known than ever in London, returned to Paris in October 1891, this time as a respected writer. He was received at the salons littéraires, including the famous mardis of Stéphane Mallarmé, a renowned symbolist poet of the time.[92] Wilde's two plays during the 1880s, Vera; or, The Nihilists and The Duchess of Padua, had not met with much success. He had continued his interest in the theatre and now, after finding his voice in prose, his thoughts turned again to the dramatic form as the biblical iconography of Salome filled his mind.[93] One evening, after discussing depictions of Salome throughout history, he returned to his hotel and noticed a blank copybook lying on the desk, and it occurred to him to write in it what he had been saying. The result was a new play, Salomé, written rapidly and in French.[94]

A tragedy, it tells the story of Salome, the stepdaughter of the tetrarch Herod Antipas, who, to her stepfather's dismay but mother's delight, requests the head of Jokanaan (John the Baptist) on a silver platter as a reward for dancing the Dance of the Seven Veils. When Wilde returned to London just before Christmas the Paris Echo referred to him as "le great event" of the season.[95] Rehearsals of the play, starring Sarah Bernhardt, began but the play was refused a licence by the Lord Chamberlain, since it depicted biblical characters.[96] Salome was published jointly in Paris and London in 1893, but was not performed until 1896 in Paris, during Wilde's later incarceration.[97]

Comedies of society

Wilde, who had first set out to irritate Victorian society with his dress and talking points, then outrage it with Dorian Gray, his novel of vice hidden beneath art, finally found a way to critique society on its own terms. Lady Windermere's Fan was first performed on 20 February 1892 at St James Theatre, packed with the cream of society. On the surface a witty comedy, there is subtle subversion underneath: "it concludes with collusive concealment rather than collective disclosure".[98] The audience, like Lady Windermere, are forced to soften harsh social codes in favour of a more nuanced view. The play was enormously popular, touring the country for months, but largely trashed by conservative critics.[99] It was followed by A Woman of No Importance in 1893, another Victorian comedy: revolving around the spectre of illegitimate births, mistaken identities and late revelations.[100] Wilde was commissioned to write two more plays and An Ideal Husband, written in 1894,[101] followed in January 1895.[102]

Peter Raby said these essentially English plays were well-pitched, "Wilde, with one eye on the dramatic genius of Ibsen, and the other on the commercial competition in London's West End, targeted his audience with adroit precision".[103]

Queensberry family

Two men sit on a bench with their legs crossed. Both are well dressed in suits.
Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas in 1893

In mid-1891 Lionel Johnson introduced Wilde to Alfred Douglas, an undergraduate at Oxford at the time. Known to his family and friends as "Bosie", he was a handsome and spoilt young man. An intimate friendship sprang up between Wilde and Douglas and by 1893 Wilde was infatuated with Douglas and they consorted together regularly in a tempestuous affair. If Wilde was relatively indiscreet, even flamboyant, in the way he acted, Douglas was reckless in public. Wilde, who was earning up to £100 a week from his plays (his salary at The Woman's World had been £6), indulged Douglas's every whim: material, artistic or sexual.

Douglas soon dragged Wilde into the Victorian underground of gay prostitution and Wilde was introduced to a series of young, working class, male prostitutes from 1892 onwards by Alfred Taylor. These infrequent rendezvous usually took the same form: Wilde would meet the boy, offer him gifts, dine him privately and then take him to a hotel room. Unlike Wilde's idealised, pederastic relations with Ross, John Gray, and Douglas, all of whom remained part of his aesthetic circle, these consorts were uneducated and knew nothing of literature. Soon his public and private lives had become sharply divided; in De Profundis he wrote to Douglas that "It was like feasting with panthers; the danger was half the excitement... I did not know that when they were to strike at me it was to be at another's piping and at another's pay."[104]

Douglas and some Oxford friends founded a journal, The Chameleon, to which Wilde "sent a page of paradoxes originally destined for the Saturday Review".[105] "Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young" was to come under attack six months later at Wilde's trial, where he was forced to defend the magazine to which he had sent his work.[106] In any case, it became unique: The Chameleon was not published again.

Lord Alfred's father, the Marquess of Queensberry, was known for his outspoken atheism, brutish manner and creation of the modern rules of boxing.[Notes 4] Queensberry, who feuded regularly with his son, confronted Wilde and Lord Alfred about the nature of their relationship several times, but Wilde was able to mollify him. In June 1894, he called on Wilde at 16 Tite Street, without an appointment, and clarified his stance: "I do not say that you are it, but you look it, and pose at it, which is just as bad. And if I catch you and my son again in any public restaurant I will thrash you" to which Wilde responded: "I don't know what the Queensberry rules are, but the Oscar Wilde rule is to shoot on sight".[107] His account in De Profundis was less triumphant: "It was when, in my library at Tite Street, waving his small hands in the air in epileptic fury, your father... stood uttering every foul word his foul mind could think of, and screaming the loathsome threats he afterwards with such cunning carried out".[108][109] Queensberry only described the scene once, saying Wilde had "shown him the white feather", meaning he had acted in a cowardly way.[109] Though trying to remain calm, Wilde saw that he was becoming ensnared in a brutal family quarrel. He did not wish to bear Queensberry's insults, but he knew to confront him could lead to disaster were his liaisons disclosed publicly.

