Oscar Wilde

Date of birth: 
16 Oct 1854
City of birth: 
Country of birth: 
Date of death: 
30 Nov 1900
Location of death: 
Paris, France

Oscar Wilde was an Anglo-Irish poet, playwright, literary critic and dandy of legendary wit. Born directly outside Trinity College Dublin, where he was to later to excel as a Classicist, his father was a prominent eye surgeon and his mother was an Irish nationalist poet known by the nom de plume ‘Speranza.’ In 1874 he went up to Oxford to read Greats at Magdalen College, and it was there that he first began to publish verse, and to develop a uniquely enthralling cult of personality. Raising eyebrows with his contempt of physical sports and an almost religious attitude to literature and art, he became known by his detractors as the ignoble figurehead of an emerging party of so-called ‘Aesthetes.’ A moniker that rapidly took on satirical connotations, it in fact suited Wilde’s conviction, strengthened at Oxford by encounters with John Ruskin and Walter Pater, that sensibility of beauty was the defining characteristic of humanity, and that the cultivation of taste was a sacred task. He cultivated an aesthetics of supreme artifice, promoted by his work and encapsulated in his lifestyle, its own symbol the green carnation that often adorned his lapel.

Wilde met Manmohan Ghose in London and wrote a favourable review of Primavera, the poems published by Binyon, Ghose, Cripps and Phillips in the Pall Mall Gazette in 1890. His theatrical masterwork, The Importance of Being Earnest, premiered even as his own downfall was set in motion by the depositing of an insulting note at his club by the Marquess of Queensberry. The pugnacious noble’s son, Lord Alfred Douglas, had been Wilde’s friend and sometime lover since 1891. Wilde’s rash attempt to sue Queensberry for libel resulted in his own prosecution for gross indecency, and the humiliating revelation of a sexual life undreamt of by the contemporary public. Despite his public defence of ‘the love that dare not speak its name’, Wilde has sentenced to two years with hard labour, an experience that led to his last major poem, The Ballad of Reading Gaol, and the prison letter De Profundis which is now read as his memoir and valediction. His health broken, he died in destitute exile in Paris aged forty-six.

Published works: 

Poems (1881)
The Happy Prince and Other Stories (1888)
Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories (1891)
Intentions (1891)
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890-1)
Salome (1891)
Lady Windermere's Fan (1892)
A Woman of No Importance (1893)
An Ideal Husband (1895)
The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)
The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898)
De Profundis (1905)

Contributions to periodicals: 

Pall Mall Gazette, 24 May 1890 (Review of Primavera)

Secondary works: 

Ellmann, Richard, Oscar Wilde (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1987)

Gandhi, Leela, Affective Communities: Anticolonial Thought and the Politics of Friendship (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006)

McKenna, Neil, The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde (London: Arrow Books, 2004)


Oscar Wilde's review of Primavera in Pall Mall Gazette, 24 May 1890


These new singers are Mr Laurence Binyon, who has just gained the Newdigate; Mr Manmohan Ghose, a young Indian of brilliant scholarship and high literary attainments who gives some culture to Christ Church; Mr Stephen Phillips, whose recent performance of the Ghost in "Hamlet" at the Globe Theatre was so admirable in its dignity and elocution, and Mr Arthur Cripps, of Trinity. Particular interest attaches naturally to Mr Ghose's work. Born in India, of purely Indian parentage, he has been brought up entirely in England, and was educated at St Paul's School, and his verses show us how quick and subtly are the intellectual sympathies of the Oriental mind, and suggest how close is the bond of union that may some day bind India to us by other methods than those of commerce and military strength.

Archive source: 

Oscar Wilde Collection, William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, Los Angeles

Oscar Wilde Papers, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin