The Life & Legacy of Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde is a well-known Irish poet and playwright who was born on October 16, 1854 in Dublin, Ireland under the full name of Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde. As a child, Oscar’s love of poetry was passed down from his mother after she would read poetry to him and his brother William. Oscar was homeschooled until the age of nine before being placed in a school by the name of Portora Royal School. Later on, Wilde won a scholarship and attended Trinity Scholarship in Dublin, and went on to win the Berkeley Gold Medal, Trinity College’s highest academic award for Greek. After his education at Trinity College, Wilde studied at Magdalen College in Oxford, where he pursued Classic literature (i.e., literature focused on Ancient Rome, Ancient Greece, Latin, ancient Greek and philosophy).

During his time in Oxford, Wilde became deeply interested in Catholicism and developed what would become a lifelong interest in studying Catholic theology. Although he couldn’t bring himself to follow through with an official conversion to Catholicism, Wilde still held onto much of the Catholic theology that he had learned. While he was still attending Magdalen College, Wilde delved further into his studies on aestheticism and the aesthetic and decadent movements, which he had been involved with since his days at Trinity College. It was at this point in his life that Wilde began to start building a lavish, dramatic, and somewhat extravagant reputation that would eventually begin to look more like a myth than a reputation. Following his graduation from Magdalen College, Wilde briefly lived in Ireland again before permanently moving to England in 1878.

Wilde published his first book of poetry at the age of 27, and it was extremely well received – the first round of published copies, roughly 750 in total, sold out quickly and prompted a second round of publishing for the book. However, the Oxford Union declared that the book was a result of plagiarism, and some of the libraries that requested Wilde’s book returned them after hearing the Oxford Union’s ruling. The Oxford Union’s rulings didn’t deter Wilde, however – he still went on a tour of North America the following year and experienced commercial success with his writings. After his return from his North American literary tour, Wilde traveled between Paris and London, giving tours and guest lectures on his writings and the aestheticism movement. It was during one of these tour lectures that he met and fell in love with his wife, a woman named Constance Lloyd.

Touring, lecturing, and maintaining a married life didn’t stop Wilde from writing – he continued to produce poetry, write play scripts, short stories, essays, and even a novel named The Picture of Dorian Grey during the 1880s and 1890s. Although Wilde had two children with his wife, their marriage began to decline after their second child, and rumors of Wilde’s increasing interest in homosexuality began to spread – which resulted in Wilde pursuit a legal case against Queensbury for criminal libel for publicly accusing him of sodomy. In addition to telling Wilde to flee to France to avoid being legally punished or thrown in jail (since homosexuality was still illegal in the 19th century), some of Wilde’s friends attempted to convince him not to press the case since the opposition would have concrete evidence for their claims, and that Wilde would be unable to dispel the evidence.

Ignoring his friends’ advice, Wilde stayed and pursued the case, which went on trial for several days before Wilde followed the advice of his lawyers and dropped the charges that he was pressing. As a result, the judges of the case ruled that Queensbury wasn’t guilty (and proving that he was right about Wilde being a sodomite), and that Wilde had to cover Queensbury’s legal fees due to the Libel Act of 1843. Because of the court’s ruling, a warrant for Wilde’s arrest was issued almost as soon as the court session ended. The charges on the arrest warrant stated that Wilde was wanted for sodomy and “gross indecency.” A second trial went to court after the warrant was issued, and the jury in this trial was unable to reach a verdict on whether or not Wilde should remain in jail or be freed. Because of this jury’s inability to reach a verdict, the case went on to have a a third and final trial, which ended with Wilde admitting to being gay and resulted in him being imprisoned from May of 1895 to May of 1897.

During Wilde’s time in jail, he turned more and more towards Catholicism and spirituality, but was denied the chance to go on a spiritual retreat with the Society of Jesus. After being released from jail, Wilde spent the last three years of his life in France as the result of an exile. Wilde lived under the pseudonym of Sebastian Melmoth, and he lived in rather abject poverty before passing away from meningitis on November 30, 1900. After his death, Wilde was buried in  Père Lachaise Cemetery inside the city of Paris, France. Wilde, along with an estimated 50,000 other men, was also posthumously pardoned for being gay in 2017 as a result of the Alan Turing Law.


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