Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde
1854 â€“ 30 November 1900) was an Irish playwright, poet
numerous short stories
and one novel.
Known for his biting wit, he became one of the most successful
playwrights of the late Victorian era in London, and one of the
" of his day. Several
of his plays continue to be widely performed, especially
The Importance of
. As the result of a widely covered series of
trials, Wilde suffered a dramatic downfall and was imprisoned for
two years' hard labour
convicted of homosexual
described as "gross indecency" with other men. After Wilde was
released from prison he set sail for Dieppe by the night ferry, never to return to Ireland or
Birth and early life
Oscar Wilde was born at 21 Westland Row, Dublin. He was the second
son of Sir William Wilde
and his wife
Jane Francesca Wilde
. Jane Wilde, under
the pseudonym "Speranza"
(Italian word for 'hope'), wrote
poetry for the revolutionary Young
in 1848 and was a life-long Irish nationalist
. William Wilde was
Ireland's leading oto
(ear and eye) surgeon and was
knighted in 1864 for his services to medicine. He also wrote books
. 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.
In 1855, the family moved to 1 Merrion Square, where Wilde's
sister, Isola, was born the following year. Lady Wilde held a
regular Saturday afternoon salon
with guests that included Sheridan le
, Charles Lever
, George Petrie
, Isaac Butt
Oscar Wilde was educated at home until he was nine. He then attended
Portora Royal School in
spending the summer months with his family in rural Waterford, Wexford and at his
father's family home in Mayo.
There Wilde played with the older George Moore
Portora, Wilde studied classics at Trinity College,
Dublin, from 1871 to 1874, sharing rooms with his older
brother Willie Wilde.
John Pentland Mahaffy
leading Greek scholar at Trinity, interested him in Greek literature
. Wilde was an outstanding
student and won the Berkeley Gold Medal, the highest award
available to classics
students at Trinity.
awarded a scholarship to Magdalen
College, Oxford, where he studied from 1874 to 1878 and became a
part of the Aesthetic movement;
one of its tenets was to make an art of life.
a disappointing relationship with the prestigious Oxford Union.
On matriculating in 1874, he had applied to
join the Union, but failed to be elected. Nevertheless, when the
Union's librarian requested a presentation copy of Poems
(1881), Wilde complied. After a debate called by Oliver Elton
, the book was condemned for
and returned to
While at Magdalen, Wilde won the 1878 Newdigate Prize
for his poem
, which he read at Encaenia
; he failed to win the Chancellor's English
Essay Prize with an essay that would be published posthumously as
The Rise of Historical Criticism
(1909). In November 1878,
he graduated with a double
in classical moderations and Literae Humaniores
At Oxford University, Wilde petitioned a Masonic Lodge
and was later raised to the
sublime degree of Master Mason, retaining his membership in the
until his death.
Wilde was greatly disliked by some of his fellow students, who
threw his china at him.
Aestheticism and philosophy
While at Magdalen College, Wilde became particularly well known for
his role in the aesthetic and decadent
. He began wearing his hair long and openly scorning
so-called "manly" sports, and began decorating his rooms with
feathers, lilies, sunflowers
, blue china and other objets d'art
persist that his behaviour cost him a dunking in the River Cherwell in addition to having his rooms (which still
survive as student accommodation at his old college) vandalized,
but the cult spread among certain segments of society to such an
extent that languishing attitudes, "too-too" costumes and aestheticism generally became a recognised
pose. Publications such as the Springfield Republican
commented on Wilde's behaviour during his visit to Boston to lecture
on aestheticism, suggesting that Wilde's conduct was more of a bid
for notoriety rather than a devotion to beauty and the
Wilde's mode of dress also came under attack by
critics such as Higginson
, who wrote in his paper
, of his general concern that Wilde's
effeminacy would influence the behaviour of men and women, arguing
that his poetry "eclipses masculine ideals [..that..] under such
influence men would become effeminate dandies
". He also scrutinised the links between
Oscar Wilde's writing, personal image and homosexuality
, calling his work and way of
Wilde was deeply impressed by the English writers John Ruskin and
Walter Pater, who argued for the central importance of art in life.
Wilde later commented ironically
when he wrote
in The Picture of Dorian
that "All art is quite useless". The statement was
meant to be read literally, as it was in keeping with the doctrine
of art for art's sake
, coined by
the philosopher Victor Cousin
promoted by ThĂ©ophile Gautier
and brought into prominence by James McNeill Whistler
1879 Wilde started to teach aesthetic values in London.
Trade card for 'Aesthetic' cigars,
using a photo taken by Napoleon Sarony, 1882
The aesthetic movement, represented by the school of William Morris
and Dante Gabriel Rossetti
, had a
permanent influence on English decorative art. As the leading
aesthete in Britain, Wilde became one of the most prominent
personalities of his day. Though he was sometimes ridiculed for
them, his paradoxes
and witty sayings were
quoted on all sides.
Aestheticism in general was caricatured in Gilbert and Sullivan
's comic opera Patience
was a success in New York, it was not known how
much the aesthetic movement had penetrated the rest of America. So
producer Richard D'Oyly Carte
invited Wilde for a lecture tour of North America. D'Oyly Carte
felt this tour would "prime the pump" for the U.S. tour of
, making the ticket-buying public aware of one of
the aesthetic movement's charming personalities. Duly arranged,
Wilde arrived on 3 January 1882 aboard the SS Arizona
Wilde reputedly told a customs officer that "I have nothing to
declare except my genius", although there is no contemporary
evidence for the remark.
tour of the United States and Canada, Wilde was torn apart by no
small number of criticsâ€”The Wasp, a San
Francisco newspaper, published a cartoon ridiculing Wilde and
aestheticismâ€”but he was also surprisingly well received in such
rough-and-tumble settings as the mining town
On his return to the United Kingdom, Wilde
worked as a reviewer for the Pall
in the years 1887-1889. Afterwards he became
the editor of The Woman's
For much of his life, Wilde advocated socialism
, which he argued "will be of value
simply because it will lead to individualism
". He also had a strong libertarian
streak as shown in his
poem Sonnet to Liberty
and, subsequent to reading the
works of Peter Kropotkin
described as "a man with a soul of that beautiful white Christ
which seems coming out of Russia");he declared himself an anarchist
. Other political influences on Wilde may
have been William Morris
Ruskin. Wilde was also a pacifist
quipped that "When liberty comes with hands dabbled in blood it is
hard to shake hands with her". In addition to his primary political text,
the essay The Soul
of Man under Socialism, Wilde wrote several letters to the
Daily Chronicle advocating
prison reform and was the sole
signatory of George Bernard
Shaw's petition for a pardon of the anarchists arrested (and
later executed) after the Haymarket massacre in Chicago in 1886.
Lady Florence Dixie's 1890 novel
"Gloriana, or the Revolution of 1900" women win the right to vote
after the protagonist, Gloriana, poses as a man to get elected to
the House of Commons.
The male character she impersonates is
clearly based on that of Wilde. Dixie was an aunt of Lord Alfred
Marriage and family
After graduation from Oxford, Wilde returned to Dublin, where he
met and courted Florence Balcombe
She, however, became engaged to the writer Bram Stoker
. On hearing of her engagement, Wilde
wrote to her stating his intention to leave Ireland permanently. He
left in 1878, and returned to his native country only twice, for
brief visits. He spent the next six years in London and Paris, and
in the United States, where he travelled to deliver lectures.
Wilde's address in the 1881 British Census
is given as 1
Tite Street, London. The head of the household is listed as
, with whom Wilde shared
rooms at this address.
In London, he met Constance Lloyd
daughter of wealthy Queen's Counsel
. She was visiting
Dublin in 1884, when Wilde was in the city to give lectures at the
Theatre. He proposed to her, and they married on 29
May 1884 in Paddington, London.
Constance's allowance of ÂŁ250
allowed the Wildes to live in relative luxury. The couple had two
(1885) and Vyvyan
After Wilde's downfall, Constance took the surname Holland for
herself and the boys. She died in 1898 following spinal surgery
and was buried in Monumental Cemetery of
Staglieno in Genoa,
Cyril was killed in France in World War I
. Vyvyan also served in the War and
later became an author and translator. In 1954 he published his
memoirs, Son of Oscar Wilde
, which relate the difficulties
he and his family faced in the wake of his father's imprisonment.
