Insight into Oscar Wilde's life is provided by his novel 'The Picture of Dorian Gray', which is
thoroughly autobiographical. His flamboyant, extraordinary lifestyle is mirrored in the painting of
Dorian Gray which portrays both the perverted, elder Wilde (in the character of Lord Henry) and
the younger, gorgeous but soulless Dorian, who has been corrupted by Lord Henry. Seldom had
there been an artist that combined both intellectual genius and anarchic eccentricity.
Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin in 1854. His parents were the talented, but eccentric Lady Jane
Wilde, who called herself 'Speranza' (in order to associate herself with Dante Alighieri and the
Italian aristocracy), and William Wilde, a prominent eye- and ear-surgeon.
The Wildes lived in a Victorian middle class area of Dublin, aspiring to aristocracy, an obviously
middle class obsession in that time. Speranza held a weekly Salon (discussion group) in a
candle-lit front room which attracted Dublin's brightest artists such as John Ruskin. It was his
mother who aroused in Oscar a sense for classical history and superstition.
In 1971 Oscar Wilde was awarded a scholarship for Trinity College in Dublin, where he got
acquainted with the college's Greek scholar John P. Mahaffey, who aroused Wilde's interest in
the 'Greek Ideal' and the study of aesthetic theory. Aestheticism became one of Wilde's
hallmarks and linked himself to their representatives, called Pre-Raphaelites (Morris, Ruskin
It was at Magdalen College in Oxford where Wilde went next and met Ruskin and Walter Pater,
another predecessor of modernism. Wilde was caught between Ruskin's love for the moral Middle
Ages and Pater's love for the aesthetic Rennaissance. Later Wilde felt more attracted by Pater.
Wilde's interest in Catholicism was not due to to a belief in a religious system, but being an
aesthete he was attracted by the Catholic Church's rituals, ceremonies, opulence and imagery.
After Wilde had finished Oxford and his father had died, his mother moved to Chelsea in London
where she established another parlour (Salon) which became a venue of great minds.
In 1882 Wilde went on a lecture tour of the United States where he preached the 'Cult of the
Artificial' (in contrast to the natural which he associated with the lower classes). When he
returned from his unsuccessful trip to the USA (at the customs he said, 'I have nothing to
declare.....except my genius.'), he turned to the aesthetic movement 'Art for Art's Sake' (touring
Britain and France), before he violated his bachelor's principle and settled down to marry the
attractive Constance Lloyd in 1884. The two had a horrible marriage which didn't last long.
The following years after 1889 were his most productive ones as he produced his witty and
scandalous plays like 'Lady Windermere's Fan', 'A Woman of no Importance' and his famous novel 'The Picture of Dorian Gray'.
Worthwhile reading in an LK English is definitely 'The Importance of Being Earnest'.
For the York Notes look at:
Wilde got acclaim for his works, but at the same time became increasingly interested in
homosexuality and Platoism. He began a close relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas (called
'Bosie'), an undergraduate at Oxford. When Bosie's father, Lord Queensberry, learned about his
son's relationship with Wilde, The Lord tried to sue him and eventually Wilde was accused of
sodomy and given a three-year sentence, by which his reputation was ruined. Wilde died in a
lonely Paris hotel room, deprived of all his arrogance and beauty, not unlike the painting of Dorian
Gray.More on Wilde you'll find on this site: