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Essay/Term paper: Oscar wilde

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Biography Term Papers

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Oscar Wilde


Oscar Wilde (real name Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde) was born on
October 16th, 1854 in Dublin. His father, William Robert Wilde, was an eminent
eye doctor, with an interest in myths and folklore. He was the founder of the
first eye and ear hospital in Great Britain, as well as the appointed Surgeon
Occultist to the Queen, who knighted him. His mother, Jane Francesca Elgee
Wilde, was a poet who wrote patriotic Irish verse under the pen name Speranza,
and had a considerable following. As a youngster, Wilde was exposed to the
brilliant literary talk of the day at his mother's Dublin salon.

In 1864 Wilde entered the Portora Royal School at Enniskillen, and in
1871 entered Trinity College in Dublin. In 1874 he left Ireland and went to
England to attend Magdalen College at Oxford. As a student there, he excelled
in classics, wrote poetry, and incorporated the Bohemian life style of his youth
into a unique way of life. He came under the influence of aesthetic innovators
such as English writers Walter Pater and John Ruskin. He found the aesthetic
movement's notions of "art for art's sake" and dedicating one's life to art
suitable to his temperament and talents. As an aesthete, Wilde wore long hair
and velvet knee breeches, and became known for his eccentricity as well as his
academic ability. His rooms were filled with various objets d'art such as
sunflowers, peacock feathers, and blue china. Wilde frequently confided that
his greatest challenge at University was learning to live up to the perfection
of the china. Wilde won numerous academic prizes while studying there,
including the Newdigate Prize, a coveted poetry award, for his poem Ravenna.

In 1879 Wilde moved to London to make himself famous. He set about
establishing himself as the leader and model of the aesthetic movement. Besides
his hair and breeches, he added loose-fitting wide-collared silk shirts with
flowing ties and lavender colored gloves. He frequently carried a jewel-topped
cane and was caricatured in the press flamboyantly attired and holding an over-
sized sunflower, an icon of the movement. Wilde quickly became well known
despite having any substantial achievements to build on. His natural wit and
good humor endeared him to the art and theater world, and through his lover
Frank Miles, he found it easy to become part of the cliques that frequented
London's theater circuit and drawing rooms. He became a much desired party
guest, and eventually his popularity led to his being chosen as an advance
publicity man for a new Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, Patience, that spoofed
aesthetes like himself.

In 1881, Wilde's first book of poems, called Poems, was published. In
1882, short of money, he accepted an invitation to embark on a lecture tour of
America. He produced his first play in New York City, called Vera, about
nihilism in Russia. According to some, it was canceled at the last moment,
probably for political reasons; others say he saw it performed there but that
it ran unsuccessfully. Throughout that year he lectured in 70 American cities
as well as Ontario and Quebec in Canada on the arts and literature. The tour was
an unmitigated smash and Wilde returned to London in 1883 in triumph and richer
by several thousand pounds.

By the time he returned from America he had already tired of being the
Great Aesthete and began dressing more conventionally. He did a successful tour
of the U.K. He also wrote his second unsuccessful play, The Duchess Of Padua.
In 1884, he married Constance Lloyd, the daughter of an Irish barrister. They
had two sons, Cyril and Vyvyan. The family moved into a house in Chelsea, an
artist section of London. In 1887, he took a job at Woman's World, a popular
magazine for which he wrote literary criticism. In 1888 he published The Happy
Prince and Other Tales, a collection of original fairy tales which he wrote for
his sons. Two years later he tired of journalism and journalists. He returned
to partying and spending his time with friends and lovers, often overstepping
the bounds of what was considered morally and socially proper for the time.

In 1890 his novel, The Picture Of Dorian Gray, was published in
Lippincott's Magazine. It raised a storm of protest to thinly veiled allusions
to the protagonist's homosexuality. In 1891 he published Intentions, a
collection of dialogues about the aesthetic philosophy; Lord Arthur Savile's
Crime, a collection of short stories; and A House Of Pomegranates, a collection
of children's' stories. He also produced The Duchess Of Padua. In that same
year he met and befriended Lord Alfred Douglas, the son of the Marquess of
Queensberry. In 1892, he produced Lady Windermere's Fan; in 1893, A Woman of
No Importance; and in 1895, the Importance of Being Earnest, which was hailed
as the first modern comedy in English, as well as An Ideal Husband. All were
very successful, and Wilde became the toast of London. His only setback in
these years was with his play Salome, originally written in French, which was
banned by Lord Chamberlain under an old law forbidding theatrical depiction of
biblical characters. Renowned actress Sarah Bernhardt, who was to appear in the
play, produced it in Paris in 1894. Thirteen years later German composer
Richard Strauss turned it into a successful opera.

In 1895, Wilde began flaunting his off-and-on relationship with Douglas
in public. Outraged by this, the Marquess of Queensberry left a visiting card at
Wilde's London club, the Albemarle, upon which he had written, "To Oscar Wilde
posing as a somdomite" (sic). Wilde sued him for libel but lost the case and was
charged with homosexual offenses. The jury failed to reach a decision but at a
second trial he was found guilty and sentenced to two years in Reading Gaol, a
labor prison. There Wilde was declared bankrupt, and his house and possessions
were sold to pay off his debts. An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being
Earnest, which were both running very successfully, were closed.


In 1897, while in prison, Wilde wrote a 30,000 word letter to Douglas,
published after his death with the title De Profundis, which was a moving
description of his spiritual progress to religious insight. It is regarded as
possibly being his most important and mature statement on life and art in
general, and his own life and art in particular. Wilde left prison on May 19th,
1897 and left For France. He began wandering around Europe using the alias
Sebastian Melmoth (Sebastian was the Christian martyr slain in a hail of arrows).
In 1898 he published his best-known poem, The Ballad of Reading Gaol, a gripping
account of prison brutality based on his own harrowing experiences with a plea
for prison reform. This came that same year with The Prisons Act, which was
partly due to his writing. Also that year came the death of his wife.

During these last years Wilde sank deeper into a despair from which none
of his friends could extricate him. He was in poor health, living on borrowed
money and the kindness of friends and sympathetic hotel managers. In 1899 he
was baptized by the Roman Catholic Church. He died on November 30th, 1900, in
Hotel d'Alsace in Paris, suffering from cerebral meningitis. Among his last
words were, "It's the wallpaper or me - one of us has to go." He was buried at
Pere LaChaise cemetery in Bagneaux. Lord Alfred Douglas was one of the attendees
at his funeral. In 1912 a monument to him was erected at the gravesite by an
anonymous woman.


 

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