Vyvyan's son, Merlin Holland
edited and published several works about his grandfather. Wilde's
niece, Dolly Wilde
, had a lengthy
relationship with writer Natalie Clifford Barney
, which is
documented in Joan Schenkar's book, Truly Wilde: The Story of
Dolly Wilde, Oscar's Unusual Niece
Robert Ross at twenty-four
Wilde's sexual orientation
variously been considered bisexual
gay. He had significant sexual relationships with (in chronological
order) Frank Miles
(probable), Constance Lloyd
(Wilde's wife), Robbie Ross
, and Lord Alfred Douglas
(known as "Bosie").
Wilde also had numerous sexual encounters with young working-class
men, who were often male
Some biographers believe Wilde was made fully aware of his own and
others' homosexuality in 1885 (the year after his wedding) by the
17-year-old Robbie Ross. Neil McKenna's biography The Secret
Life of Oscar Wilde
(2003) theorises that Wilde was aware of
his homosexuality much earlier, from the moment of his first kiss
with another boy at the age of 16. According to McKenna, after
arriving at Oxford in 1874, Wilde tentatively explored his
sexuality, discovering that he could feel passionate romantic love
for "fair, slim" choirboys, but was more sexually drawn towards the
swarthy young rough
. By the late 1870s, Wilde was already preoccupied with
the philosophy of same-sex love, and had befriended a group of
and homosexual law
reformers, becoming acquainted with the work of gay-rights pioneer
Karl Heinrich Ulrichs
also met Walt Whitman
in America in
1882, boasting to a friend that "I have the kiss of Walt Whitman
still on my lips". He even lived with the society painter Frank
Miles, who was a few years his senior and may have been his lover.
However, writes McKenna, Wilde was at one time unhappy with the
direction of his sexual and romantic desires and, hoping that
marriage would "cure" him, he married Constance in 1884. McKenna's
account has been criticised by some reviewers who find it too
speculative, although not necessarily implausible.
Oscar Wilde by Napoleon Sarony
Whether or not Wilde was still naĂŻve when he first met Ross, the
latter did play an important role in the development of Wilde's
understanding of his own sexuality. Ross was aware of Wilde's poems
before they met, and indeed had been beaten for reading them. He
was also unmoved by the Victorian prohibition against
homosexuality. By Richard Ellmann's account, Ross, "...so young and
yet so knowing, was determined to seduce Wilde". Later, Ross
boasted to Lord Alfred Douglas that he was his first homosexual
experience and there seems to have been much jealousy between them.
Soon, Wilde would have more homosexual encounters in local bars or
brothels. In Wilde's words, the relations were akin to "feasting
with panthers," and he revelled in the risk: "the danger was half
the excitement." In his public writings, Wilde's first celebration
of homosexual love can be found in "The Portrait of Mr. W. H."
(1889), in which he propounds a theory that Shakespeare's sonnets
were written out of the poet's love of young male Elizabethan actor
In the early summer of 1891 poet Lionel
introduced Wilde to Lord Alfred Douglas, an
undergraduate at Oxford at the time. An intimate friendship
immediately sprang up between Wilde and Douglas, but it was not
initially sexual, nor did the sexual activity progress far when it
did eventually take place. According to Douglas, speaking in his
old age, for the first six months their relations remained on a
purely intellectual and emotional level. Despite the fact that
"from the second time he saw me, when he gave me a copy of
which I took with me to Oxford, he made
overtures to me. It was not till I had known him for at least six
months and after I had seen him over and over again and he had
twice stayed with me in Oxford, that I gave in to him. I did with
him and allowed him to do just what was done among boys at
Winchester and Oxford ... Sodomy never took place between us, nor
was it attempted or dreamed of. Wilde treated me as an older one
does a younger one at school." After Wilde realised that Douglas
only consented in order to please him, Wilde permanently ceased his
For a few years they lived together more or less openly in a number
of locations. Wilde and some within his upper-class social group
also began to speak about homosexual-law reform, and their
commitment to "The Cause" was formalised by the founding of a
highly secretive organisation called the Order of Chaeronea
, of which Wilde was a
member. A homosexual novel, Teleny, or The Reverse of
, written at about the same time and
clandestinely published in 1893, has been attributed to Oscar
Wilde, although it was probably, in fact, a combined effort by a
number of Wilde's friends, with Wilde as editor. Wilde also
periodically contributed to the Uranian
literary journal The
Lord Alfred's first mentor had been his cosmopolitan grandfather
Alfred Montgomery. His older brother Francis Douglas, Viscount
possibly had an intimate association with the Prime
Minister Archibald Philip
Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery
, which ended on Francis' death
in an unexplained shooting accident. Lord Alfred's father John Sholto
Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry
came to believe his sons
had been corrupted by older homosexuals, or as he phrased it in a
letter, "Snob Queers like Rosebery". As he had attempted to do with
Rosebery, Queensberry confronted Wilde and Lord Alfred on several
occasions, but each time Wilde was able to mollify him.