The Importance of Being Earnest

Wilde's final play again returns to the theme of switched identities: the play's two protagonists engage in "bunburying" (the maintenance of alternative personas in the town and country) which allows them to escape Victorian social mores.[45] Earnest is even lighter in tone than Wilde's earlier comedies. While their characters often rise to serious themes in moments of crisis, Earnest lacks the by-now stock Wildean characters: there is no "woman with a past", the principals are neither villainous nor cunning, simply idle cultivés, and the idealistic young women are not that innocent. Mostly set in drawing rooms and almost completely lacking in action or violence, Earnest lacks the self-conscious decadence found in The Picture of Dorian Gray and Salome.[110]

The play, now considered Wilde's [112] During rehearsal Alexander requested that Wilde shorten the play from four acts to three, which the author did. Premieres at St. James's seemed like "brilliant parties", and the opening of The Importance of Being Earnest was no exception. Allan Aynesworth (who played Algy) recalled to Hesketh Pearson, "In my fifty-three years of acting, I never remember a greater triumph than [that] first night."[113] Earnest's immediate reception as Wilde's best work to-date finally crystallised his fame into a solid artistic reputation.[114] The Importance of Being Earnest remains his most popular play.[115]

Wilde's professional success was mirrored by an escalation in his feud with Queensberry. Queensberry had planned to insult Wilde publicly by throwing a bouquet of rotting vegetables onto the stage; Wilde was tipped off and had Queensberry barred from entering the theatre.[116] Fifteen weeks later Wilde was in prison.


A rectangular calling card printed with
The Marquess of Queensberry's calling card with the handwritten offending inscription "For Oscar Wilde posing Somdomite [sic]". The card was marked as exhibit 'A' in Wilde's libel action.

Wilde v. Queensberry

On 18 February 1895, the Marquess left his calling card at Wilde's club, the Albemarle, inscribed: "For Oscar Wilde, posing somdomite" [sic].[117][Notes 5] Wilde, encouraged by Douglas and against the advice of his friends, initiated a private prosecution against Queensberry for libel, since the note amounted to a public accusation that Wilde had committed the crime of sodomy.

Queensberry was arrested on a charge of criminal libel, a charge carrying a possible sentence of up to two years in prison (Libel Act of 1843). Under the Act, Queensberry could avoid conviction for libel only by demonstrating that his accusation was in fact true, and furthermore that there was some "public benefit" to having made the accusation openly. Queensberry's lawyers thus hired private detectives to find evidence of Wilde's homosexual liaisons to prove the fact of the accusation. They decided on a strategy of portraying Wilde as a depraved older man who habitually enticed naive youths into a life of vicious homosexuality to demonstrate that there was some public interest in making the accusation openly, ostensibly to warn off other youths who might otherwise have become entrapped by Wilde.

Wilde's friends had advised him against the prosecution at a "Saturday Review" meeting at the Café Royal in 1895; Arthur Ransome a day or so before Ransome's trial for libelling Douglas in 1913. To Ransome it confirmed what he had said in his 1912 literary book on Wilde; that Douglas's rivalry for Wilde with Robbie Ross and his arguments with his father had resulted in Wilde's public disaster; as Wilde wrote in De Profundis. Douglas lost his case. Shaw included an account of the argument between Harris, Douglas and Wilde in the preface to his play The Dark Lady of the Sonnets.[118][119]

The libel trial became a cause célèbre as salacious details of Wilde's private life with Taylor and Douglas began to appear in the press. A team of private detectives had directed Queensberry's lawyers, led by Edward Carson QC, to the world of the Victorian underground. Wilde's association with blackmailers and male prostitutes, cross-dressers and homosexual brothels was recorded, and various persons involved were interviewed, some being coerced to appear as witnesses since they too were accomplices to the crimes of which Wilde was accused.[120]

No. 34 Tite Street, Chelsea, the Wilde family home from 1884 to his arrest in 1895. In Wilde's time this was No. 16 – the houses have been renumbered.[121]

The trial opened on 3 April 1895 amid scenes of near hysteria both in the press and the public galleries. The extent of the evidence massed against Wilde forced him to declare meekly, "I am the prosecutor in this case".[122] Wilde's lawyer, Sir [123]

Carson cross-examined Wilde on how he perceived the moral content of his works. Wilde replied with characteristic wit and flippancy, claiming that works of art are not capable of being moral or immoral but only well or poorly made, and that only "brutes and illiterates," whose views on art "are incalculably stupid", would make such judgements about art. Carson, a leading barrister, diverged from the normal practice of asking closed questions. Carson pressed Wilde on each topic from every angle, squeezing out nuances of meaning from Wilde's answers, removing them from their aesthetic context and portraying Wilde as evasive and decadent. While Wilde won the most laughs from the court, Carson scored the most legal points.[124] To undermine Wilde's credibility, and to justify Queensberry's description of Wilde as a "posing...somdomite", Carson drew from the witness an admission of his capacity for "posing", by demonstrating that he had lied about his age on oath. Playing on this, he returned to the topic throughout his cross-examination.[125]

Carson then moved to the factual evidence and questioned Wilde about his acquaintances with younger, lower-class men. Wilde admitted being on a first-name basis and lavishing gifts upon them, but insisted that nothing untoward had occurred and that the men were merely good friends of his. Carson repeatedly pointed out the unusual nature of these relationships and insinuated that the men were prostitutes. Wilde replied that he did not believe in social barriers, and simply enjoyed the society of young men. Then Carson asked Wilde directly whether he had ever kissed a certain servant boy, Wilde responded, "Oh, dear no. He was a particularly plain boy – unfortunately ugly – I pitied him for it."[126] Carson pressed him on the answer, repeatedly asking why the boy's ugliness was relevant. Wilde hesitated, then for the first time became flustered: "You sting me and insult me and try to unnerve me; and at times one says things flippantly when one ought to speak more seriously."[126]

In his opening speech for the defence, Carson announced that he had located several male prostitutes who were to testify that they had had sex with Wilde. On the advice of his lawyers, Wilde dropped the prosecution. Queensberry was found not guilty, as the court declared that his accusation that Wilde was "posing as a Somdomite" [sic] was justified, "true in substance and in fact."[127] Under the Libel Act 1843, Queensberry's acquittal rendered Wilde legally liable for the considerable expenses Queensberry had incurred in his defence, which left Wilde bankrupt.

