Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wilde was an Irish poet, novelist, and playwright in the late 19th century who achieved certain notoriety with his controversial work and turbulent personal life. He was best known for his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray and play, The Importance of Being Earnest. He was born on October 16, 1854, in Dublin, Ireland, and was the second of three children of William Wilde, a prominent surgeon, and Jane Elgee, a writer of revolutionary poems.
Oscar Wilde Facts
1. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Wilde was condemned by critics
It was first published as a lead story for Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine in July of 1890, and then revised for book publication in 1891. The story of a wicked man who remains youthful and beautiful while his portrait gradually ages certainly makes for a fascinating read. However, the publisher was worried that Dorian Gray’s character of being a rake would offend the sensibilities of the readers, so most of the explicit and depraved passages were deleted. Even then, the magazine edition was heavily criticized by reviewers and even pulled out from bookstalls.
2. He was a successful playwright in the Victorian Era
Oscar initially wrote plays that centered on melodrama and tragedy, but they were not very successful. An interesting fact about Oscar Wilde is that it was when he switched to writing comedies that gained him a huge following. He first received critical and financial success when he wrote Lady Windermere’s Fan in 1892. This four-act comedy premiered at the St. James Theater to a wealthy, fashionable, and influential crowd. He continued to show his wit when he wrote A Woman of No Importance in 1893 and An Ideal Husband in 1895, which were also received well by his audience. However, it was his final play that was considered a masterpiece. The Importance of Being Ernest written in 1895 firmly established Oscar Wilde as one of the most successful playwrights of his time.
3. Oscar Wilde was a proponent of aesthetism
He was involved in the aesthetic movement while he was in Oxford. He strongly believed in the “art for art’s sake” creed, and that art did not need moral justification, an interesting Oscar Wilde fact. He advocated for freedom from society’s limitations and moral restraint. He went on tours across the United States to give lectures about it. Intentions is a collection of essays and dialogues that he wrote to further promote his ideas on beauty and art.
4. He was an author of children’s stories
Given the controversial theme of his work and flamboyant lifestyle, it is surprising to note that Wilde had also authored children’s stories. The Happy Prince and Other Tales is a collection of five short stories that was published in May 1988. It was followed by a collection of four fairy stories in The House of Pomegranates that was published in 1892.
5. Wilde was accused of plagiarism
His talent for poetry was acknowledged when he was awarded the Newdigate Prize in 1878 for Ravenna. This recognition was given to students of Oxford for Best Composition in English verse. However, his first collection of poetry, Poems, received mixed reviews. It was sold out and generally liked, but received unfavorable reviews from an influential British weekly magazine and was even accused of plagiarism by the Oxford Union. The popular debating society with members from the University of Oxford argued that most of the poems were highly influenced by authors, such as William Shakespeare, Lord Byron, and others.
6. His play was banned from the London stage
Salome was written in French by Oscar while he was in Paris in 1891. The play was based on the biblical story of Salome, but was said to be more provocative, focusing on the perverted desire and manipulative power of Salome rather than Herodias’ vengeance on the prophet. It was well on its way to having its debut on the London stage in 1894 when the Lord Chamberlain prohibited the performance. According to the English censor, it was illegal to depict biblical characters on stage.
7. Oscar Wilde worked as an editor for a woman’s magazine
With a family to support, he worked as an editor in 1887 to 1889 for The Lady’s World magazine and was paid a weekly salary, an interesting fact about Oscar Wilde. He renamed it The Woman’s World and revitalized it to attract more women who were well-educated and from the upper class. The articles were not just about fashion trends and styles, but also on parenting and politics. Fiction for children and women were also included. Popular authors and distinguished royalty such as Princess Helena, daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, were said to have been persuaded by Wilde to contribute poetry, stories, and such.
8. He had a love affair with Lord Alfred Douglas
Wilde was married in 1884 to Constance Lloyd and had two sons. However, he fell in love with Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas in the summer of 1891. Oscar was 38 years old when he met this attractive poet who was 22 and an Oxford undergrad. Bosie was clearly infatuated with Wilde, already a famous literary figure, who asked him out and sent him letters and presents. They took a liking to each other, eventually became lovers in 1893 and were inseparable.
9. Wilde sued for libel but ended up in prison instead
The Marquess of Queensberry, John Sholto Douglas, became concerned about the nature of his son’s relationship with Wilde, whom he believed to be homosexual. He threatened to disown his own son and stop sending financial support if Bosie would not stop seeing him, but to no avail. Enraged at his’s son’s refusal to end the relationship, he set out to publicly ruin Oscar when The Importance of Being Earnest was set to open in February 1895 at the St. James Theater. However, he was prevented from entering the theater. He then continued to make public statements regarding Wilde’s homosexuality and controversial lifestyle. Oscar decided to sue the Marquess in April 1895 for libel to protect his reputation, but it backfired on him. During the trial, Queensberry’s attorney was able to present witnesses and evidence of Wilde’s unusual relationship with young men. The libel suit was then withdrawn when it became apparent that Wilde would lose the case and would likely be arrested instead. In the Criminal Law Amendment Act, “gross indecency” or sexual activity between members of the same sex is a crime. Given the strong evidence against Wilde, a warrant of arrest was issued. He was later convicted and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment.
10. He died penniless and alone at the age of 46
Upon his release from prison, he went to France and used the name Sebastian Melmoth. With his reputation ruined, he shied away from the public and lived out his final years wandering from place to place, with very limited budget. Oscar wrote a long poem, The Ballad of Reading Gaol, about his experiences, describing the horror and hardships of prison life. He died of meningitis on November 30, 1900, while he was alone in a cheap Paris hotel, an interesting Oscar Wilde fact.
Wilde’s private life might have been filled with drama and tragedy, but it does not diminish the fact that he had contributed much in the literary world. His novel, short stories, poems, and plays are still enjoyed by many. His life has been the subject of several biographies. Oscar Wilde was among those who were pardoned in 2017 under the “Alan Turing Law” since homosexual acts are no longer considered a crime.
I hope that this article on Oscar Wilde facts was helpful. If you are interested, visit the Historical People Facts Page!