Divorced and spending wildly, Queensberry was known for his
outspoken views and the boxing roughs who often accompanied him. He
abhorred his younger son and plagued the boy with threats to cut
him off if he did not stop idling his life away. Queensberry was
determined to end the friendship with Wilde. Wilde was in full flow
of rehearsal when Bosie returned from a diplomatic posting to
Cairo, around the time Queensberry visited Wilde at his Tite Street
home. He angrily pushed past Wilde's servant and entered the
ground-floor study, shouting obscenities and asking Wilde about his
divorce. Wilde became incensed, but it is said he calmly told his
manservant that Queensberry was the most infamous brute in London,
and that he was not to be shown into the house ever again. It is
said that, despite the presence of a bodyguard, Wilde forced
Queensberry to leave in no uncertain terms.
On the opening night of The Importance of Being Earnest
Queensberry further planned to insult and socially embarrass Wilde
by throwing a bouquet of turnips. Wilde was tipped off, and
Queensberry was barred from entering the theatre. Wilde took legal
advice against him, and wished to prosecute, but his friends
refused to give evidence against the Marquess and hence the case
was dropped. Wilde and Bosie left London for a holiday in
While they were there, on 18 February 1895,
the Marquess left his calling card at Wilde's Club, with a scrawled
inscription accusing Wilde of being a "posing somdomite" .
Trial, imprisonment, and transfer to Reading Gaol
The Marquess of Queensberry's calling
card with the offending inscription "For Oscar Wilde posing
Wilde made a complaint of criminal libel against the Marquess of
Queensberry based on the calling card incident, and the Marquess
was arrested but later freed on bail. The libel
trial became a cause cĂ©lĂ¨bre
details of Wilde's private life with Alfred Taylor and Lord Alfred
Douglas began to appear in the press. A team of detectives, with
the help of the actor Charles
, had directed Queensberry's lawyers (led by Edward Carson QC
) to the world of the Victorian
underground. Here Wilde's association with blackmailers and male
prostitutes, crossdressers and homosexual brothels was recorded,
and various persons involved were interviewed, some being coerced
to appear as witnesses.
The trial opened on 3 April 1895 amongst scenes of near hysteria
both in the press and the public galleries. After a shaky start,
Wilde regained some ground when defending his art from attacks of
perversion. The Picture
of Dorian Gray
came under fierce moral criticism, but
Wilde fended it off with his usual charm and confidence on artistic
matters. Some of his personal letters to Lord Alfred were examined,
their wording challenged as inappropriate and evidence of immoral
relations. Queensberry's legal team proposed that the libel was
published for the public good, but it was only when the prosecution
moved on to sexual matters that Wilde balked. He was challenged on
the reason given for not kissing a young servant; Wilde had
replied, "He was a particularly plain boyâ€”unfortunately uglyâ€”I
pitied him for it." Counsel for the defence, scenting blood,
pressed him on the point. Wilde hesitated, complaining of Carson's
insults and attempts to unnerve him. The prosecution eventually
dropped the case, after the defence threatened to bring boy
prostitutes to the stand to testify to Wilde's corruption and
influence over Queensberry's son, effectively crippling the
Wilde left the court, a warrant for his arrest was applied for and
(after a delay that would have permitted Wilde, had he wished, to
escape to the continent) later served on him at the Cadogan Hotel, Knightsbridge. Robert Ross found
him there with Reginald Turner; both
men advised Wilde to go at once to Dover and try to
get a boat to France.
Wilde, lapsing into inaction, could
only say, "The train has gone. It's too late." That moment was
immortalised in a poem by Sir John
, although he himself said that it was "complained that
it wasn't true - but I happened to like it" . Wilde was arrested
for "gross indecency" under Section 11
Criminal Law Amendment
. In British legislation of the time, this term implied
homosexual acts not amounting to buggery
which was an offence under a separate statute. After his arrest
Wilde sent Robert Ross to his home in Tite Street with orders to
remove certain items and Ross broke into the bedroom to rescue some
of Wilde's belongings. Wilde was then imprisoned on remand at
Holloway where he received daily visits from Lord Alfred
Events moved quickly and his prosecution opened on 26 April 1895.
Wilde had already begged Douglas to leave London for Paris, but
Douglas complained bitterly, even wanting to take the stand;
however, he was pressed to go and soon fled to the Hotel du Monde.
Ross and many others also left the United Kingdom during this time.
Under cross examination Wilde presented an eloquent defence:
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
It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form
There is nothing unnatural about
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
The world mocks at it, and sometimes puts one in
the pillory for it."
The trial ended with the jury unable to reach a verdict and Wilde's
counsel, Sir Edward Clark, was finally able to agree bail. Wilde
was freed from Holloway and went into hiding at the house of Ernest
and Ada Leverson
, two of Wilde's firm
friends. The Reverend Stewart
put up most of the ÂŁ5,000 bail, having disagreed with
Wilde's heinous treatment by the press and the courts. Edward
Carson, it was said, asked for the service to let up on Wilde. His
request was denied. If the Crown was seen to give up at that point,
it would have appeared that there was one rule for some and not
others, and outrage could have followed.
The final trial was presided over by Justice Sir Alfred Wills
. On 25 May 1895 Wilde was
convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to two years' hard
labour. The judge himself described the sentence as "totally
inadequate for a case such as this," although it was the maximum
sentence allowed for the charge under the Criminal Law Amendment
Act of 1885.
imprisoned first in Pentonville and then in Wandsworth prison in London, and finally transferred in
November to Reading
Prison, some 30 miles west of London.
the town of Reading from happier times when boating on the Thames
and also from visits to the Palmer
family, including a tour of the famous Huntley & Palmers
which was quite close to the prison.
Now known as prisoner C. 3.3, (which described the fact that he was
in block C, floor three, cell three) he was not, at first, even
allowed paper and pen, but a later governor was more amenable.
Wilde was championed by the Liberal MP and reformer Richard B. Haldane
who had helped
transfer him and afforded him the literary catharsis he needed.
During his time in prison, Wilde wrote a 50,000-word letter to
Douglas, which he was not allowed to send while still a prisoner,
but which he was allowed to take with him at the end of his
sentence. 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). Ross published a much
expurgated version of the letter
(about a third of it) in 1905 (four years after Wilde's death) 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. Its complete and correct publication
first occurred in 1962, in "The Letters of Oscar
Release, death and legacy
Prison was unkind to Wilde's health and after he was released on 19
May 1897, he spent his last three years penniless, in self-imposed
exile abroad and cut off from society and artistic circles. He went
under the assumed name of Sebastian Melmoth, after Saint Sebastian
and the devilish central
character of Wilde's great-uncle Charles Robert Maturin
's gothic novel Melmoth the Wanderer
Nevertheless, Wilde lost no time in returning to his previous
pleasures. According to Douglas, Ross "dragged [him]
back to homosexual practices" during the summer of 1897, which they
spent together in Berneval-le-Grand.
After his release, he also wrote the famous
poem The Ballad of
Douglas had been the cause of his misfortunes, he and Wilde were
reunited in August 1897 at Rouen.
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.
the latter part of 1897, Wilde and Douglas lived together near
Naples, but for
financial and other reasons, they separated.
Wilde spent his last years in the HĂ´tel d'Alsace, now known as
, in Paris, where it is said he
was notorious and uninhibited about enjoying the pleasures he had
been denied in Britain. Again, according to Douglas, "he was hand
in glove with all the little boys on the Boulevard. He never
attempted to conceal it." In a letter to Ross, Wilde laments,
"Today I bade good-bye, with tears and one kiss, to the beautiful
Greek boy... he is the nicest boy you ever introduced to me." Just
a month before his death he is quoted as saying, "My wallpaper
and I are fighting a duel to the death.
