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Oscar Wilde

Contenidos disponibles en español y en inglés - Availables resources in spanish and english - Compilador / Compiler: Jorge Tobías Colombo
 

. Chronology (English)
. Biography 1 (English)
.
Biography 2 (English)

Biografía
(En español) - Tributo a Oscar Wilde. Pecados de un irlandés en Londres - Viviana O´Connell

"Como no fue genial, no tuvo enemigos". Esta frase de Oscar Wilde resume por contraposición su propia persona. Capaz de vivir siempre en los límites, su genialidad lo empujaba a destruir barreras sociales y políticas. Pecador, si los hay, fue creador de una estética, de un personaje que le llevó la vida. 

Oscar Wilde nació en 1854 en Irlanda, el único país del mundo que encontró en la literatura el aliento y fundamento para llevar adelante una revolución política, dos años antes que George Bernard Shaw. Hijo de Sir William Wilde, científico, padre de la otología moderna y de lady Francesca Jane Elgee, quien escribía bajo el seudónimo de Speranza sus artículos políticos y poesías en las que exaltaba al pueblo irlandés; nacionalista y feminista, fue miembro del Renacimiento Literario del 48 junto a figuras como William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory y John Millington Singe. 

Nacido en un hogar fuera de lo común, hijo de padres excepcionales, fue educado en los mejores colegios de Dublín y luego en Oxford. Se casó con Constance Lloyd con quien tuvo dos hijos, le tocó en suerte vivir durante el reinado de la Reina Victoria (1837-1902). 

Cuando hacía apenas dos años que había llegado a Londres se convirtió una figura pública, caracterizó su persona desde la vestimenta, siempre a la moda y con ciertos toques extravagantes, a las opiniones intelectuales y políticas. Vivió en forma coherente con sus postulados casi toda su vida. El éxito lo acompañó, sus libros encantaban y sus obras teatrales generaban expectativa en todo Londres. La trasgresión de las austeras normas imperantes fue una constante, Wilde cenaba con panteras, muchachos de los barrios bajos.

Su lucha contra la mojigatería victoriana está planteada en términos estéticos. "Podemos perdonar a un hombre por haber hecho una cosa útil siempre que no la admire. La única disculpa que tiene el hacer una cosa inútil es que uno la admire intensamente. Todo arte es completamente inútil". Se atreve a defender, en una sociedad que se enorgullece de producir objetos útiles, al arte por el arte mismo, a la belleza como un valor en sí misma. En su ensayo La Decadencia de la mentira decía: "Las únicas cosas bellas son las que no tienen nada que ver con nosotros... Todo lo que es útil o necesario, todo lo que nos afecta en algo, dolor o placer, todo lo que se dirige a nuestra simpatía, o posee una importancia vital en el ambiente en que vivimos está fuera del dominio del arte".

En una suerte de contradicción, a pesar de haber sostenido: "Detesto la vulgaridad del realismo en la literatura. Al que es capaz de llamarle pala a una pala, deberían obligarle a usar una. Es lo único para lo que sirve", mientras se encuentra en prisión escribe la Balada de la cárcel de Reading, la que firma con su número de celda C.3.3., influenciado por la historia de un preso condenado a muerte:

Y todos los hombres matan lo que aman,
que lo oiga todo el mundo,
unos lo hacen con una mirada amarga,
otros con una palabra zalamera;
el cobarde con un beso,
¡el valiente con una espada!

"And all men kill the thing they love, 
By all let this be heard, 
Some do it with a bitter look, 
Some with a flattering word. 
The coward does it with a kiss, 
The brave man with a sword!" 1

Sus opiniones políticas, como irlandés y heredero de la poderosa influencia de su madre, lo hicieron sostener en varios ensayos que: la sensibilidad y profundidad de los celtas no tenían por qué estar sometida a la frivolidad y el burdo sentido práctico de los teutones. Afirmación que, en boca de un nativo, al decir de George Bernard Shaw, de "la otra isla de John Bull", lo enemistó con la critica literaria londinense, comprometida con la infalibilidad del proyecto burgués de civilización del imperio británico; en la creencia de que todos los pueblos del planeta le merecían incondicional entrega.