Regina v. Wilde

After Wilde left the court, a warrant for his arrest was applied for on charges of sodomy and gross indecency. Robbie Ross found Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel, Knightsbridge, with Reginald Turner; both men advised Wilde to go at once to Dover and try to get a boat to France; his mother advised him to stay and fight like a man. Wilde, lapsing into inaction, could only say, "The train has gone. It's too late."[128] Wilde was arrested for "gross indecency" under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, a term meaning homosexual acts not amounting to buggery (an offence under a separate statute).[129][130] At Wilde's instruction, Ross and Wilde's butler forced their way into the bedroom and library of 16 Tite Street, packing some personal effects, manuscripts, and letters.[131] Wilde was then imprisoned on remand at Holloway where he received daily visits from Douglas.

Wilde in the dock, from The Illustrated Police News, 4 May 1895

Events moved quickly and his prosecution opened on 26 April 1895. Wilde pleaded not guilty. He had already begged Douglas to leave London for Paris, but Douglas complained bitterly, even wanting to give evidence; he was pressed to go and soon fled to the Hotel du Monde. Fearing persecution, Ross and many others also left the United Kingdom during this time. Under cross examination Wilde was at first hesitant, then spoke eloquently:

Charles Gill (prosecuting): What is "the love that dare not speak its name"? Wilde: "The love that dare not speak its name" in this century is such a great affection of an elder for a younger man as there was between David and Jonathan, such as Plato made the very basis of his philosophy, and such as you find in the sonnets of Michelangelo and Shakespeare. It is that deep spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect. It dictates and pervades great works of art, like those of Shakespeare and Michelangelo, and those two letters of mine, such as they are. It is in this century misunderstood, so much misunderstood that it may be described as "the love that dare not speak its name," and on that account of it I am placed where I am now. It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing unnatural about it. It is intellectual, and it repeatedly exists between an older and a younger man, when the older man has intellect, and the younger man has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him. That it should be so, the world does not understand. The world mocks at it, and sometimes puts one in the pillory for it.[132]

This response was counter-productive in a legal sense as it only served to reinforce the charges of homosexual behaviour. The trial ended with the jury unable to reach a verdict. Wilde's counsel, Sir Edward Clarke, was finally able to get a magistrate to allow Wilde and his friends to post bail.[133] The Reverend Stewart Headlam put up most of the £5,000 surety required by the court, having disagreed with Wilde's treatment by the press and the courts.[134] Wilde was freed from Holloway and, shunning attention, went into hiding at the house of Ernest and Ada Leverson, two of his firm friends. Edward Carson approached Frank Lockwood QC, the Solicitor General and asked "Can we not let up on the fellow now?"[135] Lockwood answered that he would like to do so, but feared that the case had become too politicised to be dropped.

The final trial was presided over by Mr Justice Wills. On 25 May 1895 Wilde and Alfred Taylor were convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to two years' hard labour.[136] The judge described the sentence, the maximum allowed, as "totally inadequate for a case such as this," and that the case was "the worst case I have ever tried".[137] Wilde's response "And I? May I say nothing, my Lord?" was drowned out in cries of "Shame" in the courtroom.[138]


When first I was put into prison some people advised me to try and forget who I was. It was ruinous advice. It is only by realising what I am that I have found comfort of any kind. Now I am advised by others to try on my release to forget that I have ever been in a prison at all. I know that would be equally fatal. It would mean that I would always be haunted by an intolerable sense of disgrace, and that those things that are meant for me as much as for anybody else – the beauty of the sun and moon, the pageant of the seasons, the music of daybreak and the silence of great nights, the rain falling through the leaves, or the dew creeping over the grass and making it silver – would all be tainted for me, and lose their healing power, and their power of communicating joy. To regret one's own experiences is to arrest one's own development. To deny one's own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one's own life. It is no less than a denial of the soul.

De Profundis

Wilde was imprisoned first in Pentonville Prison and then Wandsworth Prison in London. Inmates followed a regimen of "hard labour, hard fare and a hard bed", which wore very harshly on Wilde, accustomed as he was to many creature comforts.[139] His health declined sharply, and in November he collapsed during chapel from illness and hunger. His right ear drum was ruptured in the fall, an injury that later contributed to his death.[140][141] He spent two months in the infirmary.[140][142]

Richard B. Haldane, the Liberal MP and reformer, visited him and had him transferred in November to Reading Prison, 30 miles (48 km) west of London.[143] The transfer itself was the lowest point of his incarceration, as a crowd jeered and spat at him on the railway platform.[140] Now known as prisoner C. 3.3 he was not, at first, even allowed paper and pen but Haldane eventually succeeded in allowing access to books and writing materials.[144] Wilde requested, among others: the Bible in French, Italian and German grammars, some Ancient Greek texts, Dante's Divine Comedy, Joris-Karl Huysmans's new French novel about Christian redemption En Route, and essays by St Augustine, Cardinal Newman and Walter Pater.[145]

Between January and March 1897 Wilde wrote a 50,000-word letter to Douglas, which he was not allowed to send, but was permitted to take with him upon release.[146] In reflective mode, Wilde coldly examines his career to date, how he had been a colourful agent provocateur in Victorian society, his art, like his paradoxes, seeking to subvert as well as sparkle. His own estimation of himself was: one who "stood in symbolic relations to the art and culture of my age".[147] It was from these heights that his life with Douglas began, and Wilde examines that particularly closely, repudiating him for what Wilde finally sees as his arrogance and vanity: he had not forgotten Douglas's remark, when he was ill, "When you are not on your pedestal you are not interesting."[148] Wilde blamed himself, though, for the ethical degradation of character that he allowed Douglas to bring about in him and took responsibility for his own fall, "I am here for having tried to put your father in prison."[114] The first half concludes with Wilde forgiving Douglas, for his own sake as much as Douglas's. The second half of the letter traces Wilde's spiritual journey of redemption and fulfilment through his prison reading. He realised that his ordeal had filled his soul with the fruit of experience, however bitter it tasted at the time.