One of us has got to go."His moods fluctuated; Max Beerbohm relates
how, a few days before Wilde's death, 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." Reggie 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.
Wilde died of cerebral meningitis
November 1900. Different opinions are given as to the cause of the
meningitis; Richard Ellmann claimed it was syphilitic
, Wilde's grandson, thought this to be a misconception,
noting that Wilde's meningitis followed a surgical intervention,
perhaps a mastoidectomy
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 annĂ©es
) and did not allude to syphilis. Most
modern scholars and doctors agree that syphilis was unlikely to
have been the cause of his death.
On his deathbed Wilde was received into the Roman Catholic
church and Robert Ross, in his
letter to More Adey (dated 14 December 1900), states "He 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 sent
in search of a priest, and after great difficulty found Father
Cuthbert Dunne ... who came with me at once and administered
and Extreme Unction
Oscar could not take the Eucharist
Wilde's conversion may have come as a surprise he had long
maintained an interest in the Catholic Church having met with
Pope Pius IX
in 1877 and describing the
Roman Catholic Church as "for saints and sinners alone â€“ for
respectable people, the Anglican Church will do". The Vatican wakes up to the wisdom of Oscar Wilde -
Europe, World - The Independent
During his time in prison Wilde
had pored over the works of Augustine, Dante and Cardinal
buried in the CimetiĂ¨re de Bagneux outside Paris but was later moved to PĂ¨re
Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.
His tomb in PĂ¨re Lachaise was
designed by sculptor
Sir Jacob Epstein
, at the request of Robert Ross,
who also asked for a small compartment to be made for his own
ashes. Ross's ashes were transferred to the tomb in 1950. The
epitaph is a verse from The
Ballad of Reading Gaol
And alien tears will fill for him
Pity's long-broken urn,
For his mourners will be outcast men,
And outcasts always mourn.
The modernist angel depicted as a relief on the tomb was originally
complete with male genitals
broken off and kept as a paperweight by a succession of cemetery
keepers; their current whereabouts are unknown. In the summer of
2000, intermedia artist Leon Johnson performed a forty-minute
ceremony entitled Re-membering Wilde
in which a
commissioned silver prosthesis was installed to replace the
2009 the official newspaper of the Vatican, L'Osservatore Romano, printed a review of a recent study of Wilde which
was seen to reconcile Wilde with the Church.
lauded Wilde as "one of the personalities of the 19th century who
most lucidly analysed the modern world in its disturbing as well as
its positive aspects" With consideration of Wilde's lifestyle the
positive review by the paper was described as unexpected. However,
many of Wilde's famous quips were included in a Catholic
publication of witticisms for Christians collated by the Vatican's
head of protocol, Leonardo Sapienza.
- After Wilde's death, his friend Frank
Harris wrote a biography, Oscar Wilde: His Life and
Confessions. Of his other close friends, Robert Sherard, Robert Ross, Charles Ricketts and Lord Alfred Douglas variously published
biographies, reminiscences or correspondence.
- An account of the argument between Frank Harris, Lord Alfred
Douglas and Oscar Wilde as to the advisability of Wilde's
prosecuting Queensberry can be found in the preface to George
Bernard Shaw's play The
Dark Lady of the Sonnets.
- In 1946, Hesketh Pearson
published The Life of Oscar Wilde (Methuen), containing
materials derived from conversations with Bernard Shaw, George Alexander, Herbert Beerbohm Tree and many others
who had known or worked with Wilde. This is a lively read, although
inevitably somewhat dated in its approach. It gives a particularly
vivid impression of what Wilde's conversation must have been
- In 1954 Vyvyan Holland published
his memoir Son of Oscar Wilde. It was revised and updated
by Merlin Holland in 1989.
- In 1955 Sewell Stokes wrote a
novel, Beyond His Means, based on the life of Oscar
- In 1983 Peter Ackroyd published
The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde, a novel in the form of
a pretended memoir.
- In 1987 literary biographer Richard
Ellmann published his detailed work Oscar Wilde.
- In 1987, Robert Reilly wrote and published "The God Of
Mirrors", a novel based on the facts of Wilde's "dazzling life and
- In 1991, cartoonist Dave Sim published Melmoth, a
partially fictionalized account of Oscar Wilde's last days, as a
part of his graphic epic Cerebus.
- In 1994, Melissa Knox published her psychobiography, Oscar
Wilde: A Long and Lovely Suicide. This book explores the ways
in which Wilde's literary styles and the events of his life
developed in response to his desires, conflicts, and suffering. It
offers new biographic information as well as new insights into
Wilde as an artist.
- In 1997 Merlin Holland published a book entitled The Wilde
Album. This rather small volume contained many pictures and
other Wilde memorabilia, much of which had not been published
before. It includes 27 pictures taken by the portrait photographer
Napoleon Sarony, one of which is at the beginning of this
- 1999 saw the publication of Oscar Wilde on Stage and
Screen written by Robert
Tanitch. This book is a comprehensive record of Wilde's life
and work as presented on stage and screen from 1880 until 1999. It
includes cast lists and snippets of reviews.
- In 2000 Columbia University professor Barbara Belford published
the biography, Oscar Wilde: A Certain Genius.
- 2003 saw the publication of the first complete account of
Wilde's sexual and emotional life in The Secret Life of Oscar
Wilde by Neil McKenna
- 2003 also saw the publication of the first uncensored
transcripts of Wilde's 1895 trial vs. the Marquess of Queensberry.
The book contained a 50-page introduction by Merlin Holland, and a
foreword by John Mortimer. It was
published as Irish Peacock and Scarlett Marquess: The Real
Trial of Oscar Wilde in the UK, and as simply The Real
Trial of Oscar Wilde in some other countries.
- 2005 saw the publication of The Unmasking of Oscar
Wilde, by literary biographer Joseph
Pearce. It explores the Catholic sensibility in his art, his
interior suffering and dissatisfaction, and his lifelong
fascination with the Catholicism, which led to his deathbed embrace
of the Church.
- In 2008 Chatto & Windus published Thomas Wright's "Oscar's
Books", a biography of Wilde the reader, which explores all aspects
of his reading, from his childhood in Dublin to his death in Paris.
Wright tracked down many books that formerly belonged in Wilde's
Tite Street Library, which was dispersed at the time of his trials;
these contain Wilde's marginal notes, which no scholar had
previously examined. The book will be published as a Vintage
paperback in September 2009.
Biographical films, television series and stage plays
- The play Oscar Wilde
(1936), written by Leslie and Sewell Stokes, based on the life of Wilde,
included Frank Harris as a character.
Starring Robert Morley, the play
opened at the Gate Theatre in London in 1936, and two years later
was staged in New York where its success launched the career of
Morley as a stage actor.
- Two films of his life were released in 1960. The first to be
released was Oscar Wilde
starring Robert Morley and based on
the Stokes brothers' play mentioned above. Then came The Trials of Oscar Wilde
starring Peter Finch. At the time
homosexuality was still a criminal offence in the UK and both films
were rather cagey in touching on the subject without being
- In 1960, the Irish actor MicheĂˇl MacLĂammĂłir began
performing a one-man show called The Importance of Being
Oscar. The show was heavily influenced by Brechtian theory and contained many poems and
samples of Wilde's writing. The play was a success and MacLiammoir
toured it with success everywhere he went. It was published in
1972, director Adrian Hall's and composer Richard Cumming's play
Feasting with Panthers, based on Wilde's writings and set
in Reading Gaol, premiered at the
Repertory Company in Providence, Rhode Island.
- In the summer of 1977 Vincent
Price began performing the one-man play Diversions and Delights.
Written by John Gay and
directed by Joseph Hardy,
the premise of the play is that an aging Oscar Wilde, in order to
earn some much-needed money, gave a lecture on his life in a
Parisian theatre on 28 November 1899 (just a year before his
death). The play was a success everywhere it was performed, except
for its New York City run. It was revived in 1990 in London with
Donald Sinden in the role.
- In 1978 London Weekend
Television produced a television series about the life of
Lillie Langtry entitled Lillie. In it Peter
Egan played Oscar. The bulk of his scenes portrayed their close
friendship up to and including their tours of America in 1882.
Thereafter, he was in a few more scenes leading up to his trials in
- Michael Gambon portrayed Wilde on
British television in 1983 in the three-part BBC series
Oscar concentrating on
the trial and prison term.
- 1988 saw Nickolas Grace playing
Wilde in Ken Russell's film Salome's Last Dance.