La Sociedad de la que él se rió, y que rió con él y más tarde de él, tenía a "John Bull" como el personaje que representaba el espíritu inglés, industrioso y confiable, maduro y racional, adulto y masculino. En contraposición con "Paddy", el espíritu irlandés, que es indolente, inestable y emocional, infantil y femenino.

Oscar Wilde fue juzgado tres veces. La primera vez, pasó de acusador a acusado y abandonó el banquillo para ser arrestado, la segunda fue conducido a la prisión preventiva y la tercera fue recluido en una prisión durante dos años. Perdió su fortuna y su familia, la mayoría de sus amigos le dieron la espalda. Sólo le quedaron el dolor y el conocer a la piedad como él mismo le confesó a André Gide, quien pudo conocerle personalmente, en una entrevista que éste le hiciera, y también expresado en La Balada. Al respecto, Gide cita en su ensayo In memoriam de Oscar Wilde (1992): [...] "de rodillas doy gracias a Dios por habérmela hecho conocer (La piedad). Pues yo entré en la prisión con un corazón de piedra y pensando sólo en mi placer, pero ahora mi corazón se ha roto, y la piedad ha entrado en él; y ahora comprendo que la piedad es lo más grande que hay en el mundo". 

El gran pecado del escritor irlandés quizá fue parecerse al "John Bull" y no al "Paddy" del imaginario de la sociedad británica, su dandysmo, modales aristocráticos, genialidad y estética, él mismo en su conjunto era un cachetazo al imperio, que necesitaba justificar la conquista embruteciendo a los conquistados. Su existencia era subversiva. La tirana necesita controlar todos los detalles del funcionamiento de su sociedad. Y no hay cosa más difícil de controlar que la espontaneidad de las pasiones. Éstas son increíblemente subversivas. La burguesía le negó al individuo su individualidad por lo que el individuo que no acata las reglas debe ser eliminado. 

Estoy convencido de que en un principio Dios hizo un mundo distinto para cada hombre, y que es en ese mundo, que está dentro de nosotros mismos, donde deberíamos intentar vivir. Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde, trató de vivir ese mundo personal e individual en el mundo real y el mundo real lo devoró.

Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (Dublín, 1854 - París, 1900). Hijo de un célebre otólogo irlandés y de una madre escritora, feminista, y activista política, estudió en el Trinity College de Dublín, donde fue premiado por sus conocimientos del griego clásico. Continúa sus estudios en Oxford. Discípulo de Walter Pater y muy influenciado por el pintor Whistler. En 1880 publica su primera obra de teatro Vera o los nihilistas. Publica en periódicos como el times y The World.

En 1891 publicó una serie de ensayos (Intenciones) que hicieron que se le considerase uno de los máximos representantes del esteticismo, cuyos aspectos más deslumbrantes y exquisitos puso de manifiesto tanto en su obra como en su vida. Su repudio de las convenciones y su extravagante comportamiento le hicieron famoso en los ambientes mundanos de Paris, Londres y Estados Unidos (donde en 1882 realizó una brillante gira de conferencias). Casado con Constance Lloyd, con quien tuvo dos hijos, Cyrill y Vyvyan. Dirigió The Woman's World, revista de marcada tendencia feminista, y dio a la imprenta un texto en abierta defensa del socialismo (The Soul of Man under Socialism). Tras publicar un volumen de Poemas (1881), sus celebres relatos (El príncipe feliz, 1888; El fantasma de canterville, 1888, El crimen de Lord Arthur Saville y otras narraciones, 1891), y su única novela, El retrato de Dorian Grey, considerada una de sus obras maestras, triunfó como dramaturgo con: El abanico de lady Windermere (1892), Una mujer sin importancia (1893) y La importancia de llamarse Ernesto (1895) muestras ejemplares de su enorme talento y de la sutileza de sus irónicos diálogos. 