...I wanted to eat of the fruit of all the trees in the garden of the world... And so, indeed, I went out, and so I lived. My only mistake was that I confined myself so exclusively to the trees of what seemed to me the sun-lit side of the garden, and shunned the other side for its shadow and its gloom.[149]
On his release, he gave the manuscript to Ross, who may or may not have carried out Wilde's instructions to send a copy to Douglas (who later denied having received it). De Profundis was partially published in 1905, its complete and correct publication first occurred in 1962 in The Letters of Oscar Wilde.[Notes 6]

Decline: 1897–1900


Oscar Wilde's visiting card after his release from jail

Wilde was released on 19 May 1897, and though his health had suffered greatly, he had a feeling of spiritual renewal. He immediately wrote to the Society of Jesus requesting a six-month Catholic retreat; when the request was denied, Wilde wept.[150] "I intend to be received before long", Wilde told a journalist who asked about his religious intentions.[151] He left England the next day for the continent, to spend his last three years in impoverished exile. He took the name "Sebastian Melmoth", after Saint Sebastian, and the titular character of Melmoth the Wanderer; a Gothic novel by Charles Maturin, Wilde's great-uncle.[152] Wilde wrote two long letters to the editor of the Daily Chronicle, describing the brutal conditions of English prisons and advocating penal reform. His discussion of the dismissal of Warder Martin, for giving biscuits to an anaemic child prisoner, repeated the themes of the corruption and degeneration of punishment that he had earlier outlined in The Soul of Man Under Socialism.[153]

Wilde spent mid-1897 with Robert Ross in Berneval-le-Grand, where he wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol. The poem narrates the execution of Charles Thomas Wooldridge, who murdered his wife for her infidelity; it moves from an objective story-telling to symbolic identification with the prisoners as a whole.[154] No attempt is made to assess the justice of the laws which convicted them, but rather the poem highlights the brutalisation of the punishment that all convicts share. Wilde juxtaposes the executed man and himself with the line "Yet each man kills the thing he loves".[155] Wilde too was separated from his wife and sons. He adopted the proletarian ballad form, and the author was credited as "C.3.3." He suggested it be published in Reynold's Magazine, "because it circulates widely among the criminal classes – to which I now belong – for once I will be read by my peers – a new experience for me".[156] It was a commercial success, going through seven editions in less than two years, only after which "[Oscar Wilde]" was added to the title page, though many in literary circles had known Wilde to be the author.[157][158] It brought him a little money.

Although Douglas had been the cause of his misfortunes, he and Wilde were reunited in August 1897 at Rouen. This meeting was disapproved of by the friends and families of both men. Constance Wilde was already refusing to meet Wilde or allow him to see their sons, though she kept him supplied with money. During the latter part of 1897, Wilde and Douglas lived together near Naples for a few months until they were separated by their respective families under the threat of a cutting-off of funds.[159]

Wilde's final address was at the dingy Hôtel d'Alsace (now known as L'Hôtel), in Paris; "This poverty really breaks one's heart: it is so sale, so utterly depressing, so hopeless. Pray do what you can" he wrote to his publisher.[160] He corrected and published An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest, the proofs of which Ellmann argues show a man "very much in command of himself and of the play" but he refused to write anything else "I can write, but have lost the joy of writing".[161] He spent much time wandering the Boulevards alone, and spent what little money he had on alcohol.[162] A series of embarrassing encounters with English visitors, or Frenchmen he had known in better days, further damaged his spirit. Soon Wilde was sufficiently confined to his hotel to remark, on one of his final trips outside, "My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One of us has got to go."[163] On 12 October 1900 he sent a telegram to Ross: "Terribly weak. Please come."[164] His moods fluctuated; Max Beerbohm relates how their mutual friend Reginald 'Reggie' Turner had found Wilde very depressed after a nightmare. "I dreamt that I had died, and was supping with the dead!" "I am sure", Turner replied, "that you must have been the life and soul of the party."[165][166] Turner was one of the very few of the old circle who remained with Wilde right to the end, and was at his bedside when he died.


By 25 November Wilde had developed cerebral meningitis. Robbie Ross arrived on 29 November and sent for a priest, and Wilde was conditionally baptised into the Catholic Church by Fr Cuthbert Dunne, a Passionist priest from Dublin[167] (the sacrament being conditional because of the doctrine that one may be baptised only once[168] – Wilde having a recollection of Catholic baptism as a child, a fact later attested to by the minister of the sacrament, Fr Lawrence Fox).[169] Fr Dunne recorded the baptism:

As the voiture rolled through the dark streets that wintry night, the sad story of Oscar Wilde was in part repeated to me....Robert Ross knelt by the bedside, assisting me as best he could while I administered conditional baptism, and afterwards answering the responses while I gave Extreme Unction to the prostrate man and recited the prayers for the dying. As the man was in a semi-comatose condition, I did not venture to administer the Holy Viaticum; still I must add that he could be roused and was roused from this state in my presence. When roused, he gave signs of being inwardly conscious... Indeed I was fully satisfied that he understood me when told that I was about to receive him into the Catholic Church and gave him the Last Sacraments... And when I repeated close to his ear the Holy Names, the Acts of Contrition, Faith, Hope and Charity, with acts of humble resignation to the Will of God, he tried all through to say the words after me.[170] [Notes 7]

Wilde died of cerebral meningitis on 30 November 1900. Different opinions are given as to the cause of the meningitis: Richard Ellmann claimed it was syphilitic;[171] Merlin Holland, Wilde's grandson, thought this to be a misconception, noting that Wilde's meningitis followed a surgical intervention, perhaps a mastoidectomy; Wilde's physicians, Dr. Paul Cleiss and A'Court Tucker, reported that the condition stemmed from an old suppuration of the right ear (une ancienne suppuration de l'oreille droite d'ailleurs en traitement depuis plusieurs années) and did not allude to syphilis.[172]