- In 1989 Terry Eagleton premiered
his play St. Oscar.
Eagleton agrees that only one line in the entire play is taken
directly from Wilde, while the rest of the dialogue is his own
fancy. The play is also influenced by Brechtian theory.
- Tom Holland's 1988 play
(radio version 1990, professional performance 1991) The
Importance of Being Frank relates Wilde's trial, imprisonment
and exile, using quotation and pastiche of The Importance of
- In 1994 Jim Bartley published Stephen and Mr. Wilde, a
novel about Wilde and his fictional black manservant Stephen set
during Wilde's American tour.
- Moises Kaufman's 1997 play
Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde uses real
quotes and transcripts of Wilde's three trials.
- Wilde appears as a supporting character in Tom Stoppard's 1997 play The Invention of Love and is
referenced extensively in Stoppard's 1974 play Travesties.
- Avoiding the restrictions on the two films from 1960, British
actor Stephen Fry portrayed Wilde (whose
fan he had been since the age of 13) in the 1997 film Wilde to critical acclaim - a role that he
has said he was "born to play". Fry, an acknowledged Wilde scholar,
also appeared as Wilde in the short-lived American television
series Ned Blessing (1993).
- David Hare's 1998 play
The Judas Kiss portrays
Wilde as a manly homosexual Christ figure.
- In 1999, Romulus Linney published
"Oscar Over Here" which recounts
Wilde's lectures in America during the 1880s, specifically in
Leadville, CO, as well as his time in prison and a death fantasy
which included a conversation with a Jesus
Christ figure. The first performance of this work was in New
York in 1995.
- The main character in the Lynn
Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty
musical A Man of No
Importance identifies himself with Oscar Wilde, and Wilde
appears to him several times.
- Actor/playwright Jade Esteban
Estrada portrayed Wilde in the solo musical comedy ICONS: The
Lesbian and Gay History of the World, Vol. 1 in 2002.
- Oscar: in October 2004, a stage musical by Mike Read about Wilde closed after just one night
at the Shaw Theatre in Euston after a severe critical mauling.
- De Profundis in 2004, a theatrical adaptation of
Wilde's letter of the same name, was performed by Don Anderson at
the Segal Centre for the Arts in Montreal, Quebec. Receiving rave
reviews and playing to sold out audiences, the role won Anderson
the MECCA, Montreal English Critic's Circle Award, for best actor
play was made in Argentina called "The importance of being Oscar Wilde"
produced by Pepito
- Somdomite: The Loves of Oscar Wilde premiered at
Manhattanville College in 2005. Written by Joshua R. Pangborn, the
play not only explores the last few years of Wilde's life, but the
influence his choices had on his family and friends as well.
The bulk of Wilde's letters, manuscripts, and other material
relating to his literary circle are housed at the William Andrews Clark
. A number of Wilde's letters and manuscripts
can also be found at The British Library, as well as public and private collections
throughout Britain, the United States and France.
Music based on the work of Oscar Wilde
A number of composers have been inspired by the works of Oscar
Wilde. These include Sir Granville
, Sir Peter
, Jacques Ibert
, Antoine Mariotte
, Franz Schreker
, Richard Strauss
, Alexander von Zemlinsky
, Company of Thieves
, Julian Casablancas
, and, indirectly,
- Raby, Peter (ed.). The Cambridge Companion to Oscar
Wilde. (CUP, 1997) ISBN 0-521-47987-8
- Tufescu, Florina. Oscar Wilde's Plagiarism: The Triumph of
Art over Ego. (Irish Academic Press, 2008) ISBN
- Wilde, Oscar. The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde.
(Collins, 2003) ISBN 0-00-714436-9
- Whittington-Egan, Molly. Such White Lillies: Frank Miles
& Oscar Wilde, Rivendale 2008 ISBN 1904201091
- Wood, Julia: The Resurrection of Oscar Wilde; The
Lutterworth Press 2007, ISBN 9780718830717
- Yates, Jim: Oh!PĂ¨re Lachaise:Oscar's Wilde
Purgatory,Ă‰dition d'AmĂ¨lie 2007: ISBN 9780955583605
- Wright, Thomas: "Oscar's Books". (Chatto & Windus, 2008)
ISBN 0701180617; Paperback edition, (Vintage, 2009) ISBN