Poco después de cumplir cuarenta años, cuando se hallaba en la cúspide del éxito, la fortuna abandonó a Oscar Wilde de manera trágica e irreparable: en 1895, el marqués de Queensberry, padre de lord Alfred Douglas, con quien mantenía una relación intima, inició contra el escritor un proceso por ultraje a la moral. Fue condenado y tras cumplir dos años de condena en prisión, primero en Wandsworth y luego en Reading (donde escribió La balada de la cárcel de Reading y De profundis), Marchó a París donde es bautizado en la fe católica, 1900. Murió de meningitis sumido en la ignominia y en la más absoluta pobreza.
 

Oscar Wilde

Chronology of Oscar Wilde

1854: Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde born in Dublin the second son of distinguished parents, a leading oculist and antiquarian Sir William Wilde and poet Jane Francesca Elgee (Speranza)

1864-71: Studies at Portora Royal School, Enniskillen

1871: Reads classics at Trinity College, Dublin

1874: Wins Berkeley Gold Medal for Greek

1874: Begins studying Classics at Magdalen College, Oxford

1878: Wins Newdigate Prize for his poem 'Ravenna'

1878: Takes BA degree

1879: Settles in London

1881: First edition of his Poems published

1882: Spends year lecturing in United States and Canada on 'The English Renaissance of Art' and 'The House Beautiful'

1883: Writes The Duchess of Padua

1883: Begins a lecture tour of Britain

1884: Marries Constance Lloyd after 6 month engagement, settles in Chelsea (London)

1885: First son, Cyril, born

1885: Wilde writes reviews for the Pall Mall Gazette

1886: Second son, Vyvyan, born

1887: Becomes editor of The Woman's World; 'The Canterville Ghost', 'The Sphinx Without a Secret', 'Lord Arthur Savile's Crimes', and 'The Model Millionaire' are published

1888: 'The Happy Prince and Other Tales' is published

1889: 'The Decay of Lying', 'Pen, Pencil and Poison', 'The Birthday of the Infanta', and 'The Portrait of Mr. W. H.' are published; Wilde gives up editorship of Woman's World

1890: First version of The Picture of Dorian Graypublished in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine. 'The Critic as Artist' published

1891: 'The Soul of Man under Socialism', 'Intentions', and 'A House of Pomegranates' are published; Wilde meets Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie); writes Salome in Paris

1892: Lady Windermere's Fan produced at St. James's Theatre; Salome is denied a licence for performance; Wilde writes A Woman of No Importance

1893: Salome is published in French; A Woman of No Importance is produced at Haymarket Theatre; writes An Ideal Husband; Lady Windermere's Fan is published

1894: Salome published in English translation; The Sphinx published; and A Woman of No Importance published

1895: An Ideal Husband produced at Haymarket Theatre; The Importance of Being Earnest produced at St. James's Theatre. Wilde finds Marquess of Queensberry's card at Albermarle Club; obtains warrant for Queensberry's arrest on a charge of criminal libel ; Queensberry goes on trial and is acquitted; Wilde is arrested, charged with gross indecency, convicted, and sentenced to two years' hard labour. Imprisoned at Pentonville, transferred to Wandsworth and finally to Reading Gaol. In November declared bankrupt.

1896: Death of his mother, Lady Wilde; Salome is produced in Paris

1897: Writes De Profundis ; is released from prison, adopts the name Sebastian Melmoth, settles first in France at Berneval; later joins Lord Alfred Douglas in Naples

1898: Moves to Paris, The Ballad of Reading Gaol is published; death of his wife, Constance

1899: The Importance of Being Earnest and An Ideal Husband are published; Wilde moves into the Hotel d'Alsace in Paris

1900: Undergoes ear operation in hotel room; is baptized a Roman Catholic and on 30 November dies of cerebral meningitis; buried at Bagneux

1905: Robert Ross publishes a version of De Profundis; Wilde's estate is discharged from bankruptcy

1909: Wilde's remains are moved from Bagneux to Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris and reinterred under Jacob Esptein's monument


Biography 1 - Source Official Web Site Oscar Wlde

Oscar Wilde’s rich and dramatic portrayals of the human condition came during the height of the Victorian Era that swept through London in the late 19th century. At a time when all citizens of Britain were finally able to embrace literature the wealthy and educated could only once afford, Wilde wrote many short stories, plays and poems that continue to inspire millions around the world.

