Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born and grew up in Dublin. He was the son of a surgeon, Sir William Wilde and the writer Jane Francesca Elgee.
From his school days and certainly at Oxford University, the beginnings of his fanatical aestheticism could be found in his extravagant dress sense and consummate style. Until his first expression of homosexual feelings in 1886, Oscar Wilde's works were shallow or derivative.
However, his sexual revelation seemed to be a turning point: his productivity increased, and the quality improved. The guilt he felt about his homosexuality and his treatment of his wife, Constance (who he had married in 1884), and their two children, could be seen to have completed his ability to write on the themes of evil, crime and suffering. He wrote The Importance of Being Earnest (his last play) in 1886.
By 1890, Wilde seemed to have come to the conclusion that the 'evil' in himself could not be controlled, and so explored the theme not within the safe confines of a fairytale, but in a dark, sinister novel with a tragic ending: The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891).
Oscar Wilde was one of the most famous writers of the nineteenth century. He was an author, playwright and great wit. He preached the importance of style in both life and art, and he attached Victorian narrow-mindedness and complacency. Most writers, whatever their professions, wrote with something of the emphasis and authority of the schoolmaster addressing his pupils. In spite of this common feature, Victorian writers are very different in their styles. They were individualists, and each had his own personality, which was strongly presented in his style.
Oscar Wilde was one of the Victorian aesthetes* and tried to write the work that should be beautiful in its colour and cadence. His writing is highly wrought. Despite the fact that O.Wilde has probably been written about more than most nineteenth-century writers, his place and reputation continue to be uncertain.
Wilde’s extraordinary personality and wit have so dominated the imaginations of most biographers and critics that their estimates of his work have too often consisted of sympathetic tributes to a writer whose literary production was little more than a faint reflection of his brilliant talk or the manifestation of what a reviewer for the “Times Literary Supplement” called his “lawlessness”. Indeed, Wilde’s remark that he had put his genius into his life and only his talent into his art has provided support to those who regard his life as the primary object of interest.
Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1854 year. His full name was Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde. Oscar named in honour of his godfather, King Oscar I of Sweden – would eventually drop his three middle names. He said that a name that was destined to be in everybody’s mouth must not be too long. He was going to be famous.
At 20, Wilde left Ireland to study at Oxford University where he had a brilliant career, where he took a first-class both in classical moderation and in literature, and also won the Newdigate Prize for English verse for a poem on “Ravenna”. Even before he left the University in 1878 Wilde had become known as one of the most affected of the professors of the aesthetic movement, which advanced the new concept of “Art for Art’s Sake”.
Wilde was a man of great originality and power of mind. He quickly became a prominent personality in literary and social circles, but the period of his true achievement did not begin until he published “The Happy Prince and other tales” in 1888. In these fairy tales and fables, Wilde found a literary form well suited to his talents. There nine stories all together (originally published in two volumes – “ The Happy Prince” – 1888 and “A House of Pomegranates” – 1891) – five in the first volume and four in the second. These stories review and uneasy blend of the moral and the fantastic.
Wilde’s only novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray” (1890), attracted much attention, and his sayings past from mouth to mouth as those of one of the professed wits of the age. This novel is about a youth, whose features, year after year, retain the same youthful appearance of innocent beauty, while the shame of his hideous vices become mirrored, year after year, on the features of his portrait. This novel covers the whole range of human experience and imagination.
The career of Oscar Wilde was brief, but, from its beginnings, success smiled on him and he quickly achieved a triumph. Some of his works, his verse, his essays – “Intentions”, his fairy tales, his poems in prose “The House of Pomegranates”, “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, had affirmed that he was a pure artist and a great writer, for certain of his pages are as beautiful as the most beautiful in English prose. But these works were only amusements for him, and versatile mind, so brilliant, so delicately ironic, so paradoxical, found a medium of expression, which perfectly suited his uncommon gifts; it was the theatre.
The theatre played the very important role in Wilde’s life. English drama was reborn near the end of the Victorian age. From the late 1700-s to the late 1800-s, almost no important dramas were produced in England. But by 1900-s a number of playwrights have revived the English theatre both with witty comedies and with realistic dramas about social problems of the time.
Many critics said that Wilde was perhaps less then a mature poet, but a good critic, and a splendid playwright. Oscar Wilde held particularly to his reputation as a dramatist, and this with some reasons. At the time successes, William Archer, the influential and enlightened critic, had placed him apart and above other contemporary authors; and Wilde believed himself to be unquestionably the equal of Ibsen, the famous Norwegian dramatist. When Wilde turned to the theatre, he concerned himself with a social class, which had not yet been presented on stage. Arthur Pinero, the glittering English dramatist, had achieved notoriety with place drawn from middle-class life and a large number of others were producing popular dramas.
With the perfect sense of the theatre, Oscar Wilde took his characters from high society; he set his elegant marionettes in motion with such mastery that his comedies can be regarded as the wittiest that have been written in a very long time.
When his career was so sadly and so tragically interrupted, Oscar Wilde had given the theatre his real works of art.
Wilde’s first dramatic works appeared in the beginning of the eighties. His early tragedies “Vera; or the Nihilists” (1880) and “The Duchess of Padua” (1883), imitative and artistically weak, had no stable success on the stage. Then there were published his brilliant novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and the critical essays “The Intentions”. In these books there were reflected the basic principles of Wilde’s aesthetics.
Oscar Wilde denied the traditional criterions of the bourgeois ethics. He thought that the only moral value was the ideal of beauty in nature and in person. However, he said that beauty was not the reflection of realistic life in the people’s minds, but contrary, it was just the product of artist’s imagination. That is why he confirmed that art was existing independent of the life and was developing according to its own laws. He was known as a poet of graceful diction.
Oscar Wilde has contributed his most important works to the theatre: “Lady Windermere’s Fan” (1892), “A Woman of No Importance” (1893), “An Ideal Husband” (1895), “The Importance of Being Earnest” (1895) and “Salome” (1893).
Of the first four which had a success without precedent, it must be said that they are constructed with extraordinary skill; they are interesting for their settings, pathetic without evoking tears, witty to the point of excess, and written in a pure literary language. In these plays, Wilde brings together the social intrigues and the witticism. “Salome”, which was not presented in London and which “Theatre De L’Oeuvre” mounted deplorably in Paris, is especially a marvellous poem, which has nothing in common with the modern pieces of the author.
These first four plays are what one could call society plays, picture of fashionable life in which au unmistakable air of reality is happily wedded to playful satire. The greatest merit is their dialogue. In other words, Oscar Wilde did not dive very deeply below the surface of human nature. But found to a certain extent rightly, that there is more on the surface of life then is seen by the eyes of most people. He believed as much in veneer as in deep untarnishable colour. And as in the drama veneer is likely to please while depth of colour is often productive of dullness, he preferred to concentrate his acumen of the language rather then on the underline humanity of his place. In this he proved he knew himself for lightness of touch, not to say a certain flippancy, was a paramount feature of his gifted nature; and when he was all gaiety, sardonism, and persiflage, as in “The Importance of Being Earnest”, he was the happiest. The Aristophanic vein1 sparkled in it, and it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that this last English play of the unfortunate author was the wittiest comedy of the nineteenth century.