Oscar Wilde
Overview
Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900) was an Irish writer
Irish literature
For a comparatively small island, Ireland has made a disproportionately large contribution to world literature. Irish literature encompasses the Irish and English languages.-The beginning of writing in Irish:...

 and poet
Irish poetry
The history of Irish poetry includes the poetries of two languages, one in Irish and the other in English. The complex interplay between these two traditions, and between both of them and other poetries in English, has produced a body of work that is both rich in variety and difficult to...

. 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, plays and the circumstances of his imprisonment, followed by his early death.

Wilde's parents were successful Dublin intellectuals.
Quotations

Tread Lightly, she is nearUnder the snow,Speak gently, she can hearThe daisies grow.

s:Requiescat (Wilde)|Requiescat, st. 1 (1881)

Over the piano was printed a notice: Please do not shoot the pianist. He is doing his best.

Personal Impressions of America (Leadville) (1883)

Appearance blinds, whereas words reveal.

Personal Impressions of America (Leadville) (1883)

Encyclopedia
Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900) was an Irish writer
Irish literature
For a comparatively small island, Ireland has made a disproportionately large contribution to world literature. Irish literature encompasses the Irish and English languages.-The beginning of writing in Irish:...

 and poet
Irish poetry
The history of Irish poetry includes the poetries of two languages, one in Irish and the other in English. The complex interplay between these two traditions, and between both of them and other poetries in English, has produced a body of work that is both rich in variety and difficult to...

. 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, plays and the circumstances of his imprisonment, followed by his early death.

Wilde's parents were successful 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
Trinity College, Dublin
Trinity College, Dublin , formally known as the College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth near Dublin, was founded in 1592 by letters patent from Queen Elizabeth I as the "mother of a university", Extracts from Letters Patent of Elizabeth I, 1592: "...we...found and...

, then at Oxford
Magdalen College, Oxford
Magdalen College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. As of 2006 the college had an estimated financial endowment of £153 million. Magdalen is currently top of the Norrington Table after over half of its 2010 finalists received first-class degrees, a record...

. He became known for his involvement in the rising philosophy of aestheticism
Aestheticism
Aestheticism was a 19th century European art movement that emphasized aesthetic values more than socio-political themes for literature, fine art, the decorative arts, and interior design...

, led by two of his tutors, Walter Pater
Walter Pater
Walter Horatio Pater was an English essayist, critic of art and literature, and writer of fiction.-Early life:...

 and John Ruskin
John Ruskin
John Ruskin was the leading English art critic of the Victorian era, also an art patron, draughtsman, watercolourist, a prominent social thinker and philanthropist. He wrote on subjects ranging from geology to architecture, myth to ornithology, literature to education, and botany to political...

. He also profoundly explored Roman Catholicism, to which he would later convert on his deathbed. 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 of America 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 had become one of the most well-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
The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Picture of Dorian Gray is the only published novel by Oscar Wilde, appearing as the lead story in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine on 20 June 1890, printed as the July 1890 issue of this magazine...

(1890). The opportunity to construct aesthetic details precisely, and combine them with larger social themes, drew Wilde to write drama. He wrote Salome
Salome (play)
Salome is a tragedy by Oscar Wilde.The original 1891 version of the play was in French. Three years later an English translation was published...

(1891) in French in Paris but it was refused a licence. 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, whilst his masterpiece, The Importance of Being Earnest
The Importance of Being Earnest
The Importance of Being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People is a play by Oscar Wilde. First performed on 14 February 1895 at St. James's Theatre in London, it is a farcical comedy in which the protagonists maintain fictitious personae in order to escape burdensome social obligations...

(1895), was still on stage in London, Wilde sued the Marquess of Queensberry
John Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry
John Sholto Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry GCVO was a Scottish nobleman, remembered for lending his name and patronage to the "Marquess of Queensberry rules" that formed the basis of modern boxing, for his outspoken atheism, and for his role in the downfall of author and playwright Oscar...

, the father of his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas
Lord Alfred Douglas
Lord Alfred Bruce Douglas , nicknamed Bosie, was a British author, poet and translator, better known as the intimate friend and lover of the writer Oscar Wilde...

, for libel. The trial unearthed evidence that caused Wilde to drop his charges and led to his own arrest, tried for gross indecency
Labouchere Amendment
The Labouchere Amendment, also known as Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 made gross indecency a crime in the United Kingdom. The amendment gave no definition of "gross indecency," as Victorian morality demurred from precise descriptions of activity held to be immoral...

 with other men. After two more trials he was convicted and imprisoned for two years' hard labour
Penal labour
Penal labour is a form of unfree labour in which prisoners perform work, typically manual labour. The work may be light or hard, depending on the context. Forms of sentence which involve penal labour include penal servitude and imprisonment with hard labour...

. In prison he wrote De Profundis
De Profundis (letter)
De Profundis is an epistle written by Oscar Wilde during his imprisonment in Reading Gaol, to Lord Alfred Douglas. During its first half Wilde recounts their previous relationship and extravagant lifestyle which eventually led to Wilde's conviction and imprisonment for gross indecency...

(written in 1897 & 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
The Ballad of Reading Gaol
The Ballad of Reading Gaol is a poem by Oscar Wilde, written in exile either in Berneval or in Dieppe, France, after his release from Reading Gaol on or about 19 May 1897. Wilde had been incarcerated in Reading, after being convicted of homosexual offences in 1895 and sentenced to two years' hard...

(1898), a long poem commemorating the harsh rhythms of prison life. He died destitute in Paris at the age of forty-six.

Early life

Oscar Wilde was born at 21 Westland Row
Westland Row
Westland Row is a street on the south side of Dublin city, Ireland, dating from the year 1776. It was originally known as Westlands after William Westland who owned property in the area in the 18th century....

, Dublin (now home of the Oscar Wilde Centre
Oscar Wilde Centre
The Oscar Wilde Centre is an academic research and teaching unit in Trinity College, Dublin. It was founded in 1998, and is located at 21 Westland Row, the house in which Oscar Wilde was born and raised. This building, which is on the perimeter of Trinity, was purchased in the 20th century as part...

, Trinity College, Dublin) the second of three children born to Sir William Wilde
William Wilde
Sir William Robert Wills Wilde MD, FRCSI, was an Irish eye and ear surgeon, as well as an author of significant works on medicine, archaeology and folklore, particularly concerning his native Ireland...

 and Jane Francesca Wilde
Jane Wilde
Jane Francesca Agnes, Lady Wilde was an Irish poet under the pen name "Speranza" and supporter of the nationalist movement; had a special interest on Irish Fairy Tales, which she helped to gather...

, two years behind William ("Willie"). Jane Wilde, under the pseudonym "Speranza" (the Italian word for 'Hope'), wrote poetry for the revolutionary Young Irelanders in 1848 and was a life-long Irish nationalist
Irish nationalism
Irish nationalism manifests itself in political and social movements and in sentiment inspired by a love for Irish culture, language and history, and as a sense of pride in Ireland and in the Irish people...

. She read the Young Irelanders' poetry to Oscar and Willie, inculcating a love of these poets in her sons. Lady Wilde's interest in the neo-classical revival showed in the paintings and busts of ancient Greece and Rome in her home. 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. 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.

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 parentage 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.

In 1855, the family moved to No. 1 Merrion Square
Merrion Square
Merrion Square is a Georgian square on the southside of Dublin city centre. It was laid out after 1762 and was largely complete by the beginning of the 19th century. It is considered one of the city's finest surviving squares...

, where Wilde's sister, Isola, was born in 1857. The Wildes' new home was larger and, with both his parents' sociality and success soon became a "unique medical and cultural milieu"; guests at their salon
Salon (gathering)
A salon is a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine taste and increase their knowledge of the participants through conversation. These gatherings often consciously followed Horace's definition of the aims of poetry, "either to...

 included Sheridan le Fanu
Sheridan Le Fanu
Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu was an Irish writer of Gothic tales and mystery novels. He was the leading ghost-story writer of the nineteenth century and was central to the development of the genre in the Victorian era....

, Charles Lever
Charles Lever
Charles James Lever was an Irish novelist.-Biography:Lever was born in Dublin, the second son of James Lever, an architect and builder, and was educated in private schools. His escapades at Trinity College, Dublin , where he took the degree in medicine in 1831, are drawn on for the plots of some...

, George Petrie, Isaac Butt
Isaac Butt
Isaac Butt Q.C. M.P. was an Irish barrister, politician, Member of Parliament , and the founder and first leader of a number of Irish nationalist parties and organisations, including the Irish Metropolitan Conservative Society in 1836, the Home Government Association in 1870 and in 1873 the Home...