By the time William Wilde, Oscar’s father, was 28, he had graduated as a doctor, completed a voyage to Madeira, Teneriffe, North Africa and the Middle East, studied at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, written two books and been appointed medical advisor to the Irish Census of 1841. When the medical statistics were published two years later they contained data which had not been collected in any other country at the time, and as a result, William became the Assistant Commissioner to the 1851 Census. He held the same position for the two succeeding Censuses and, in 1864, he was knighted for his work on them. When William opened a Dublin practice specializing in ear and eye diseases, he felt he should make some provision for the free treatment of the city's poor population. In 1844, he founded St. Mark's Ophthalmic Hospital, built entirely at his own expense.

Before he married, William fathered three children. Henry Wilson was born in 1838, Emily in 1847 and Mary in 1849. To William's credit, he provided financial support for all of them. He paid for Henry's education and medical studies, eventually hiring him into St. Mark's Hospital as an assistant. Sadly, Mary and Emily, who were raised by William's brother, both died in a fire at the ages of 22 and 24.

Oscar's mother, Jane Francesca Elgee, first gained attention in 1846 when she began writing revolutionary poems under the pseudonym "Speranza" for a weekly Irish newspaper, The Nation. In 1848, as the country's famine worsened and the Year of Revolution took hold of Europe, the newspaper offices were raided and had to close. Jane, who was also a gifted linguist with working knowledge of the major European languages, went on to translate Wilhelm Meinhold's gothic horror novel “Sidonia the Sorceress.” Oscar would later read the translation with relish, and draw on it for the darker elements of his own work.

Jane's first child, William "Willie" Charles Kingsbury, was born on September 26, 1852 and her second, Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie, on October 16, 1854. The daughter she had longed for, Isola Emily Francesca, was delivered on April 2, 1857. Ten years later, however, Emily died from a sudden fever. Oscar was profoundly affected by the loss of his sister, and for his lifetime he carried a lock of her hair sealed in a decorated envelope.

Willie and Oscar attended the Portora Royal School at Enniskillen, where Oscar excelled at studying the classics, taking top prize his last two years, and also earning a second prize in drawing. In 1871, Oscar was awarded the Royal School Scholarship to attend Trinity College in Dublin. Again, he did particularly well in his classics courses, placing first in his examinations in 1872 and earning the highest honor the college could bestow on an undergraduate, a Foundation Scholarship. In 1874, Oscar crowned his successes at Trinity with two final achievements. He won the college's Berkeley Gold Medal for Greek and was awarded a Demyship scholarship to Magdalen College in Oxford.

Oscar's father died on April 19, 1876, leaving the family financially strapped. Henry, William's eldest son, paid the mortgage on the family's house and supported them until his sudden death in 1877. Meanwhile, Oscar continued to do well at Oxford. He was awarded the Newdigate prize for his poem, “Ravenna,” and a First Class in both his "Mods" and "Greats" by his examiners. After graduation, Oscar moved to London to live with his friend Frank Miles, a popular high society portrait painter. In 1881, he published his first collection of poetry. “Poems” received mixed reviews by critics, but helped to move Oscar's writing career along.

In December 1881, Oscar sailed for New York to travel across the United States and deliver a series of lectures on aesthetics. The 50-lecture tour was originally scheduled to last four months, but stretched to nearly a year, with over 140 lectures given in 260 days. In between lectures he made time to meet with Henry Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Walt Whitman. He also arranged for his play, “Vera,” to be staged in New York the following year. When he returned from America, Oscar spent three months in Paris writing a blank-verse tragedy that had been commissioned by the actress Mary Anderson. When he sent it to her, however, she turned it down. He then set off on a lecture tour of Britain and Ireland.