A large, rectangular, granite tomb. A large, stylised angel, leaning forward is carved into the top half of the front. There are a few flowers beside a small plaque at the base. The tomb is surrounded by a protective glass barrier that is covered with graffiti.
The tomb of Oscar Wilde in Père Lachaise Cemetery

Wilde was initially buried in the Cimetière de Bagneux outside Paris; in 1909 his remains were disinterred and transferred to Père Lachaise Cemetery, inside the city.[173] His tomb was designed by Sir Jacob Epstein,[Notes 8] commissioned by Robert Ross, who asked for a small compartment to be made for his own ashes which were duly transferred in 1950. The modernist angel depicted as a relief on the tomb was originally complete with male genitalia which have since been vandalised; their current whereabouts are unknown. In 2000, Leon Johnson, a multimedia artist, installed a silver prosthesis to replace them.[174]

In 2011, the tomb was cleaned of the many lipstick marks left there by admirers, and a glass barrier was installed to prevent further marks or damage. [175]

The epitaph is a verse from The Ballad of Reading Gaol:[176]

And alien tears will fill for him
Pity's long-broken urn,
For his mourners will be outcast men,
And outcasts always mourn.


A low rectangular public monument, with a bust of Wilde's face built into one raised end, at the other at seat that one straddles to experience being in conversation with Wilde.
"A Conversation with Oscar Wilde" – a civic monument to Wilde by Maggi Hambling, on Adelaide Street, near Trafalgar Square, London

Wilde's life continues to fascinate and he has been the subject of numerous biographies since his death. The earliest were memoirs by those known to him: often they are personal or impressionistic accounts which can be good character sketches, but factually unreliable.[177] Frank Harris, his friend and editor, wrote a biography, Oscar Wilde: His Life and Confessions (1916); though prone to exaggeration and sometimes factually inaccurate, it offers a good literary portrait of Wilde.[178] Lord Alfred Douglas wrote two books about his relationship with Wilde: Oscar Wilde and Myself (1914), largely ghost-written by T.W.H. Crosland, vindictively reacted to Douglas's discovery that De Profundis was addressed to him and defensively tried to distance him from Wilde's scandalous reputation. Both authors later regretted their work.[179] Later, in Oscar Wilde: A Summing Up (1939) and his Autobiography he was more sympathetic to Wilde. Of Wilde's other close friends, Robert Sherard, Robert Ross, his literary executor; and Charles Ricketts variously published biographies, reminiscences or correspondence. The first more or less objective biography of Wilde came about when Hesketh Pearson wrote Oscar Wilde: His Life and Wit (1946).[180] In 1954 Vyvyan Holland published his memoir Son of Oscar Wilde, which recounts the difficulties Wilde's wife and children faced after his imprisonment.[181] It was revised and updated by Merlin Holland in 1989.

Oscar Wilde, a critical study by Arthur Ransome was published in 1912. The book only briefly mentioned Wilde's life, but subsequently Ransome (and The Times Book Club) were sued for libel by Lord Alfred Douglas. The trial in April 1913 was in a way a re-run of the trial(s) of Oscar Wilde. The trial resulted from Douglas's rivalry with Robbie Ross for Wilde (and his need of money). Douglas lost; De Profundis which was read in part at the trial disproved his claims (Ross had shown Ransome the full text of it). [182] [183] [184]

Wilde's life was still waiting for independent, true scholarship when Richard Ellmann began researching his 1987 biography Oscar Wilde, for which he posthumously won a National (USA) Book Critics Circle Award in 1988[185] and a Pulitzer Prize in 1989.[186] The book was the basis for the 1997 film Wilde, directed by Brian Gilbert and starring Stephen Fry as the title character.[187]

Neil McKenna's 2003 biography, The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde, offers an exploration of Wilde's sexuality. Often speculative in nature, it was widely criticised for its pure conjecture and lack of scholarly rigour.[188][189] Thomas Wright's Oscar's Books (2008) explores Wilde's reading from his childhood in Dublin to his death in Paris.[190] After tracking down many books that once belonged to Wilde's Tite Street library (dispersed at the time of his trials), Wright was the first to examine Wilde's marginalia.

Later on I think everyone will recognise his achievements; his plays and essays will endure. Of course you may think with others that his personality and conversation were far more wonderful than anything he wrote, so that his written works give only a pale reflection of his power. Perhaps that is so, and of course it will be impossible to reproduce what is gone forever.

Robert Ross, 23 December 1900[191]

Wilde's charm also had a lasting effect on the Parisian literati, who have produced several original biographies and monographs on him. André Gide, on whom Wilde had such a strange effect, wrote, In Memoriam, Oscar Wilde; Wilde also features in his journals.[192] Thomas Louis, who had earlier translated books on Wilde into French, produced his own L'esprit d'Oscar Wilde in 1920.[193] Modern books include Philippe Jullian's Oscar Wilde,[194] and L'affaire Oscar Wilde, ou, Du danger de laisser la justice mettre le nez dans nos draps (The Oscar Wilde Affair, or, On the Danger of Allowing Justice to put its Nose in our Sheets) by Odon Vallet, a French religious historian.[195]

Selected works

Oscar Wilde wearing knee breeches, by Napoleon Sarony in New York in 1882


In 2012 Wilde was inducted into the Legacy Walk, an outdoor public display which celebrates LGBT history and people.[196]



