How greatly remiss we would be if during a week that focuses on things “Irish”, we didn’t mention one of our favorite Irish writers, Oscar Wilde. He often gets overlooked in favor of Shaw or Joyce, but Wilde was a universal talent, as brilliant at poetry as plays, novels and epigrams. Seemingly there was nothing Wilde could not to, except perhaps stay out of trouble. How truly Irish!
Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde (1854 – 1900) was one of London’s most popular playwrights in the early 1890s. His parents were Dublin intellectuals, and Oscar didn’t fall far from the tree. Fluent in French and German an outstanding classicist, first at Dublin, then at Oxford, he joined in the trendy philosophy of aestheticism (led by two of his tutors, Walter Pater and John Ruskin) and deeply explored Roman Catholicism (to which he converted on his deathbed).
Wilde moved to London and entered into fashionable cultural and social circles. He published a book of poems, lectured America and Canada on the new “English Renaissance in Art” and he worked as a London journalist. Known for his biting wit, flamboyant dress, and glittering conversation, Wilde would soon become one of the major personalities of his day.
Among some of his best works: his children’s stories, The Happy Prince and Other Tales , comic crime fiction, Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime and Other Stories, more adult children’s stories The House of Pomegranates, his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), his poetry, The Ballad of Reading Gaol, and his plays, Salome (1891), Lady Windermere’s Fan, and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). Definitely the man was all arounder.
After a series of trials, Wilde was convicted of being a gay man basically and given two years hard labour. In prison he wrote De Profundis, describing his spiritual journey through his trials, which interestingly juxaposes his earlier philosophy of pleasure. Upon his release in 1897, he moved France, and he wrote his last work, The Ballad of Reading Gaol, to commemorate his prison experience. He died destitute in Paris at the age of forty-six of cerebral menegitis with his son at his bedside.