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 etc.).

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'.

amazon.de The Importance of Being Earnest
Oscar Wilde

For the York Notes look at:

amazon.de York Notes Advanced on The Importance of Being Earnest
Ruth Robbins

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.

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