  1. ^ The essay was later published in "Miscellanies", the final section of the 1908 edition of Wilde's collected works. (Mason, S. 1914:486)
  2. ^ Wilde reputedly told a customs officer that "I have nothing to declare except my genius", although the first recording of this remark was many years later, and Wilde's best lines were often quoted immediately in the press. (Cooper, John. "'"Attribution of 'I have nothing to declare except my genius. Oscar Wilde in America. Retrieved 12 August 2012. )
  3. ^ Ave Imperatrix had been first published in The World, an American magazine, in 1880, having first been intended for Time magazine. Apparently the editor liked the verse, so switched it to the other magazine so as to attain "a larger and better audience". It was revised for inclusion in Poems the next year. (Mason 1914:233)
  4. ^ Queensberry's oldest son, Francis Douglas, Viscount Drumlanrig, possibly had an intimate association with Archibald Philip Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery, the Prime Minister to whom he was private secretary, which ended with Drumlanrig's death in an unexplained shooting accident. In any case the Marquess of Queensberry came to believe his sons had been corrupted by older homosexuals or, as he phrased it in a letter in the aftermath of Drumlanrig's death: "Montgomerys, The Snob Queers like Rosebery and certainly Christian Hypocrite like Gladstone and the whole lot of you". Ellmann (1988:402)
  5. ^ Queensberry's handwriting was almost indecipherable: The hall porter initially read "ponce and sodomite", but Queensberry himself claimed that he'd written "posing 'as' a sodomite", an easier accusation to defend in court. Merlin Holland concludes that "what Queensberry almost certainly wrote was "posing somdomite [sic]", (Holland (2004:300))
  6. ^ Ross published a version of the letter expurgated of all references to Douglas in 1905 with the title De Profundis, expanding it slightly for an edition of Wilde's collected works in 1908, and then donated it to the British Museum on the understanding that it would not be made public until 1960. In 1949, Wilde's son Vyvyan Holland published it again, including parts formerly omitted, but relying on a faulty typescript bequeathed to him by Ross. Ross's typescript had contained several hundred errors, including typist's mistakes, Ross's 'improvements' and other inexplicable omissions. Holland/Hart-Davis (2000:683)
  7. ^ Robert Ross, in his letter to More Adey (dated 14 December 1900), described a similar scene: "(Wilde) was conscious that people were in the room, and raised his hand when I asked him whether he understood. He pressed our hands. I then went in search of a priest and with great difficulty found Fr Cuthbert Dunne, of the Passionists, who came with me at once and administered Baptism and Extreme Unction. – Oscar could not take the Eucharist".(Holland/Hart-Davis (2000:1219–1220))
  8. ^ Epstein produced the design with architect Charles Holden, for whom Epstein produced several controversial commissions in London.


  1. ^ Mulrooney, Deirdre (12 November 2010). "A geological odyssey for Oscar as Wilde gets a new jade head".  
  2. ^ "Literary Encyclopedia – Oscar Wilde". 25 January 2001. Retrieved 3 April 2009. 
  3. ^ a b c Sandulescu (1994:53)
  4. ^ a b McGeachie, James (2004). "Wilde, Sir William Robert Wills (1815–1876)".  
  5. ^ Pearce, Joseph (2004). "Mask of Mysteries)". The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. p. 24.  
  6. ^ The Unmasking of Oscar WildeGoogle Books link to Pearce, Joseph
  7. ^ "St. Ann's Church website". Retrieved 15 May 2014. 
  8. ^ Ellmann (1988:13)
  9. ^ Ellmann (1988:20)
  10. ^ Sandulescu (1994:55–56)
  11. ^ Ellmann (1998:24)
  12. ^ Ellmann (1988:25)
  13. ^ Sandulescu (1997:59)
  14. ^ Ellmann (1988:26)
  15. ^ Ellmann (1988:27)
  16. ^ Ellmann (1988:29)
  17. ^ Coakley (1994:154)
  18. ^ See pages 183–5 of Thomas Toughill's "The Ripper Code" (The History Press, 2008) which mention Toughill's research in the archives of the Oxford Union. This book also contains a photograph of Wilde's unsuccessful entry in the Union's "Probational Members Subscriptions" (022/8/F2/1) for the period 1862–1890.
  19. ^ a b Ellmann (1988:39)
  20. ^ Ellmann (1988:65)
  21. ^ Ellmann (1988:70)
  22. ^ Sandelsecu (1994:375–376)
  23. ^ a b Ellmann (1988:43–44)
  24. ^ Breen (1977, 2000) pp22–23
  25. ^ Ellmann (1988:44)
  26. ^ Ellmann (1988:78)
  27. ^ Ellmann (1988:46)
  28. ^ De Profundis, Holland/Hart-Davis (2000:735)
  29. ^ a b Ellmann (1988:95)
  30. ^ Ellmann (1988:93)
  31. ^ Letter to William Ward; Holland/Hart-Davis (2000:70); see also Ellmann (1988:94)
  32. ^ Kifeather (2005:101)
  33. ^ Letter to Florence Balcombe, Holland/Hart-Davis (2000:71)
  34. ^ Letter to Florence Balcombe, Holland/Hart-Davis (2000:71); See also Ellmann (1988:99)
  35. ^ Holland/Hart-Davis (2000:72–78)
  36. ^ a b Ellmann (1988:102)
  37. ^ Ellmann (1988:105)
  38. ^ and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1881 England Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2004. Source Citation: Class: RG11; Piece: 78; Folio: 56; Page: 46; GSU roll: 1341017. Retrieved 2 March 2010.
  39. ^ Ellmann (1988:131)
  40. ^ Mason (1914:282)
  41. ^ Morely (1976:36)
  42. ^ Hyde (1948:39)
  43. ^ Ellmann (1988:132–133)
  44. ^ Cooper, John. "Oscar Wilde's 1882 American Lecture Tour". Oscar Wilde in America. Retrieved 8 August 2012. 
  45. ^ a b c d Mendelshon, Daniel; The Two Oscar Wildes, New York Review of Books, Volume 49, Number 15 · 10 October 2002
  46. ^ Kiberd (2000:329–330)
  47. ^ Higginson, Thomas Wentworth (4 February 1882). "Unmanly Manhood". Woman's Journal (Boston). Retrieved 14 April 2010. 
  48. ^ King, Steve. December 1881 "Wilde in America". Today in Literature. Retrieved 14 April 2010.  Regarding Wilde's visit to Leadville, Colorado, 24 December 1881.
  49. ^ Ellmann (1988:205)
  50. ^ Mason (1972:232)
  51. ^ Ellmann (1988:228)
  52. ^ "Oscar & Constance Wilde". Saint James, Sussex Gardens, London. Retrieved 14 April 2010. 
  53. ^ UK CPI inflation numbers based on data available from Gregory Clark (2014), "What Were the British Earnings and Prices Then? (New Series)" MeasuringWorth.
  54. ^ a b Ellmann (1988:273)
  55. ^ Ellmann (1988:259)
  56. ^  
  57. ^ Ellmann (1988:289)
  58. ^ Ellmann (1988:247–248)
  59. ^ Mason (1914:219)
  60. ^ Ellmann (1988:276)
  61. ^ Clayworth (1997:91)
  62. ^ Clayworth (1997:95)
  63. ^ a b Mason (1914:202)
  64. ^ Letter to Arthur Fish; Holland/Hart-Davis (2000:404)
  65. ^ Letter to Wemyss Reid, Holland/Hart-Davis (2000:413)
  66. ^ Clayworth (1996:85,86)
  67. ^ Mason (1914:360–362)
  68. ^ (Vol. CXLVI, No. 885, July 1889); see Mason (1914:6)
  69. ^  
  70. ^ Raby (1997:109)
  71. ^ a b Ellmann (1998:280)
  72. ^ a b Ransome (1912:101)
  73. ^ Ransome (1912:102)
  74. ^ Mason (1914:71)
  75. ^ Raby (1997:98)
  76. ^ Wilde, O. The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, Collins.
  77. ^ Orwell, George Review: The Soul of Man under Socialism by Oscar Wilde The Observer 8 May 1948. Retrieved 28 September 2010.
  78. ^ Kiberd (1996) Ch.2
  79. ^ a b Pearson, H. Essays of Oscar Wilde London: Meuthen & Co (1950:xi) Catalogue no:5328/u
  80. ^ Mason (1914:355-7)
  81. ^ Pearson, H. Essays of Oscar Wilde London: Meuthen & Co (1950:x) Catalogue no:5328/u
  82. ^ Mason (1914:105)
  83. ^ Ross (2011:1')
  84. ^ Holland/Hart-Davis (2000:441)
  85. ^ See also: Holland/Hart-Davis (2000: 433,435,438,441,446)
  86. ^ "Preface". The Picture of Dorian Gray. From Project Gutenberg transcription. 
  87. ^ Mason (1914:341)
  88. ^ Raby (1997:111)
  89. ^ Holland/Hart-Davis (2000:435)
  90. ^ McKie, Robin (25 January 2009). "Classics Corner: The Picture of Dorian Gray". The Guardian (London).
  91. ^ "Registrar General Records". Wilde, Oscar O'Flahertie Wills (1856–1900), author.  
  92. ^ Ellmann (1988:316)
  93. ^ Ellmann (1988:322)
  94. ^ Ellmann (1988:323)
  95. ^ Ellmann (1988:326)
  96. ^ Mason (1914:371)
  97. ^ Mason (1914:369)
  98. ^ Ellmann (1988:344)
  99. ^ Ellmann (1988:347)
  100. ^ Ellmann (1980:360)
  101. ^ Wilde, Oscar. An ideal husband. Act III: London: typescript with extensive autograph revisions, 1894.  
  102. ^ Ellmann (1988:404)
  103. ^ Raby (1997:146)
  104. ^ De Profundis, Holland/Hart-Davis (2000)
  105. ^ De Profundis, Holland/Hart-Davis (2000:702)
  106. ^ De Profundis, Holland/Hart-Davis (2000:703)
  107. ^ Ellmann (1988:421)
  108. ^ De Profundis, Holland/Hart-Davis (2000:699–700)
  109. ^ a b Ellmann (1988:396)
  110. ^ Jackson, R. "The Importance of Being Earnest" in Raby, P. (Ed.) (1997:166-7)
  111. ^ Ellmann (1988:398)
  112. ^ Jackson, R. "The Importance of Being Earnest" in Raby, P. (Ed.) (1997:161)
  113. ^ Pearson (1946:257)
  114. ^ a b Wheatcroft, G. "Not Green, Not Red, Not Pink" The Atlantic Monthly, May 2003.
  115. ^ Jackson, R. "The Importance of Being Earnest" in Raby, P. (Ed.) (1997:165)
  116. ^ Morley (1976:102)
  117. ^ Holland (2004:300)