, William Rowan Hamilton
William Rowan Hamilton
Sir William Rowan Hamilton was an Irish physicist, astronomer, and mathematician, who made important contributions to classical mechanics, optics, and algebra. His studies of mechanical and optical systems led him to discover new mathematical concepts and techniques...

 and Samuel Ferguson
Samuel Ferguson
Sir Samuel Ferguson was an Irish poet, barrister, antiquarian, artist and public servant. Perhaps the most important Ulster-Scot poet of the 19th century, because of his interest in Irish mythology and early Irish history he can be seen as a forerunner of William Butler Yeats and the other poets...

.

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 Portora Royal School
Portora Royal School
Portora Royal School for boys, and some 6th form girls, located in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, is one of a number of 'free schools' founded by Royal Charter in 1608, by James I...

 in Enniskillen
Enniskillen
Enniskillen is a town in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. It is located almost exactly in the centre of the county between the Upper and Lower sections of Lough Erne. It had a population of 13,599 in the 2001 Census...

, County Fermanagh. Until his early twenties, Wilde summered at the villa his father built in Moytura, County Mayo
County Mayo
County Mayo is a county in Ireland. It is located in the West Region and is also part of the province of Connacht. It is named after the village of Mayo, which is now generally known as Mayo Abbey. Mayo County Council is the local authority for the county. The population of the county is 130,552...

. There the young Wilde and his brother Willie played with George Moore
George Moore (novelist)
George Augustus Moore was an Irish novelist, short-story writer, poet, art critic, memoirist and dramatist. Moore came from a Roman Catholic landed family who lived at Moore Hall in Carra, County Mayo. He originally wanted to be a painter, and studied art in Paris during the 1870s...

.

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

"Tread lightly, she is near

Under the snow

Speak gently, she can hear

the daisies grow"

Trinity College, Dublin

Wilde left Portora with a royal scholarship to read classics at Trinity College, Dublin
Trinity College, Dublin
Trinity College, Dublin , formally known as the College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth near Dublin, was founded in 1592 by letters patent from Queen Elizabeth I as the "mother of a university", Extracts from Letters Patent of Elizabeth I, 1592: "...we...found and...

, from 1871 to 1874, sharing rooms with his older brother Willie Wilde
Willie Wilde
William 'Willie' Charles Kingsbury Wilde was an Irish journalist and poet of the Victorian era and the older brother of Oscar Wilde.-Background:...

. Trinity, one of the leading classical schools, set him with scholars such as R.Y. Tyrell
Robert Yelverton Tyrrell
Robert Yelverton Tyrrell was an Irish classical scholar who was Regius Professor of Greek at Trinity College, Dublin.-Biography:...

, Arthur Palmer, Edward Dowden
Edward Dowden
Edward Dowden , was an Irish critic and poet.He was the son of John Wheeler Dowden, a merchant and landowner, and was born at Cork, three years after his brother John, who became Bishop of Edinburgh in 1886. Edward's literary tastes emerged early, in a series of essays written at the age of twelve...

 and his tutor, J.P. Mahaffy
John Pentland Mahaffy
The Rev. John Pentland Mahaffy GBE CVO was an Irish classicist and polymathic scholar.-Education and interests:...

 who inspired his interest in Greek literature
Greek literature
Greek literature refers to writings composed in areas of Greek influence, typically though not necessarily in one of the Greek dialects, throughout the whole period in which the Greek-speaking people have existed.-Ancient Greek literature :...

. As a student Wilde worked with Mahaffy on the latter's book Social Life in Greece. Wilde, despite later reservations, called Mahaffy "my first and best teacher" and "the scholar who showed me how to love Greek things". For his part Mahaffy boasted of having created Wilde; later, he would name him "the only blot on my tutorship".

The University Philosophical Society also provided an education, discussing intellectual and artistic subjects such as Rosetti 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". 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. He was encouraged to compete for a demyship
Demyship
A demyship is a form of scholarship, specifically at Magdalen College, Oxford. Oscar Wilde, Lewis Gielgud, Lord Denning andT. E. Lawrence were famous recipients. It is derived from demi-socii or half-fellows. Magdalen's founder, William of Waynflete, originally provided them for the College...

 to Magdalen College, Oxford
Magdalen College, Oxford
Magdalen College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. As of 2006 the college had an estimated financial endowment of £153 million. Magdalen is currently top of the Norrington Table after over half of its 2010 finalists received first-class degrees, a record...

 – which he won easily, having already studied Greek for over nine years.

Magdalen College, Oxford

At Magdalen he read Greats from 1874 to 1878, and from there he applied to join the Oxford Union
Oxford Union
The Oxford Union Society, commonly referred to simply as the Oxford Union, is a debating society in the city of Oxford, Britain, whose membership is drawn primarily but not exclusively from the University of Oxford...

, but failed to be elected.

Attracted by its dress, secrecy, and ritual, Wilde petitioned the Apollo Masonic Lodge
Masonic Lodge
This article is about the Masonic term for a membership group. For buildings named Masonic Lodge, see Masonic Lodge A Masonic Lodge, often termed a Private Lodge or Constituent Lodge, is the basic organisation of Freemasonry...

 at Oxford, and was soon raised to the "Sublime Degree of Master Mason". 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". 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
Pope Pius IX
Blessed Pope Pius IX , born Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti, was the longest-reigning elected Pope in the history of the Catholic Church, serving from 16 June 1846 until his death, a period of nearly 32 years. During his pontificate, he convened the First Vatican Council in 1869, which decreed papal...

 in Rome. 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.

While at Magdalen College, Wilde became particularly well known for his role in the aesthetic and decadent movement
Decadent movement
The Decadent movement was a late 19th century artistic and literary movement of Western Europe. It flourished in France, but also had devotees in England and throughout Europe, as well as in the United States.-Overview:...

s. He wore his hair long, openly scorned "manly" sports though he occasionally boxed, 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." The line quickly became famous, accepted as a slogan by aesthetes but used against them by critics who sensed in it a terrible vacuousness. Some elements disdained the aesthetes, but their languishing attitudes and showy costumes became a recognised pose. Wilde was once physically attacked by a group of four fellow students, and dealt with them single-handedly, surprising critics. 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
Rustication (academia)
Rustication is a term used at Oxbridge to mean being sent down or expelled temporarily. The term derives from the Latin word rus, countryside, to indicate that a student has been sent back to their family in the country, or from medieval Latin rustici, meaning "heathens or barbarians"...

 for one term, when he nonchalantly returned to college late from a trip to Greece with Prof. Mahaffy.

Wilde did not meet Walter Pater
Walter Pater
Walter Horatio Pater was an English essayist, critic of art and literature, and writer of fiction.-Early life:...

 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. 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
De Profundis (letter)
De Profundis is an epistle written by Oscar Wilde during his imprisonment in Reading Gaol, to Lord Alfred Douglas. During its first half Wilde recounts their previous relationship and extravagant lifestyle which eventually led to Wilde's conviction and imprisonment for gross indecency...

, Wilde called Pater's Studies... "that book that has had such a strange influence over my life". 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
John Ruskin
John Ruskin was the leading English art critic of the Victorian era, also an art patron, draughtsman, watercolourist, a prominent social thinker and philanthropist. He wrote on subjects ranging from geology to architecture, myth to ornithology, literature to education, and botany to political...

 who gave him a purpose for it. 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.

Wilde won the 1878 Newdigate Prize
Newdigate prize
Sir Roger Newdigate's Prize is awarded to students of the University of Oxford for Best Composition in English verse by an undergraduate who has been admitted to Oxford within the previous four years. It was founded by Sir Roger Newdigate, Bt in the 18th century...

 for his poem "Ravenna", which reflected on his visit there the year before, and he duly read it at Encaenia
Encaenia
Encaenia is an academic or sometimes ecclesiastical ceremony, usually performed at colleges or universities. It generally occurs some time near the annual ceremony for the general conference of degrees to students...

. In November 1878, he graduated with a rare double first in his B.A. of Classical Moderations and Literae Humaniores
Literae Humaniores
Literae Humaniores is the name given to an undergraduate course focused on Classics at Oxford and some other universities.The Latin name means literally "more humane letters", but is perhaps better rendered as "Advanced Studies", since humaniores has the sense of "more refined" or "more learned",...

 (Greats). Wilde wrote to a friend, "The dons are '' beyond words – the Bad Boy doing so well in the end!"

Apprenticeship of an aesthete: 1880s

Debut in society

After graduation from Oxford, Wilde returned to Dublin, where he met again Florence Balcombe
Florence Balcombe
Florence Balcombe was the wife of Bram Stoker, whom she married in Dublin in 1878. She was the daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel James Balcombe of 1 Marino Crescent, Clontarf, and wife Phillippa Anne Marshall, and was a celebrated beauty whose former suitor was Oscar Wilde...

, a childhood sweetheart. She, however, became engaged to Bram Stoker
Bram Stoker
Abraham "Bram" Stoker was an Irish novelist and short story writer, best known today for his 1897 Gothic novel Dracula...

 and they married in 1878. 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. He also stated his intention to "return to England, probably for good". This he did in 1878, only briefly visiting Ireland twice.

Unsure of his next step, he wrote to various acquaintances enquiring about Classics positions at Oxford
Oxford
The city of Oxford is the county town of Oxfordshire, England. The city, made prominent by its medieval university, has a population of just under 165,000, with 153,900 living within the district boundary. It lies about 50 miles north-west of London. The rivers Cherwell and Thames run through...

 or Cambridge
Cambridge
The city of Cambridge is a university town and the administrative centre of the county of Cambridgeshire, England. It lies in East Anglia about north of London. Cambridge is at the heart of the high-technology centre known as Silicon Fen – a play on Silicon Valley and the fens surrounding the...

. 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. Unusually, no prize was awarded that year.The essay was later published in "Miscellanies", the final section of the 1908 edition of Wilde's collected works. (Mason, S. 1914:486) With the last of his inheritance from the sale of his father's houses, he set himself up as a bachelor in London. The 1881 British Census listed Wilde as a boarder at 1 Tite Street, Chelsea, where Frank Miles
Frank Miles
George Francis "Frank" Miles was a London artist who specialised in pastel portraits of society ladies, also an architect and a keen plantsman.-Life and career:...

, a society painter, was the head of the household. Wilde would spend 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
Dublin University Magazine
The Dublin University Magazine was an independent literary cultural and political magazine published in Dublin from 1833 to 1882. It started out as a magazine of political commentary but increasingly became devoted to literature.-Early days:...

. In mid-1881, at 27 years old, Poems collected, revised and expanded his poetic efforts. The book was generally well received, and sold out its first print run of 750 copies, prompting further printings in 1882. Bound in a rich, enamel, parchment cover (embossed with gilt blossom) and printed on hand-made Dutch paper, Wilde would present many copies to the dignitaries and writers who received him over the next few years. The Oxford Union
Oxford Union
The Oxford Union Society, commonly referred to simply as the Oxford Union, is a debating society in the city of Oxford, Britain, whose membership is drawn primarily but not exclusively from the University of Oxford...

 condemned the book for alleged plagiarism
Plagiarism
Plagiarism is defined in dictionaries as the "wrongful appropriation," "close imitation," or "purloining and publication" of another author's "language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions," and the representation of them as one's own original work, but the notion remains problematic with nebulous...

 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. Richard Ellmann
Richard Ellmann
Richard David Ellmann was a prominent American literary critic and biographer of the Irish writers James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, and William Butler Yeats...

 argues that Wilde's poem "Hélas!" was a sincere, though flamboyant, attempt to explain the dichotomies he saw in himself:

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


Punch
Punch (magazine)
Punch, or the London Charivari was a British weekly magazine of humour and satire established in 1841 by Henry Mayhew and engraver Ebenezer Landells. Historically, it was most influential in the 1840s and 50s, when it helped to coin the term "cartoon" in its modern sense as a humorous illustration...

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

America: 1882

Aestheticism was sufficiently in vogue to be caricatured by Gilbert and Sullivan
Gilbert and Sullivan
Gilbert and Sullivan refers to the Victorian-era theatrical partnership of the librettist W. S. Gilbert and the composer Arthur Sullivan . The two men collaborated on fourteen comic operas between 1871 and 1896, of which H.M.S...

 in Patience
Patience (opera)
Patience; or, Bunthorne's Bride, is a comic opera in two acts with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. First performed at the Opera Comique, London, on 23 April 1881, it moved to the 1,292-seat Savoy Theatre on 10 October 1881, where it was the first theatrical production in the...

(1881). Richard D'Oyly Carte
Richard D'Oyly Carte
Richard D'Oyly Carte was an English talent agent, theatrical impresario, composer and hotelier during the latter half of the Victorian era...

, an English Impressario, invited Wilde on a lecture tour of North America, simultaneously priming the pump for the U.S. tour of Patience and selling this most charming aesthete to the American public. Wilde arrived on 3 January 1882 aboard the SS Arizona and criss-crossed the country on a gruelling schedule, lecturing in a new town every few days.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 afterward, and Wilde's best lines were usually quoted immediately in the press. Originally planned to last four months, it was continued for over a year due to the commercial success. Wilde sought to juxtapose the beauty he saw in art onto daily life. This was a practical as well as philosophical project: in Oxford he had surrounded himself with blue china and lilies, 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". Wilde believed that the artist should hold forth higher ideals, and that pleasure and beauty would replace utilitarian ethics.

Wilde and aestheticism were both mercilessly caricatured and criticised in the press, 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 of a bid for notoriety rather than a devotion to beauty and the aesthetic. T.W. Higginson
Thomas Wentworth Higginson
Thomas Wentworth Higginson was an American Unitarian minister, author, abolitionist, and soldier. He was active in the American Abolitionism movement during the 1840s and 1850s, identifying himself with disunion and militant abolitionism...

, 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. Though his press reception was hostile, Wilde was well received in diverse settings across America; he drank whiskey with miners in Leadville, Colorado
Leadville, Colorado
Leadville is a Statutory City that is the county seat of, and the only municipality in, Lake County, Colorado, United States. Situated at an elevation of , Leadville is the highest incorporated city and the second highest incorporated municipality in the United States...

 and was fêted at the most fashionable salons in every city he visited.

London life and marriage

His earnings, plus expected income from The Duchess of Padua
The Duchess of Padua
The Duchess of Padua is a play by Oscar Wilde: it is a five act melodramatic tragedy set in Padua and written in blank verse. It was written for the actress Mary Anderson in early 1883 while in Paris...

, allowed him to move to Paris between February and mid-May 1883. Whilst there he met Robert Sherard
Robert Sherard
Robert Harborough Sherard was an English writer and journalist. He was a friend, and the first biographer, of Oscar Wilde, as well as being Wilde's most prolific biographer in the first half of the twentieth century.-Life:...

, whom he entertained constantly. "We are dining on the Duchess tonight", Wilde would declare before taking him to a fancy restaurant. 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
Edmund Clarence Stedman
Edmund Clarence Stedman , American poet, critic, and essayist was born at Hartford, Connecticut, United States.-Biography:...

, in Victorian Poets describes this "lyric to England" as "manly verse – a poetic and eloquent invocation".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) Wilde's presence was again notable, the play was initially well received by the audience, but when the critics returned lukewarm reviews attendance fell sharply and the play closed a week after it had opened.
He was left to return to England and lecturing: Personal Impressions of America, The Value of Art in Modern Life, and Dress were among his topics.

In London, he had been introduced to Constance Lloyd
Constance Lloyd
Constance Wilde , born Constance Mary Lloyd, was the wife of Irish playwright Oscar Wilde and the mother of his two sons, Cyril and Vyvyan. The daughter of Horace Lloyd, an Irish barrister, and Adelaide Atkinson Lloyd, she married Wilde on May 29, 1884, and had both her sons within the next two years...

 in 1881, daughter of Horace Lloyd, a wealthy Queen's Counsel
Queen's Counsel
Queen's Counsel , known as King's Counsel during the reign of a male sovereign, are lawyers appointed by letters patent to be one of Her [or His] Majesty's Counsel learned in the law...

. She happened to be visiting Dublin in 1884, when Wilde was lecturing at the Gaiety Theatre (W. B. Yeats, then aged eighteen, was also among the audience). He proposed to her, and they married on the 29 May 1884 at the Anglican St. James Church in Paddington in London. Constance's annual allowance of £250 was generous for a young woman (it would be equivalent to about £ in current value), but the Wildes' tastes were relatively luxurious and, after preaching to others for so long, their home was expected to set new standards of design. No. 16, Tite Street was duly renovated in seven months at considerable expense. The couple had two sons, Cyril
Cyril Holland
Cyril Holland was the first son of Oscar Wilde and Constance Lloyd and brother to Vyvyan Holland....

 (1885) and Vyvyan
Vyvyan Holland
Vyvyan Holland, OBE , born Vyvyan Oscar Beresford Wilde in London, was a British author and translator. He was the second son of Oscar Wilde and Constance Lloyd, after his brother Cyril.-Biography:...