On May 29, 1884, Oscar married Constance Lloyd. Constance was four years younger than Oscar and the daughter of a prominent barrister who died when she was 16. She was well-read, spoke several European languages and had an outspoken, independent mind. Oscar and Constance had two sons in quick succession, Cyril in 1885 and Vyvyan in 1886. With a family to support, Oscar accepted a job revitalizing the Woman's World magazine, where he worked from 1887-1889. The next six years were to become the most creative period of his life. He published two collections of children's stories, “The Happy Prince and Other Tales” (1888), and “The House of Pomegranates” (1892). His first and only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, was published in an American magazine in 1890 to a storm of critical protest. He expanded the story and had it published in book form the following year. Its implied homoerotic theme was considered very immoral by the Victorians and played a considerable part in his later legal trials. Oscar's first play, “Lady Windermere's Fan,” opened in February 1892. Its financial and critical success prompted him to continue to write for the theater. His subsequent plays included “A Woman of No Importance” (1893), “An Ideal Husband” (1895), and “The Importance of Being Earnest” (1895). These plays were all highly acclaimed and firmly established Oscar as a playwright.

In the summer of 1891, Oscar met Lord Alfred 'Bosie' Douglas, the third son of the Marquis of Queensberry. Bosie was well acquainted with Oscar's novel “Dorian Gray” and was an undergraduate at Oxford. They soon became lovers and were inseparable until Wilde's arrest four years later. In April 1895, Oscar sued Bosie's father for libel as the Marquis had accused him of homosexuality. Oscar withdrew his case but was himself arrested and convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to two years hard labor. Constance took the children to Switzerland and reverted to an old family name, “Holland.”

Upon his release, Oscar wrote “The Ballad of Reading Gaol,” a response to the agony he experienced in prison. It was published shortly before Constance's death in 1898. He and Bosie reunited briefly, but Oscar mostly spent the last three years of his life wandering Europe, staying with friends and living in cheap hotels. Sadly, he was unable to rekindle his creative fires. When a recurrent ear infection became serious several years later, meningitis set in, and Oscar Wilde died on November 30, 1900.

Numerous books and articles have been written on Oscar Wilde, reflecting on the life and contributions of this unconventional author since his death over a hundred years ago. A celebrity in his own time, Wilde’s indelible influence will remain as strong as ever and keep audiences captivated in perpetuity.

Literary works

1878 Ravenna
1881 Poems
1888 The Happy Prince and Other Tales
1889 The Decay of Lying
1891 The Picture of Dorian Gray
1891 Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime and Other Stories
1891 Intentions
1891 Salome
1892 The House of Pomegranates
1892 Lady Windermere’s Fan
1893 A Woman of No Importance
1893 The Duchess of Padua
1894 The Sphinx
1895 An Ideal Husband
1895 The Importance of Being Earnest
1898 The Ballad of Reading Gaol

Quotes

Men

"No man is rich enough to buy back his past."

"Good resolutions are simply checks that men draw on a bank where they have no account."

"Men become old, but they never become good."
-- “Lady Windermere's Fan”

"I delight in men over seventy, they always offer one the devotion of a lifetime. "
-- “A Woman of No Importance”

"How many men there are in modern life who would like to see their past burning to white ashes before them!"
-- “An Ideal Husband”

"A man who moralizes is usually a hypocrite, and a woman who moralizes is invariably plain."
-- “Lady Windermere's Fan”

"Nowadays all the married men live like bachelors and all the bachelors live like married men."
-- “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

"I don't like compliments, and I don't see why a man should think he is pleasing a woman enormously when he says to her a whole heap of things that he doesn't mean."
-- “Lady Windermere's Fan”

Women

"One should never trust a woman who tells one her real age. A woman who would tell one that, would tell one anything."
-- “A Woman of No Importance”

"Crying is the refuge of plain women but the ruin of pretty ones."
-- “Lady Windermere's Fan”

"Men know life too early. Women know life too late. That is the difference between men and women."
-- “A Woman of No Importance”

"Women are meant to be loved, not to be understood."
-- “The Sphinx Without a Secret”

"It takes a thoroughly good woman to do a thoroughly stupid thing."
-- “Lady Windermere's Fan”

"I don't know that women are always rewarded for being charming. I think they are usually punished for it!"
-- “An Ideal Husband”