  118. ^ The Autobiography of Arthur Ransome pp 151–152 (1976, Jonathan Cape, London) ISBN 0-224-01245-2
  119. ^ The Life of Arthur Ransome by Hugh Brogan p85 (1984, Jonathan Cape, London) ISBN 0-224-02010-2
  120. ^ Ellmann (1988:415)
  121. ^  
  122. ^ Ellmann (1988:418)
  123. ^ Foldy (1997:3)
  124. ^ Foldy (1997:8)
  125. ^  
  126. ^ a b Foldy (1997:17)
  127. ^ Foldy 1997:19
  128. ^ Ellmann (1988:455)
  129. ^ See Offences Against the Person Act 1861, ss 61, 62
  130. ^ Hyde (1948:5)
  131. ^ Ellmann (1988:429)
  132. ^ Transcript of Wilde's trial, published online by University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School; See also Ellmann (1988:435)
  133. ^ Oscar Fingal O'Fflahartie Wills Wilde, Alfred Taylor, Sexual Offences > sodomy, 22nd April 1895". Old Bailey Proceedings Online. Retrieved 22 April 2010.
  134. ^ Foldy (1997:40)
  135. ^ Ellmann (1988:435)
  136. ^ Oscar Fingal O'Fflahartie Wills Wilde, Alfred Waterhouse Somerset Taylor, Sexual Offences > sodomy, 20th May 1895". Old Bailey Proceedings Online. Retrieved 22 April 2010.
  137. ^ Foldy (1997:47)
  138. ^ Sentencing Statement of Justice Wills. Criminal Trial Transcript Page, University of Missouri-Kansas Law School. Retrieved 22 April 2010.
  139. ^ Ellmann (1988:474)
  140. ^ a b c Ellmann (1988:465)
  141. ^ Medina, John J. (1997). The Clock of Ages: Why We Age, How We Age, Winding Back the Clock. Cambridge University Press. p. 250.  
  142. ^ Holland/Hart-Davis (2000:735)
  143. ^ Ellmann (1988:456)
  144. ^ Ellmann (1988:475)
  145. ^ Ellmann (1988:477–478)
  146. ^ Holland/Hart-Davis (2000:683)
  147. ^ De Profundis, Holland/Hart-Davis (2000:737–738)
  148. ^ De Profundis, Holland/Hart-Davis (2000:700)
  149. ^ De Profundis, Holland/Hart-Davis, (2000:739)
  150. ^ Holland/Hart-Davis (2000:841–2)
  151. ^ Pearce, Joseph The Picture of Dorian Gray (Introduction), p. X, Ignatius Press, 2008
  152. ^ Holland/Hart-Davis (2000:842)
  153. ^ Letter to the Editor of the Daily Chronicle, Holland/Hart-Davis (2000:847–855). See also: Oscar Wilde Fan Club Website
  154. ^ Page in Sandulescu (1994:308)
  155. ^ Page in Sandulescu (1994:310)
  156. ^ Kiberd (2000:336)
  157. ^ Mason (1914:408–10)
  158. ^ Ellmann (1988:526)
  159. ^ Hyde (1948:308)
  160. ^ Letter to Leonard Smithers, Holland/Hart-Davis (2000:1092)
  161. ^ Ellmann (1988:527)
  162. ^ Ellmann (1988:528)
  163. ^ Ellmann (1988:546)
  164. ^ Holland/Hart-Davis (2000:1119)
  165. ^ M. Beerbohm (1946) "Mainly on the Air"
  166. ^ Letter of Robert Ross to More Adey, Holland/Hart-Davis (2000:1213)
  167. ^ Holland/Hart-Davis (2000:1224)
  168. ^ Cavill, Paul, Heather Ward, Matthew Baynham, and Andrew Swinford, The Christian tradition in English literature: poetry, plays, and shorter prose, p. 337, Zondervan 2007.
  169. ^ Pearce, Joseph, The unmasking of Oscar Wilde, p. 28-29, Ignatius Press, 2004
  170. ^ Holland/Hart-Davis (2000:1223)
  171. ^ Ellmann (1988:92)
  172. ^ Ellmann (1988:582)
  173. ^ Holland/Hart-Davis (2000:1230)
  174. ^ Johnson, Leon (2000). "(Re)membering Wilde". Retrieved 2 September 2011. 
  175. ^ John Tagliabue, "Walling Off Oscar Wilde's Tomb From Admirers' Kisses", New York Times, 15 December 2011; retrieved 3 April 2013
  176. ^ Ellmann (1988:553)
  177. ^ Raby (1997:6,10)
  178. ^ Raby (1997:9)
  179. ^ Raby (1997:8)
  180. ^ Raby (1997:5)
  181. ^ "Great Britain: A Life of Concealment". Time. 27 September 1954. Retrieved 22 February 2010. 
  182. ^ The Autobiography of Arthur Ransome pp 146–154 (1976, Jonathan Cape, London) ISBN 0-224-01245-2
  183. ^ The Life of Arthur Ransome by Hugh Brogan pp 77–90 (1984, Jonathan Cape, London) ISBN 0-224-02010-2
  184. ^ The Last Englishman by Roland Chambers pp 61–69 (2009, Faber and Faber, London) ISBN 978-0-571-22261-2
  185. ^ "All Past National Book Critics Circle Award Winners and Finalists". National Book Critics Circle. Retrieved 22 February 2010. 
  186. ^ "Autobiography or Biography". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 22 February 2010. 
  187. ^  
  188. ^ Bedell, Geraldine (26 October 2003). "It was all Greek to Oscar". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 22 February 2010. 
  189. ^ Parker, Peter (26 October 2003). "The Secret Life of Oscar". The Times (London). Retrieved 22 February 2010.  (subscription required)
  190. ^ Dugdale, John (26 September 2009). "Oscar's Books by Thomas Wright". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 22 February 2010. 
  191. ^ Letter of Robert Ross to Adela Schuster, Holland/Hart-Davis (2000:1229)
  192. ^ Gide, André (1905). In Memoriam, Oscar Wilde. Paris: Editions Mercure De France. 
  193. ^ Louis, Thomas. L'esprit d'Oscar Wilde. Collection Anglia (4 ed.). Paris: G. Crès & Cie.  
  194. ^ Jullian, Philippe (6 April 2000). Oscar Wilde. Paris: Editions Christian de Bartillat.  
  195. ^ Vallet, Odon (1995). L'affaire Oscar Wilde ou Du danger de laisser la justice mettre le nez dans nos draps. Paris: Editions Albin Michel.  
  196. ^


Further reading

External links

Historical societies
  • The Oscar Wilde Society (UK)
  • Oscar Wilde Society (U.S.)
  • Société Oscar Wilde en France
Historical notes
  • Record of Wilde's indictment and conviction – official Old Bailey website.
  • Details including court transcriptions of the trials of Wilde
  • Oscar Wilde in America including The American Lecture Tour 1882
  • References to Oscar Wilde in historic European newspapers
  • Archival material relating to Oscar Wilde listed at the UK National Archives
Radio programmes
Online texts by Wilde
  • Historical Image of Ruskin Street; Oscar Wilde was encouraged to carry out road improvements in this Oxfordshire village by the art critic John Ruskin
  • The photographs of Oscar Wilde taken by Napoleon Sarony in New York, 1882 (complete).
  • Portraits of Oscar Wilde at the National Portrait Gallery, London
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Hawaii eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.