 (1886). Wilde was the sole literary signatory of George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics. Although his first profitable writing was music and literary criticism, in which capacity he wrote many highly articulate pieces of journalism, his main talent was for drama, and he wrote more than 60...

's petition for a pardon of the anarchists arrested (and later executed) after the Haymarket massacre
Haymarket affair
The Haymarket affair was a demonstration and unrest that took place on Tuesday May 4, 1886, at the Haymarket Square in Chicago. It began as a rally in support of striking workers. An unknown person threw a dynamite bomb at police as they dispersed the public meeting...

 in Chicago in 1886.

Robert Ross had read Wilde's poems before they met, and he was unrestrained by the Victorian prohibition against homosexuality, even to the extent of estranging himself from his family. A precocious seventeen year old, by Richard Ellmann
Richard Ellmann
Richard David Ellmann was a prominent American literary critic and biographer of the Irish writers James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, and William Butler Yeats...

's account, he was "...so young and yet so knowing, was determined to seduce Wilde". Wilde, who had long alluded to Greek love
Greek love
In the history of sexuality, Greek love is a concept of homoeroticism within the classical tradition. It is one of the "classically inspired erotic imaginings" by means of which later cultures have articulated their own discourse about homosexuality...

, and – though an adoring father – was put off by the carnality of his wife's second pregnancy, succumbed to Ross in Oxford in 1886.

Journalism and editorship: 1886–89

Criticism over artistic matters in the Pall Mall Gazette
Pall Mall Gazette
The Pall Mall Gazette was an evening newspaper founded in London on 7 February 1865 by George Murray Smith; its first editor was Frederick Greenwood...

provoked a letter in self-defence, and soon Wilde was a contributor to that and other journals during the years 1885–87. He enjoyed reviewing and journalism; the form suited his style. He could organise and share his views on art, literature and life, yet in a format less tedious than lecturing. Buoyed up, his reviews were largely chatty and positive. Wilde, like his parents before him, also supported the cause of Irish Nationalism. When Charles Stewart Parnell
Charles Stewart Parnell
Charles Stewart Parnell was an Irish landowner, nationalist political leader, land reform agitator, and the founder and leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party...

 was falsely accused of inciting murder
Parnell Commission
The Parnell Commission was a judicial inquiry in the late 1880s into allegations of crimes by Irish parliamentarian Charles Stewart Parnell which resulted in his vindication.-Background:...

 Wilde wrote a series of astute columns defending him in the Daily Chronicle
Daily Chronicle
The Daily Chronicle was a British newspaper that was published from 1872 to 1930 when it merged with the Daily News to become the News Chronicle.-History:...

.

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. He promptly renamed it The Woman's World
The Woman's World
The Woman's World was a Victorian women's magazine published by Cassell between 1886 and 1890, edited by Oscar Wilde between 1887 and 1889.-Foundation:...

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. The initial vigour and excitement he brought to the job began to fade as administration, commuting and office life became tedious. At the same time as Wilde's interest lagged, the publishers became concerned anew about circulation: sales, at the relatively high price of one shilling, remained low. Increasingly sending instructions by letter, he began a new period of creative work and his own column appeared less regularly. 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. The magazine outlasted him by one volume.

Shorter fiction

Wilde published The Happy Prince and Other Tales in 1888, and had been regularly writing fairy stories for magazines. In 1891 published two more collections, Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories, and in September The House of Pomegranates was dedicated "To Constance Mary Wilde". "The Portrait of Mr. W. H.", which Wilde had begun in 1887, was first published in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine in July 1889. 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
William Hughes (Mr. W. H.)
William Hughes is one potential candidate for the person on whom the 'Fair Youth' of Shakespeare's Sonnets is based . The 'Fair Youth' is a handsome, effeminate young man to whom the poet addresses many passionate sonnets. Some sonnets can be interpreted as puns on the name 'William Hughes'...

", is advanced, retracted, and then propounded again. The only evidence for this is two supposed puns within the sonnets themselves. 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. By the end fact and fiction have melded together. "You must believe in Willie Hughes," Wilde told an acquaintance. "I almost do, myself".

Essays and dialogues

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
Thomas Griffiths Wainewright
Thomas Griffiths Wainewright was an English artist, writer and criminal, widely believed to have been a multiple poisoner.-Early life:...

, in the Fortnightly Review
Fortnightly Review
Fortnightly Review was one of the most important and influential magazines in nineteenth-century England. It was founded in 1865 by Anthony Trollope, Frederic Harrison, Edward Spencer Beesly, and six others with an investment of £9,000; the first edition appeared on 15 May 1865...

, edited by Wilde's friend Frank Harris
Frank Harris
Frank Harris was a Irish-born, naturalized-American author, editor, journalist and publisher, who was friendly with many well-known figures of his day...

. Two of Wilde's four writings on aesthetics are dialogues, though Wilde had evolved professionally from lecturer to writer, he remained with 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.

Wilde was concerned about the effect of moralising on art, he believed in its 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." 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 none 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. George Orwell
George Orwell
Eric Arthur Blair , better known by his pen name George Orwell, was an English author and journalist...

 summarised, "In effect, the world will be populated by artists, each striving after perfection in the way that seems best to him."

This point of view did not align him with the Fabians
Fabian Society
The Fabian Society is a British socialist movement, whose purpose is to advance the principles of democratic socialism via gradualist and reformist, rather than revolutionary, means. It is best known for its initial ground-breaking work beginning late in the 19th century and continuing up to World...

, 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. 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 in the Stalinist era "it is doubtful whether there are any uninspected places in which it could now be hidden".

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. 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". 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
Lippincott's Monthly Magazine
Lippincott's Monthly Magazine was a 19th century literary magazine published in Philadelphia from 1868 to 1915, when it relocated to New York to become McBride's Magazine. It merged with Scribner's Magazine in 1916....

, along with five others. 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, but the portrait stay beautiful, inadvertently making a Faustian bargain. For Wilde, the purpose of art would guide life if beauty alone were its object. Thus Gray's portrait allows him to escape the corporeal ravages of his hedonism, Wilde sought to juxtapose the beauty he saw in art onto daily life.

Reviewers immediately criticised the novel's decadence and homosexual allusion, one in the The Daily Chronicle for example, called it “unclean,” “poisonous,” and “heavy with the mephitic odours of moral and spiritual putrefaction.” Wilde vigorously responded, writing to the Editor of the Scots Observer, 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." He nevertheless revised it extensively for book publication in 1891: six new chapters were added, some overt decadence passages and homo-eroticism excised, and a preface consisting of twenty two epigrams, such as "Books are well written, or badly written. That is all. " was included. 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." 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". Modern critics have considered the novel to be technically mediocre: the conceit of the plot has guaranteed its fame, but the device is never pushed to its full.

Theatrical career: 1892–95

Salome

The 1891 census records the Wildes' residence at 16 Tite Street, where he lived with his wife Constance and sons. Wilde though, not content with being more well-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
Stéphane Mallarmé
Stéphane Mallarmé , whose real name was Étienne Mallarmé, was a French poet and critic. He was a major French symbolist poet, and his work anticipated and inspired several revolutionary artistic schools of the early 20th century, such as Dadaism, Surrealism, and Futurism.-Biography:Stéphane...

, a renowned symbolist
Symbolism (arts)
Symbolism was a late nineteenth-century art movement of French, Russian and Belgian origin in poetry and other arts. In literature, the style had its beginnings with the publication Les Fleurs du mal by Charles Baudelaire...

 poet of the time. Wilde's two plays during the 1880s, Vera; or, The Nihilists
Vera; or, The Nihilists
Vera; or, The Nihilists is a play by Oscar Wilde. It is a melodramatic tragedy set in Russia. It was the first play that Wilde wrote. It was produced in the United Kingdom in 1880, and in New York in 1882, but it was not a success and folded in both cities...

and The Duchess of Padua
The Duchess of Padua
The Duchess of Padua is a play by Oscar Wilde: it is a five act melodramatic tragedy set in Padua and written in blank verse. It was written for the actress Mary Anderson in early 1883 while in Paris...

, 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
Salome
Salome , the Daughter of Herodias , is known from the New Testament...

 filled his head. One evening, after discussing depicitions of Salome throughout history, he returned to his hotel to notice a blank copybook lying on the desk, and it occurred to him to write down what he had been saying. He wrote a new play, Salome
Salome (play)
Salome is a tragedy by Oscar Wilde.The original 1891 version of the play was in French. Three years later an English translation was published...

, rapidly and in French.

A tragedy, it tells the story of Salome, the stepdaughter of the tetrarch
Tetrarchy (Judea)
The Tetrarchy of Judea was formed following the death of Herod the Great in 4 BCE, when his kingdom was divided between his sons as an inheritance...

 Herod Antipas
Herod Antipas
Herod Antipater , known by the nickname Antipas, was a 1st-century AD ruler of Galilee and Perea, who bore the title of tetrarch...

, who, to her stepfather's dismay but mother
Herodias
Herodias was a Jewish princess of the Herodian Dynasty. Asteroid 546 Herodias is named after her.-Family relationships:*Daughter of Aristobulus IV...

'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, a newspaper, referred to him as "le great event" of the season. Rehearsals of the play, including Sarah Bernhardt
Sarah Bernhardt
Sarah Bernhardt was a French stage and early film actress, and has been referred to as "the most famous actress the world has ever known". Bernhardt made her fame on the stages of France in the 1870s, and was soon in demand in Europe and the Americas...

, began but the play was refused a licence by the Lord Chamberlain, since it depicted biblical characters. Salome was published jointly in Paris and London in 1893, but was not performed until 1896 in Paris, during Wilde's later incarceration.

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". 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 thrashed by conservative critics.
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. Wilde was commissioned to write two more plays and An Ideal Husband, written in 1894, followed in January 1895.

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".

Queensberry family

In mid-1891 Lionel Johnson
Lionel Johnson
Lionel Pigot Johnson was an English poet, essayist and critic. He was born at Broadstairs, and educated at Winchester College and New College, Oxford, graduating in 1890. He became a Catholic convert in 1891. He lived a solitary life in London, struggling with alcoholism and his repressed...

 introduced Wilde to Alfred Douglas
Lord Alfred Douglas
Lord Alfred Bruce Douglas , nicknamed Bosie, was a British author, poet and translator, better known as the intimate friend and lover of the writer Oscar Wilde...

, 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 rendez-vous 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 John Gray, Ross, 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
De Profundis (letter)
De Profundis is an epistle written by Oscar Wilde during his imprisonment in Reading Gaol, to Lord Alfred Douglas. During its first half Wilde recounts their previous relationship and extravagant lifestyle which eventually led to Wilde's conviction and imprisonment for gross indecency...

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."

Douglas and some Oxford friends founded an Oxford journal, The Chameleon, to which Wilde "sent a page of paradoxes originally destined for the Saturday Review". "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. In any case, it became unique: The Chameleon was not published again.

Lord Alfred's father, the Marquess of Queensberry
John Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry
John Sholto Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry GCVO was a Scottish nobleman, remembered for lending his name and patronage to the "Marquess of Queensberry rules" that formed the basis of modern boxing, for his outspoken atheism, and for his role in the downfall of author and playwright Oscar...

, was known for his outspoken atheism, brutish manner and creation of the modern rules of boxing.Queensberry's oldest son, Francis Douglas, Viscount Drumlanrig
Francis Douglas, Viscount Drumlanrig
Francis Archibald Douglas, Viscount Drumlanrig , also 1st Baron Kelhead in his own right, was a Scottish nobleman and Liberal politician.-Background and education:...

, 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)
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". 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 afterwords with such cunning carried out". Queensberry only described the scene once, saying Wilde had "shown him the white feather", meaning he had acted in a cowardly way. 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 alternate personas in the town and country) which allows them to escape Victorian social mores. Earnest is even lighter in tone than Wilde's earlier comedies. While their characters often rose to serious themes in moments of crisis, Earnest lacks the by-now stock Wildean characters: there is no "woman with a past", the protagonists are neither villainous or cunning, simply idle cultivés, and the idealistic young women are not that innocent. Although 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
The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Picture of Dorian Gray is the only published novel by Oscar Wilde, appearing as the lead story in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine on 20 June 1890, printed as the July 1890 issue of this magazine...

and Salome
Salome (play)
Salome is a tragedy by Oscar Wilde.The original 1891 version of the play was in French. Three years later an English translation was published...

.

The play, now considered Wilde's masterpiece, was rapidly written in Wilde's artistic maturity in late 1894. It was first performed on 14 February 1895, at St James's Theatre in London, Wilde's second collaboration with George Alexander
George Alexander (actor)
Sir George Alexander , born George Alexander Gibb Samson, was an English actor and theatre manager.Alexander was born in Reading, Berkshire. He began acting in amateur theatricals in 1875. Four years later he embarked on a professional acting career, making his London debut in 1881...

, the actor-manager. Both author and producer assiduously revised, prepared and rehearsed every line, scene and setting in the months before the premiere, creating a carefully constructed representation of late-Victorian society, yet simultaneously mocking it. 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
Hesketh Pearson
Edward Hesketh Gibbons Pearson was a British actor, theatre director and writer. He is known mainly for his popular biographies; they made him the leading British biographer of his time, in terms of commercial success....

, "In my fifty-three years of acting, I never remember a greater triumph than [that] first night." Earnest's immediate reception as Wilde's best work to-date finally crystallised his fame into a solid artistic reputation. Save for the dramas of his fellow Irishman George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics. Although his first profitable writing was music and literary criticism, in which capacity he wrote many highly articulate pieces of journalism, his main talent was for drama, and he wrote more than 60...

, Wilde's work is the only theatre of this period that is regularly revived today, and The Importance of Being Earnest remains his most popular play.

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

Trials

Wilde vs Queensberry

On 18 February 1895, the Marquess left his calling card at Wilde's club, the Albemarle
Albemarle Club
The Albemarle Club was a private members' club at 13 Albemarle Street, London, founded in 1874 and open to both men and women. It was considered more bohemian in character than the more prestigious clubs of the day....

, inscribed: "For Oscar Wilde, posing somdomite
Sodomy
Sodomy is an anal or other copulation-like act, especially between male persons or between a man and animal, and one who practices sodomy is a "sodomite"...

".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
Merlin Holland
Christopher Merlin Vyvyan Holland is a biographer and editor. He is the son of the author Vyvyan Holland and his second wife, the former Thelma Besant, and is the only grandchild of Oscar Wilde...

 concludes that "what Queensberry almost certainly wrote was "posing ", (Holland (2004:300))
Wilde, egged on by Douglas and against the advice of his friends, initiated a private prosecution
Private prosecution
A private prosecution is a criminal proceeding initiated by an individual or private organisation instead of by a public prosecutor who represents the state...

 against Queensberry, who was arrested on a charge of criminal libel
Criminal libel
Criminal libel is a legal term, of English origin, which may be used with one of two distinct meanings, in those common law jurisdictions where it is still used....

: as sodomy
Sodomy
Sodomy is an anal or other copulation-like act, especially between male persons or between a man and animal, and one who practices sodomy is a "sodomite"...

 was then a crime, Queensberry's note amounted to a public accusation that Wilde had committed a felony
Felony
A felony is a serious crime in the common law countries. The term originates from English common law where felonies were originally crimes which involved the confiscation of a convicted person's land and goods; other crimes were called misdemeanors...

.

Under the Libel Act 1843
Libel Act 1843
The Libel Act 1843, commonly known as Lord Campbell's Libel Act, was a Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It enacted several important codifications of and modifications to the common law tort of libel....

, 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 in order 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.

The libel trial became a cause célèbre
Cause célèbre
A is an issue or incident arousing widespread controversy, outside campaigning and heated public debate. The term is particularly used in connection with celebrated legal cases. It is a French phrase in common English use...

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
Edward Carson, Baron Carson
Edward Henry Carson, Baron Carson PC, PC , Kt, QC , often known as Sir Edward Carson or Lord Carson, was a barrister, judge and politician from Ireland...

 QC
Queen's Counsel
Queen's Counsel , known as King's Counsel during the reign of a male sovereign, are lawyers appointed by letters patent to be one of Her [or His] Majesty's Counsel learned in the law...

, 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 Wilde was accused of.
The trial opened on 3 April 1895 amongst 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". Wilde's lawyer, Sir Edward George Clarke
Edward George Clarke
Sir Edward George Clarke QC QC was a British barrister and politician, considered one of the leading advocates of the late Victorian era and serving as Solicitor-General in the Conservative government of 1886–1892...

, opened the case by pre-emptively asking Wilde about two suggestive letters Wilde had written to Douglas, which the defence had in its possession. He characterised the first as a "prose sonnet" and admitted that the "poetical language" might seem strange to the court but claimed its intent was innocent. Wilde stated that the letters had been obtained by blackmailers who had attempted to extort money from him, but he had refused, suggesting they should take the £60 offered, "unusual for a prose piece of that length". He claimed to regard the letters as works of art rather than as something to be ashamed of.

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 at the time, 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. 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.

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." 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."

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" was justified, "true in substance and in fact." Under the Libel Act 1843
Libel Act 1843
The Libel Act 1843, commonly known as Lord Campbell's Libel Act, was a Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It enacted several important codifications of and modifications to the common law tort of libel....

, Queensberry's acquittal rendered Wilde legally liable for the considerable expenses Queensberry had incurred in his defence, which left Wilde bankrupt.

The Crown vs Wilde

After Wilde left the court, a warrant for his arrest was applied for on charges of sodomy
Sodomy
Sodomy is an anal or other copulation-like act, especially between male persons or between a man and animal, and one who practices sodomy is a "sodomite"...

 and gross indecency. Robbie Ross found Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel
Cadogan Hotel
The Cadogan Hotel is a hotel located in Sloane Street, Knightsbridge, London, England that was built in 1887.The Earls Cadogan, via their company Cadogan Estates have owned Sloane Street and the surrounding area for many generations....

, Knightsbridge
Knightsbridge
Knightsbridge is a road which gives its name to an exclusive district lying to the west of central London. The road runs along the south side of Hyde Park, west from Hyde Park Corner, spanning the City of Westminster and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea...

 with Reginald Turner; both men advised Wilde to go at once to Dover
Dover
Dover is a town and major ferry port in the home county of Kent, in South East England. It faces France across the narrowest part of the English Channel, and lies south-east of Canterbury; east of Kent's administrative capital Maidstone; and north-east along the coastline from Dungeness and Hastings...

 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." Wilde was arrested for "gross indecency" under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885
Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885
The Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 , or "An Act to make further provision for the Protection of Women and Girls, the suppression of brothels, and other purposes", was the latest in a 25-year series of legislation in the United Kingdom beginning with the Offences against the Person Act 1861 that...

, a term meaning homosexual acts not amounting to buggery
Buggery
The British English term buggery is very close in meaning to the term sodomy, and is often used interchangeably in law and popular speech. It may be, also, a specific common law offence, encompassing both sodomy and bestiality.-In law:...

 (an offence under a separate statute). 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. Wilde was then imprisoned on remand at Holloway
Holloway (HM Prison)
HM Prison Holloway is a closed category prison for adult women and Young Offenders, located in the Holloway area of the London Borough of Islington, in north and Inner London, England...

 where he received daily visits from Douglas.
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 take the stand; however he was pressed to go and soon fled to the Hotel du Monde. Fearing persecution, Ross and many other gentlemen also left the United Kingdom during this time. Under cross examination Wilde was at first hesitant, then spoke eloquently:
This response was, however, 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 agree bail. The Reverend Stewart Headlam
Stewart Headlam
Stewart Duckworth Headlam was a priest of the Church of England who was involved in frequent controversy in the final decades of the nineteenth century. Headlam was a pioneer and publicist of Christian socialism, on which he wrote a pamphlet for the Fabian Society. He is noted for his role as the...

 put up most of the £5,000 bail, having disagreed with Wilde's treatment by the press and the courts. Wilde was freed from Holloway and, shunning attention, went into hiding at the house of Ernest and Ada Leverson
Ada Leverson
Ada Leverson was a British writer who is now known primarily for her work as a novelist.She began writing during the 1890s, as a contributor to Black and White, Punch, and The Yellow Book. She was a loyal friend to Oscar Wilde, who called her Sphinx...

, two of his firm friends. Edward Carson approached Frank Lockwood QC, the Solicitor General
Solicitor General for England and Wales
Her Majesty's Solicitor General for England and Wales, often known as the Solicitor General, is one of the Law Officers of the Crown, and the deputy of the Attorney General, whose duty is to advise the Crown and Cabinet on the law...

 and asked "Can we not let up on the fellow now?" 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
Alfred Wills
Sir Alfred Wills PC was a British High Court judge and a well-known mountaineer. He was the third President of the Alpine Club from 1863 to 1865.-Early life:...

. On 25 May 1895 Wilde and Alfred Taylor were convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to two years' hard labour. 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". Wilde's response "And I? May I say nothing, my Lord?" was drowned out in cries of "Shame" in the courtroom.

Imprisonment

Wilde was imprisoned first in Pentonville
Pentonville (HM Prison)
HM Prison Pentonville is a Category B/C men's prison, operated by Her Majesty's Prison Service. Pentonville Prison is not actually within Pentonville itself, but is located further north, on the Caledonian Road in the Barnsbury area of the London Borough of Islington, in inner-North London,...

 and then Wandsworth
Wandsworth (HM Prison)
HM Prison Wandsworth is a Category B men's prison at Wandsworth in the London Borough of Wandsworth, south west London, England. It is operated by Her Majesty's Prison Service and is the largest prison in London and one of the largest in western Europe, with similar capacity to Liverpool...

 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. 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 would later contribute to his death. He spent two months in the infirmary.

Richard B. Haldane
Richard Haldane, 1st Viscount Haldane
Richard Burdon Haldane, 1st Viscount Haldane KT, OM, PC, KC, FRS, FBA, FSA , was an influential British Liberal Imperialist and later Labour politician, lawyer and philosopher. He was Secretary of State for War between 1905 and 1912 during which time the "Haldane Reforms" were implemented...

, the Liberal MP and reformer, visited him and had him transferred in November to HM's Prison, Reading
Reading (HM Prison)
HM Prison Reading, formerly known as Reading Gaol, is a prison located in Reading, Berkshire, England. The prison is operated by Her Majesty's Prison Service.-History:...

, 30 miles west of London. The transfer itself was the lowest point of his incarceration, as a crowd jeered and spat at him on the platform. 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. Wilde requested, among others: the Bible in French, Italian and German grammars, some Ancient Greek texts, Dante
Dante Alighieri
Durante degli Alighieri, mononymously referred to as Dante , was an Italian poet, prose writer, literary theorist, moral philosopher, and political thinker. He is best known for the monumental epic poem La commedia, later named La divina commedia ...

's Divine Comedy, En Route
En route (novel)
En route is a novel by the French writer Joris-Karl Huysmans, first published in 1895. It is the second of Huysmans' books to feature the character Durtal, a thinly disguised portrait of the author himself. Durtal had already appeared in Là-Bas, investigating Satanism...

, Joris-Karl Huysmans
Joris-Karl Huysmans
Charles-Marie-Georges Huysmans was a French novelist who published his works as Joris-Karl Huysmans . He is most famous for the novel À rebours...

's new French novel about Christian redemption; and essays by St Augustine
Augustine of Hippo
Augustine of Hippo , also known as Augustine, St. Augustine, St. Austin, St. Augoustinos, Blessed Augustine, or St. Augustine the Blessed, was Bishop of Hippo Regius . He was a Latin-speaking philosopher and theologian who lived in the Roman Africa Province...

, Cardinal Newman and Walter Pater
Walter Pater
Walter Horatio Pater was an English essayist, critic of art and literature, and writer of fiction.-Early life:...

.

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. 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 of one who "stood in symbolic relations to the art and culture of my age". 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." Wilde blamed himself, though, for the ethical degradation of character that he allowed Douglas to bring about on him and took responsibility for his own fall, "I am here for having tried to put your father in prison." The first half concludes with Wilde's forgiving Douglas, for his own sake as much as Douglas'. 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 the 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.
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
De Profundis (letter)
De Profundis is an epistle written by Oscar Wilde during his imprisonment in Reading Gaol, to Lord Alfred Douglas. During its first half Wilde recounts their previous relationship and extravagant lifestyle which eventually led to Wilde's conviction and imprisonment for gross indecency...

was partially published in 1905, its complete and correct publication first occurred in 1962 in The Letters of Oscar Wilde
The Letters of Oscar Wilde
The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde is a book that contains over a thousand pages of letters written by Oscar Wilde. Wilde's letters were first published as The Letters of Oscar Wilde in 1962, edited by Rupert Hart-Davis and published by his publishing firm.Merlin Holland revised the book and...

.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
British Museum
The British Museum is a museum of human history and culture in London. Its collections, which number more than seven million objects, are amongst the largest and most comprehensive in the world and originate from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its...

 on the understanding that it would not be made public until 1960. In 1949, Wilde's son Vyvyan Holland
Vyvyan Holland
Vyvyan Holland, OBE , born Vyvyan Oscar Beresford Wilde in London, was a British author and translator. He was the second son of Oscar Wilde and Constance Lloyd, after his brother Cyril.-Biography:...