"I don't think there is a woman in the world who would not be a little flattered if one made love to her. It is that which makes women so irresistibly adorable."
-- “A Woman of No Importance”

"My dear young lady, there was a great deal of truth, I dare say, in what you said, and you looked very pretty while you said it, which is much more important."
-- “A Woman of No Importance”

"Women give to men the very gold of their lives. But they invariably want it back in such very small change."
-- “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

"I am sick of women who love one. Women who hate one are much more interesting."
-- “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

"I prefer women with a past. They're always so damned amusing to talk to."
-- “Lady Windermere's Fan”

People

"People who count their chickens before they are hatched, act very wisely, because chickens run about so absurdly that it is impossible to count them accurately."
-- Letter from Paris, dated May 1900

"The more one analyses people, the more all reasons for analysis disappear. Sooner of later one comes to that dreadful universal thing called human nature."
-- “The Decay of Lying”

"The public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing."
-- “The Soul of Man Under Socialism”

"Most men and women are forced to perform parts for which they have no qualification."
-- “Lord Arthur Savile's Crime”

"It is perfectly monstrous the way people go about, nowadays, saying things against one behind one's back that are absolutely and entirely true."
-- “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

Life

"Life is much too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it."
-- “Vera, of The Nihilists”

"The Book of Life begins with a man and woman in a garden. It ends with Revelations."
-- “A Woman of No Importance”

"Life is never fair...And perhaps it is a good thing for most of us that it is not."
-- “An Ideal Husband”

"You must not find symbols in everything you see. It makes life impossible."
-- “Salome”

"We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell."
-- “The Duchess of Padua”

"The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast."
-- “Lord Arthur Savile's Crime”

Love

"Nothing spoils a romance so much as a sense of humor in the woman - or the want of it in the man."
-- “A Woman of No Importance”

"One should always be in love. That is the reason one should never marry."
-- “A Woman of No Importance”

"To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance."
-- “An Ideal Husband”

"A kiss may ruin a human life."
-- “A Woman of No Importance”

"A man can be happy with any woman as long as he does not love her."
-- “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

"Young men want to be faithful and are not; old men want to be faithless and cannot."
-- “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

"Faithfulness is to the emotional life what consistency is to the life of the intellect - simply a confession of failures."
-- “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

Biography 2 - Source Neurotic Poets -
Brenda C Mondragon

It is not so much his own neuroticism but rather the pathologically expressed moral values of the times he lived in which caused Oscar Wilde to plummet from the height of a brilliant career into the very depths.

Granted, he did have a set of eccentric parents. His father, Sir William Wilde was a noted eye and ear surgeon, who had several illegitimate children from extramarital affairs. Oscar's mother, Lady Jane Elgee Wilde, was a flamboyant and unconventional woman (for her time), a poetess and a nationalist who fought for women's rights. She went by the pen-name of "Speranza".

Oscar was born in Dublin on October 16, 1854, two years after the eldest son of the family, William. Because Lady Wilde had longed for a daughter as a second child, she is said to have often dressed little Oscar in girls' clothing. A daughter, Isola, was born to the family in 1858 but she died at the age of eight, which affected the twelve-year old Oscar deeply. He had been close to his little sister and he later wrote the poem Requiescat to perpetuate her memory.

Wilde excelled at Trinity College, Dublin from 1871 to 1874, eventually winning a scholarship to Magdalene College in Oxford which he entered in 1875. The biggest influences on Wilde's development as an artist at this time were Swinburne, Walter Pater and John Ruskin. His reckless side began to manifest itself as well. It is while at Oxford that he is rumored to have contracted syphilis after a night with a female prostitute. Friends also tell of an incident in the college chapel with the visiting Prince Leopold of Belgium and his accompaniment of Mrs. Liddel and her daughter Alice (the Alice of Carroll's Alice in Wonderland) in attendance. When it was Wilde's turn to read the first lesson, he began to recite The Song of Solomon in a languorous voice. Promptly taking action to correct him, the Dean of Arts exclaimed "You have the wrong lesson Mr. Wilde. It is Deuteronomy XVI!" Oscar's associate George Thomas Atkinson, who later reported the incident in a book, commented "Poor Oscar! he was so thoroughly enjoying himself." 

