Writer Profile: Oscar Wilde


Dates: b. 1854, d. 1900

Literary Movement: Victorian aestheticism

Famous Works: The Importance of Being Earnest


Profile: Born Oscar Fingal O’Hahertie Wils Wilde, Oscar Wild was an Irish poet and playwright. He was born in Dublin, Ireland to Sir William Wilde and Jane Wilde and baptized as an infant in St. Mark’s Church. Until he was nine, Oscar Wilde was educated at home—a French bonne and a German governess taught him their languages. He then attended Portora Royal School, summering in Cong, County Mayo. Wilde left Portora to study classics at Trinity College, Dublin under a royal scholarship. Here, he became interested in Greek literature, working with J.P. Mahaffy on the book Social Life in Greece. Wilde also became an established member of the University Philosophical Society, where he discussed contemporary topics like Rossetti and Swinburne.


Wilde then left for Magdalen College at Oxford, where he became known for his role in the aesthetic and decadent movements. He decorated his rooms with peacock feathers, lilies, sunflowers, and blue china, wearing his hair long and openly scorning what he believed to be “manly” sports. Wilde centered his philosophy and aesthetics on the ideas and teaching of John Ruskin and Walter Pater.


Wilde wrote throughout his education, occasionally publishing lyrics, poems, and essays in magazines. At 27 years old, he published Poems, which allowed him to collect, revise, and expand his poetic efforts It was well received. He eventually married, moved to London, and continued to write poetry and essays, later expanding into playwriting. He published several collections of short fiction, briefly entered journalism, and began to write and publish dialogues. His theatrical career began shortly after the publication of The Picture of Dorian Grey in 1890, eventually writing his final and perhaps most famous play, The Importance of Being Earnest in 1894.


Wilde, a gay man in an inhospitable time, was later brought to court under charges for sodomy and gross indecency. He was incarcerated for two years at Newgate Prison in London, then moved to Pentonville Prison to complete “hard labor.” Wilde lived in exile after his release in 1897, moving to a seaside village in northern France to continue his writing. He died of meningitis just three years later.

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