 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)

Exile

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
Society of Jesus
The Society of Jesus is a Catholic male religious order that follows the teachings of the Catholic Church. The members are called Jesuits, and are also known colloquially as "God's Army" and as "The Company," these being references to founder Ignatius of Loyola's military background and a...

 requesting a six-month Catholic retreat; when the request was denied, Wilde wept. "I intend to be received before long", Wilde told a journalist who asked about his religious intentions. He left England the next day for the continent, to spend his last three years in penniless exile. He took the name "Sebastian Melmoth", after Saint Sebastian, and the titular character of Melmoth the Wanderer
Melmoth the Wanderer
Melmoth the Wanderer is a gothic novel published in 1820, written by Charles Robert Maturin .- Synopsis :...

; a gothic novel
Gothic fiction
Gothic fiction, sometimes referred to as Gothic horror, is a genre or mode of literature that combines elements of both horror and romance. Gothicism's origin is attributed to English author Horace Walpole, with his 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto, subtitled "A Gothic Story"...

 by Charles Maturin
Charles Maturin
Charles Robert Maturin, also known as C.R. Maturin was an Irish Protestant clergyman and a writer of gothic plays and novels.-Biography:...

, Wilde's great-uncle. Wilde wrote two long letters to the editor of the Daily Chronicle
Daily Chronicle
The Daily Chronicle was a British newspaper that was published from 1872 to 1930 when it merged with the Daily News to become the News Chronicle.-History:...

, 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
The Soul of Man under Socialism
"The Soul of Man under Socialism" is an 1891 essay by Oscar Wilde in which he expounds an anarchist worldview. The creation of "The Soul of Man" followed Wilde's conversion to anarchist philosophy, following his reading of the works of Peter Kropotkin....

.

Wilde spent mid-1897 with Robert Ross in Berneval-le-Grand
Berneval-le-Grand
Berneval-le-Grand is a commune in the Seine-Maritime department in the Haute-Normandie region in northern France.-Geography:A farming village in the Pays de Caux, situated on the cliff-lined coast of the English Channel some northeast of Dieppe, at the junction of the D54 and D113...

, where he wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol. The poem narrates the execution of a man who murdered his wife for her infidelity; it moves from an objective story-telling to symbolic identification with the prisoners as a whole. 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". 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". 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. 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
Rouen
Rouen , in northern France on the River Seine, is the capital of the Haute-Normandie region and the historic capital city of Normandy. Once one of the largest and most prosperous cities of medieval Europe , it was the seat of the Exchequer of Normandy in the Middle Ages...

. 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
Naples
Naples is a city in Southern Italy, situated on the country's west coast by the Gulf of Naples. Lying between two notable volcanic regions, Mount Vesuvius and the Phlegraean Fields, it is the capital of the region of Campania and of the province of Naples...

 for a few months until they were separated by their respective families under the threat of a cutting-off of funds.

Wilde's final address was at the dingy Hôtel d'Alsace (now known as L'Hôtel
L'Hôtel
L'Hôtel is a 4-star luxury hotel in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris.When previously known as the Hôtel d'Alsace, Oscar Wilde spent his last days there in room 16, famously remarking "I am dying beyond my means". Other former residents include Marlon Brando, actress and singer Mistinguett, and writer...

), 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. He corrected and published An Ideal Husband
An Ideal Husband
An Ideal Husband is an 1895 comedic stage play by Oscar Wilde which revolves around blackmail and political corruption, and touches on the themes of public and private honour...

and The Importance of Being Earnest
The Importance of Being Earnest
The Importance of Being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People is a play by Oscar Wilde. First performed on 14 February 1895 at St. James's Theatre in London, it is a farcical comedy in which the protagonists maintain fictitious personae in order to escape burdensome social obligations...

, 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". He spent much time wandering the Boulevards alone, and spent what little money he had on alcohol. 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
Wallpaper
Wallpaper is a kind of material used to cover and decorate the interior walls of homes, offices, and other buildings; it is one aspect of interior decoration. It is usually sold in rolls and is put onto a wall using wallpaper paste...

 and I are fighting a duel to the death. One of us has got to go." On 12 October 1900 he sent a telegram to Ross: "Terribly weak. Please come." His moods fluctuated; Max Beerbohm
Max Beerbohm
Sir Henry Maximilian "Max" Beerbohm was an English essayist, parodist and caricaturist best known today for his 1911 novel Zuleika Dobson.-Early life:...

 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." 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.

Death

By 25 November Wilde had developed cerebral meningitis
Meningitis
Meningitis is inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, known collectively as the meninges. The inflammation may be caused by infection with viruses, bacteria, or other microorganisms, and less commonly by certain drugs...

 and was injected with morphine, his mind wandering during those periods when he regained consciousness. Robbie Ross arrived on 29 November and sent for a priest, and Wilde was conditionally baptised
Conditional baptism
Mainline Christian theology has traditionally held that only one baptism is valid to confer the benefits of this sacrament. In particular, the Council of Trent defined a dogma that it is forbidden to baptize a person who is already baptized, because baptism makes an indelible mark on the soul...

 into the Catholic Church by Fr Cuthbert Dunne, a Passionist
Passionist
The Passionists are a Roman Catholic religious order founded by Saint Paul of the Cross . Professed members use the initials C.P. after their names.-History:St...

 priest from Dublin (the sacrament being conditional because of the doctrine that one may only be baptised once – Wilde having a recollection of Catholic baptism as child, a fact later attested to by the minister of the sacrament, Fr Lawrence Fox). 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
Anointing of the Sick (Catholic Church)
Anointing of the Sick is a sacrament of the Catholic Church that is administered to Catholics who because of sickness or old age are in danger of death, even if the danger is not proximate...

 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
Last Rites
The Last Rites are the very last prayers and ministrations given to many Christians before death. The last rites go by various names and include different practices in different Christian traditions...

… And when I repeated close to his ear the Holy Names, the Acts of Contrition
Act of Contrition
An act of contrition is a Catholic prayer that expresses sorrow for sins. It may be used in a liturgical service or be used privately, especially in connection with an examination of conscience....

, Faith, Hope and Charity, with acts of humble resignation to the Will of God, he tried all through to say the words after me.
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
Anointing of the Sick (Catholic Church)
Anointing of the Sick is a sacrament of the Catholic Church that is administered to Catholics who because of sickness or old age are in danger of death, even if the danger is not proximate...

. – Oscar could not take the Eucharist
Eucharist
The Eucharist , also called Holy Communion, the Sacrament of the Altar, the Blessed Sacrament, the Lord's Supper, and other names, is a Christian sacrament or ordinance...

".(Holland/Hart-Davis (2000:1219–1220))


Wilde died of cerebral meningitis
Meningitis
Meningitis is inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, known collectively as the meninges. The inflammation may be caused by infection with viruses, bacteria, or other microorganisms, and less commonly by certain drugs...

 on 30 November 1900. Different opinions are given as to the cause of the meningitis: Richard Ellmann claimed it was syphilitic
Syphilis
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the spirochete bacterium Treponema pallidum subspecies pallidum. The primary route of transmission is through sexual contact; however, it may also be transmitted from mother to fetus during pregnancy or at birth, resulting in congenital syphilis...

; Merlin Holland
Merlin Holland
Christopher Merlin Vyvyan Holland is a biographer and editor. He is the son of the author Vyvyan Holland and his second wife, the former Thelma Besant, and is the only grandchild of Oscar Wilde...

, 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.

Wilde was initially buried in the Cimetière de Bagneux
Cimetière de Bagneux
Located to the southwest of the city of Paris, France, the Cimetière de Bagneux is located at 44, avenue Marx-Dormoy, in Montrouge, Hauts-de-Seine....

 outside Paris; in 1909 his remains were disinterred to Père Lachaise Cemetery
Père Lachaise Cemetery
Père Lachaise Cemetery is the largest cemetery in the city of Paris, France , though there are larger cemeteries in the city's suburbs.Père Lachaise is in the 20th arrondissement, and is reputed to be the world's most-visited cemetery, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors annually to the...

, inside the city. His tomb was designed by Sir Jacob Epstein
Jacob Epstein
Sir Jacob Epstein KBE was an American-born British sculptor who helped pioneer modern sculpture. He was born in the United States, and moved to Europe in 1902, becoming a British citizen in 1911. He often produced controversial works which challenged taboos on what was appropriate subject matter...

,Epstein produced the design with architect Charles Holden
Charles Holden
Charles Henry Holden, Litt. D., FRIBA, MRTPI, RDI was a Bolton-born English architect best known for designing many London Underground stations during the 1920s and 1930s, for Bristol Central Library, the Underground Electric Railways Company of London's headquarters at 55 Broadway and for the...

, for whom Epstein produced a number of controversial commissions in London.
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.