During 1875-1876 Oscar published poetry in several literary magazines. In 1876 he found himself back in Ireland after the death of his father left the family with several debts. It was there that Oscar had a brief romantic affair with a girl named Florence Balcome, who later married Bram Stoker. In 1878, Wilde continued writing poetry in earnest, and won the coveted Newdigate Prize for English poetry with Ravenna. He soon left Oxford to build himself a reputation among the literati in London.

And what a reputation he built. During the 1880's Wilde would establish himself as a writer, poet, and lecturer, but above all as a "Professor of Aesthetics". In late 1881, after publishing the volume Poems at his own expense, he began a lecture tour of the United States. A well-known Wilde anecdote states that at customs upon his entry to America, when asked if he had anything to declare, Oscar replied: "Nothing but my genius." Sporting knee-breeches, velvet coat, long hair and lace cuffs, Wilde would often give up to six lectures per week, speaking of the "Principles of Aestheticism" with a poetic grace:

...let there be no flower in your meadows that does not wreathe its tendrils around your pillows, no little leaf in your Titan forests that does not lend its form to design, no curving spray of wild rose or brier that does not live for ever in carven arch of window or marble, no bird in your air that is not giving the iridescent wonder of its colour, the exquisite curves of its wings in flight, to make more precious the preciousness of simple adornment. For the voices that have their dwelling in the sea and mountain are not the chosen music of liberty only. Other messages are there in the wonder of wind-swept heights and the majesty of silent deep--messages that, if you will listen to them, will give you the wonder of all new imagination, the treasure of all new beauty.

We spend our days, each one of us, in looking for the secret of life. Well, the secret of life is in art.

On a stop in Leadville, Colorado, Wilde remarked that a saloon sign stating "Please do not shoot the pianist. He is doing his best." demonstrated "the only rational method of art criticism I have ever come across." While in the states, Oscar also met various artists and writers, including Walt Whitman and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The American tour, from the east to the west coast, helped establish Wilde as an expert on "matters of art and taste".

Once back in the UK in 1882, Wilde went on a short lecture tour and later spent a few months in Paris. His poem The Harlot's House could well have been inspired by a night spent with a local French prostitute. Wilde published his first major play, The Duchess of Padua, in 1883.

Wilde's witticisms became legendary as stories about him spread through social circles. He was seen as flamboyant, often dressing in knee breeches and lace cuffs. At a reception he reportedly greeted someone with the biting line: "Oh I'm so glad you've come! There are a hundred things I want not to say to you." At a lunch party he declared that there was no subject upon which he could not speak at a moment's notice. One man raised his glass and said "The Queen", to which Oscar replied "She is not a subject."

On May 29, 1884 Oscar married Constance Lloyd in London. Of her, he had once told a friend "...she knows I am the greatest poet, so in literature she is all right." Sons soon followed, Cyril in 1885 and Vyvyan in 1886. Soon after the birth of his second son, Wilde quipped that they were thinking of calling him Nothing--"as then it can be said that he is Nothing Wilde."

During these years Wilde worked as a journalist and reviewer, while also continuing with his other writing, poetry and plays. In 1890 he published his now well-known story The Picture of Dorian Gray. The early 1890's were the most intellectually productive and fruitful time for Wilde. Some of his most familiar plays such as Lady Windemere's Fan and Salome were written and performed upon the London stages. The controversy caused when Salome was banned for its portrayal of biblical characters, forbidden under an old rule, only heightened Wilde's reputation as a maverick.

In the summer of 1891, Wilde first met Lord Alfred Douglas, the son of the Marquis of Queensberry and an undergraduate at Oxford. His resulting relationship with Alfred, nicknamed "Bosie", was to alter the course of the rest of his life. Although Douglas later maintained that they had never committed sodomy, whispers were circulating in London Society of Wilde's homosexual tendencies and practices. Over time he had grown increasingly reckless about secretive liaisons with stableboys, clerks and servants, leaving himself open to frequent blackmailing attempts. Oscar was also turning to alcohol and his friends write of often seeing him in an intoxicated state.

He lavished time, attention and money on Bosie in these years during their affair, and although Douglas' father Queensbury developed a violent and irrational hatred for Wilde, Douglas insisted on flaunting the relationship. As Bosie wrote to his mother in 1894: "You cannot do anything against the power of my affection for Oscar Wilde and his for me".

In 1893 Wilde produced A Woman of No Importance and An Ideal Husband, followed in 1894 by The Importance of Being Earnest and the poem The Sphinx. The obsessed Marquis of Queensberry attempted to disrupt the opening night performance of The Importance of Being Earnest, but his plans were found out. Only a few days later, Queensberry left a calling card for Wilde at a London club addressed for "Oscar Wilde posing as a somdomite" [sic]. After this and other aggressive acts by the Marquis, spurred on by Bosie yet against the advice of most of his friends, Wilde filed a suit against Queensbury for criminal libel.

Wilde soon found the tables turned upon himself however as he answered charges made against him from an 1885 law which made "homosexual relations between men" illegal. The accusations didn't include Lord Douglas, but rather were based on alleged "acts of gross indecency" with several male prostitutes, with evidence gathered by detectives hired by Queensbury. On May 25, 1895 Oscar Wilde was convicted and sentenced to two years imprisonment with hard labor. As a friend of his stated: "I have seen many awful happenings at the Old Bailey, but to me no death sentence has ever seemed so terrible as the one Justice Wills delivered when his duty called upon him to destroy and take from the world the man who had given it so much".

The time spent in jail was the beginning of the end for Wilde. He soon declared bankruptcy and his property was auctioned off. In late 1895, his transfer from Wandsworth to Reading Gaol was to provide a traumatic experience which Wilde later wrote of:

From two o'clock till half past two on that day I had to stand on the centre platform at Clapham Junction in convict dress and handcuffed, for the world to look at.... Of all possible objects I was the most grotesque. When people saw me they laughed. Each train as it came in swelled the audience. Nothing could exceed their amusement.... For half an hour I stood there in the grey November rain surrounded by a jeering mob.

It is said that one onlooker, upon recognizing the prisoner as Oscar Wilde stepped up to him and spat in his face. The incident affected Wilde dramatically for years afterwards, as he wept at the same hour every day.

The imprisonment and hard labour consisted of a thirteen by seven foot cell, with planks for a bed, and useless work designed to break the spirit. In 1896 Wilde lost legal custody of his children. When his mother died that same year, his wife Constance visited him at the jail to bring him the news. It was the last time they were to see each other before her death in 1898.

After his release in May of 1897, Wilde immediately moved to France and resumed his relationship with Lord Douglas. In 1898 He published his poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol, spurred by his jail time experience of the execution of a prisoner who had slit his wife's throat.

In the years after his release Wilde's health deteriorated, and in 1900 he underwent an operation to attempt to fix middle ear problems which had been exacerbated from a fall in his prison cell. After the operation in October he remained bedridden and soon developed an abscess in the ear which led to cerebral meningitis. He died in Paris on November 30 at the age of forty-six, after being semi-comatose for days. Yet he could not leave this world without a last dose of his characteristic wit, quipping about the shabby wallpaper in his room: "One of us had to go."

After being buried first at Bagneux, his remains were moved in 1909 to Pere Lachaise in Paris where a large winged stone figure adorns his grave, inscribed with lines from The Ballad of Reading Gaol:

And alien tears will fill for him
Pity's long broken urn.
For his mourners will be outcast,
And outcasts always mourn men.

Despite his undignified end, today Wilde is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. Perhaps it is society's attempt to redeem itself for those who condemned this brilliant man to ruin. Wilde has been portrayed on stage and in a film biography. His An Ideal Husband was recently released as a major motion picture and a new sculpture in London was dedicated to his memory. Oscar Wilde walked the line between insider and outsider, balancing a conflicting public and private life in anti-homosexual late Victorian society--a precarious situation which led to disaster.

© 1997-2006 Brenda C. Mondragon
 


 

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