The epitaph is a verse from The Ballad of Reading Gaol
The Ballad of Reading Gaol
The Ballad of Reading Gaol is a poem by Oscar Wilde, written in exile either in Berneval or in Dieppe, France, after his release from Reading Gaol on or about 19 May 1897. Wilde had been incarcerated in Reading, after being convicted of homosexual offences in 1895 and sentenced to two years' hard...

:

And alien tears will fill for him

Pity's long-broken urn,

For his mourners will be outcast men,

And outcasts always mourn.

Biographies

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. Frank Harris
Frank Harris
Frank Harris was a Irish-born, naturalized-American author, editor, journalist and publisher, who was friendly with many well-known figures of his day...

, 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. Lord Alfred Douglas
Lord Alfred Douglas
Lord Alfred Bruce Douglas , nicknamed Bosie, was a British author, poet and translator, better known as the intimate friend and lover of the writer Oscar Wilde...

 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. 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 Sherard
Robert Harborough Sherard was an English writer and journalist. He was a friend, and the first biographer, of Oscar Wilde, as well as being Wilde's most prolific biographer in the first half of the twentieth century.-Life:...

, Robert Ross, his literary executor; and Charles Ricketts
Charles Ricketts
Charles de Sousy Ricketts was a versatile English artist, illustrator, author and printer, and is best known for his work as book designer and typographer from 1896 to 1904 with the Vale Press, and his work in the theatre as a set and costume designer.-Life and career:Ricketts was born in Geneva...

 variously published biographies, reminiscences or correspondence. The first more or less objective biography of Wilde came about when Hesketh Pearson
Hesketh Pearson
Edward Hesketh Gibbons Pearson was a British actor, theatre director and writer. He is known mainly for his popular biographies; they made him the leading British biographer of his time, in terms of commercial success....

 wrote Oscar Wilde: His Life and Wit (1946). In 1954 Vyvyan Holland
Vyvyan Holland
Vyvyan Holland, OBE , born Vyvyan Oscar Beresford Wilde in London, was a British author and translator. He was the second son of Oscar Wilde and Constance Lloyd, after his brother Cyril.-Biography:...

 published his memoir Son of Oscar Wilde, which recounts the difficulties Wilde's wife and children faced after his imprisonment. It was revised and updated by Merlin Holland
Merlin Holland
Christopher Merlin Vyvyan Holland is a biographer and editor. He is the son of the author Vyvyan Holland and his second wife, the former Thelma Besant, and is the only grandchild of Oscar Wilde...

 in 1989.

Wilde's life was still waiting for independent, true scholarship when Richard Ellmann
Richard Ellmann
Richard David Ellmann was a prominent American literary critic and biographer of the Irish writers James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, and William Butler Yeats...

 began researching his 1987 biography Oscar Wilde, for which he posthumously won a National (USA) Book Critics Circle Award in 1988 and a Pulitzer Prize
Pulitzer Prize
The Pulitzer Prize is a U.S. award for achievements in newspaper and online journalism, literature and musical composition. It was established by American publisher Joseph Pulitzer and is administered by Columbia University in New York City...

 in 1989. The book was the basis for the 1997 film Wilde
Wilde (film)
Wilde is a 1997 British biographical film directed by Brian Gilbert with Stephen Fry in the title role. The screenplay by Julian Mitchell is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1987 biography of Oscar Wilde by Richard Ellmann.-Plot:...

, directed by Brian Gilbert and starring Stephen Fry
Stephen Fry
Stephen John Fry is an English actor, screenwriter, author, playwright, journalist, poet, comedian, television presenter and film director, and a director of Norwich City Football Club. He first came to attention in the 1981 Cambridge Footlights Revue presentation "The Cellar Tapes", which also...

 as the title character.

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 lack of scholarly rigour and pure conjecture. Thomas Wright's Oscar's Books (2008) explores Wilde's reading from his childhood in Dublin to his death in Paris. 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
Marginalia
Marginalia are scribbles, comments, and illuminations in the margins of a book.- Biblical manuscripts :Biblical manuscripts have liturgical notes at the margin, for liturgical use. Numbers of texts' divisions are given at the margin...

.
Wilde's charm also had a lasting effect on the Parisian literati, who have produced a number of original biographies and monographs on him. André Gide
André Gide
André Paul Guillaume Gide was a French author and winner of the Nobel Prize in literature in 1947. Gide's career ranged from its beginnings in the symbolist movement, to the advent of anticolonialism between the two World Wars.Known for his fiction as well as his autobiographical works, Gide...

, on whom Wilde had such a strange effect, wrote, In Memoriam, Oscar Wilde; Wilde also features in his journals. Thomas Louis, who had earlier translated books on Wilde into French, produced his own L’esprit d’Oscar Wilde in 1920. Modern books include Philippe Jullian's Oscar Wilde, 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.

Selected works

  • Poems (1881)
  • The Happy Prince and Other Stories
    The Happy Prince and Other Stories
    The Happy Prince and Other Tales is a collection of stories for children by Oscar Wilde first published in May 1888. It contains five stories, "The Happy Prince", "The Nightingale and the Rose", "The Selfish Giant", "The Devoted Friend", and "The Remarkable Rocket"...

    (1888, fairy stories)
  • Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories
    Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories
    Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories is a collection of short semi-comic mystery stories that were written by Oscar Wilde and published in 1891. It includes:*Lord Arthur Savile's Crime*The Canterville Ghost*The Sphinx Without a Secret...

    (1891, stories)
  • House of Pomegranates (1891, fairy stories)
  • Intentions (1891, essays and dialogues on aesthetics)
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray
    The Picture of Dorian Gray
    The Picture of Dorian Gray is the only published novel by Oscar Wilde, appearing as the lead story in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine on 20 June 1890, printed as the July 1890 issue of this magazine...

    (first published in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine
    Lippincott's Monthly Magazine
    Lippincott's Monthly Magazine was a 19th century literary magazine published in Philadelphia from 1868 to 1915, when it relocated to New York to become McBride's Magazine. It merged with Scribner's Magazine in 1916....

    July 1890, in book form in 1891; novel)
  • The Soul of Man under Socialism
    The Soul of Man under Socialism
    "The Soul of Man under Socialism" is an 1891 essay by Oscar Wilde in which he expounds an anarchist worldview. The creation of "The Soul of Man" followed Wilde's conversion to anarchist philosophy, following his reading of the works of Peter Kropotkin....

    (1891, political essay)
  • Lady Windermere's Fan
    Lady Windermere's Fan
    Lady Windermere's Fan, A Play About a Good Woman is a four act comedy by Oscar Wilde, first produced 22 February 1892 at the St James's Theatre in London. The play was first published in 1893...

    (1892, play)
  • A Woman of No Importance
    A Woman of No Importance
    A Woman of No Importance is a play by Irish playwright Oscar Wilde. The play premièred on 19 April 1893 at London's Haymarket Theatre. It is a testimony of Wilde's wit and his brand of dark comedy...

    (1893, play)
  • An Ideal Husband
    An Ideal Husband
    An Ideal Husband is an 1895 comedic stage play by Oscar Wilde which revolves around blackmail and political corruption, and touches on the themes of public and private honour...

    (performed 1895, published 1898; play)
  • The Importance of Being Earnest
    The Importance of Being Earnest
    The Importance of Being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People is a play by Oscar Wilde. First performed on 14 February 1895 at St. James's Theatre in London, it is a farcical comedy in which the protagonists maintain fictitious personae in order to escape burdensome social obligations...

    (performed 1895, published 1898; play)
  • De Profundis
    De Profundis (letter)
    De Profundis is an epistle written by Oscar Wilde during his imprisonment in Reading Gaol, to Lord Alfred Douglas. During its first half Wilde recounts their previous relationship and extravagant lifestyle which eventually led to Wilde's conviction and imprisonment for gross indecency...

    (written 1897, published variously 1905, 1908, 1949, 1962; epistle)
  • The Ballad of Reading Gaol
    The Ballad of Reading Gaol
    The Ballad of Reading Gaol is a poem by Oscar Wilde, written in exile either in Berneval or in Dieppe, France, after his release from Reading Gaol on or about 19 May 1897. Wilde had been incarcerated in Reading, after being convicted of homosexual offences in 1895 and sentenced to two years' hard...

    (1898, poem)

Further reading

Reconstructed transcripts from Wilde's three trials, with a foreword by Sir John Mortimer QC and an introduction by Merlin Holland
Merlin Holland
Christopher Merlin Vyvyan Holland is a biographer and editor. He is the son of the author Vyvyan Holland and his second wife, the former Thelma Besant, and is the only grandchild of Oscar Wilde...

.

External links

Historical societies
Historical notes
Radio programmes
Online texts by Wilde

Images
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