Biography of Oscar Wilde

Photo of Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde was a nineteenth century writer remembered for his witty plays and aesthetic lifestyle.

When and Where was he Born?

16th October 1854, 21 Westland Row, Dublin, Ireland.

Family Background:

Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was the second Son of William Robert Wills Wilde, Ireland’s leading eye and ear surgeon. Besides medical texts his father was well known for works on Celtic and Irish history. His mother, Jane, was a revolutionary poet and writer under the pen name of “Speranza”.

Education:

Tutored at home until the age of ten. Then Portora Royal School, Enniskillen. Scholarship to Trinity College, Dublin. Then five years studying classics at Magdalen College, Oxford.

Timeline of Oscar Wilde:

1852: His brother William is born on 26th September.

1857: His sister Isola Emily Francesca is born.

1874: At Oxford University he is influenced by John Ruskin, Slade Professor of Fine Arts and Walter Pater, one of Oxford’s leading members of the “Aesthete Movement”.

1875: Wilde hears the catholic convert Cardinal Manning preach at the dedication service at St. Alysius Church, Oxford.

1876: Oscar Wilde’s father dies of overwork on 19th April. He is accepted into the University’s Freemason Lodge, Apollo Rose-Croix.

1877: He visits Athens with his former Trinity College tutor the reverend J.P. Mahaffy. On 16th November he called to the Vice Chancellor’s Court to pay an overdue tailor’s bill.

1881: Wilde is approached by Richard D’Oyly Carte to make a lecture tour of the U.S.A. On the 23rd of April. Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Patience” satirising Wilde and the “Aesthete Movement” opens in London. On the 24th of December. he sets sail on the SS Arizona.

1882: On the 2nd of January Oscar Wilde arrives in New York. He meets the US actress Mary Anderson to discuss staging his blank verse play “The Duchess of Padua”. On the 27th of December he sets sail for England at the end of his American Tour.

1883: Constance Lloyd attends Oscar’s first lecture on “The House Beautiful” in Dublin. He goes to Liverpool to greet the actress Lillie Langtrey on her return from the US. He finishes “The Duchess of Padua” and is rejected by Mary Anderson.

1884: He leaves Paris on 6th May to join “Bosie” in Florence. He embarks on a British lecture tour on the general subject of “Beauty, Taste and Ugliness in Dress”.  On 29th May he marries Constance Mary Lloyd at St. James Church, Sussex Gardens, Paddington, London. He sends his wife a love letter from Edinburgh in December.

1885: The poem “Harlot’s House” first appears in “The Dramatic Review” on the 11th of April.

1886: His second child Vyvyan is born on 25th November.

1888: Constance Wilde gives a lecture on the subject “Dress”.

1891: Oscar Wilde meets the writers Andre Gide and Emile Zola in Paris.  on 26th of January “The Duchess of Padua” is staged at the Broadway Theatre New York under the title “Guido Ferranti.”

1892: On the 20th of February “Lady Windermere’s Fan” is first produced at the “St. James’s Theatre, London. It ends its run at the St. James’s Theatre, London on the 29th prior to a tour of the provinces.

1894: He visits Paris to avoid further confrontation with the Marquess of Queensbury.

1895: On the 3rd of January “An Ideal Husband” opens at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London. On the 18th of January Wilde travels with “Bosie” (Lord Alfred Douglas) the son of the Marquess of Queensbury, whom he has fallen love with to Algiers for a holiday. “The Importance of Being Earnest” opens at St. James’s Theatre, London produced by George Alexander on the 14th of February. On the 28th of February Wilde receives Queensbury’s libellous note at his London Club the Albermarle, entitled “For Oscar Wilde posing Sodomite”. On the 1st of March he goes to Marlborough Street Police Station to report receipt of the Queensbury’s note. The Marquess of Queensbury’s trial for criminal libel opens at the Old Bailey Court, London. On the 24th of April. Wilde’s possessions are sold by auction at his home in Tite Street to pay for the trial. On the 20th of May after his first trial ends with a hung jury, Wilde’s re-trial opens. After loosing the case he is arrested at the Cadogan Hotel. On the 25th of May he is convicted of Gross Indecency and sentenced to two years hard labour. On the 30th of May “The Soul of Man under Socialism” is published by Arthur Humphreys, Manager of Hatchards Bookshop. Wilde is moved from Pentonville Prison to Wandsworth Prison on the 4th of July and is transferred to Reading Gaol on the 20th of November.

Oscar Wilde Monument
Monument by Maggi Hambling to Oscar Wilde, near St Martins in the Fields Church, London  (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1896: Oscar Wilde’s mother Jane dies on the 3rd of February. Sarah Bernhardt produces Salome on the 11th of February at the Theatre de la Oeuvre in Paris after it is banned in England due to its biblical theme. He petitions the Home Secretary about a reduction in his sentence but receives no reply.

1897: On the 19th of May he is released from Reading Gaol early in the morning and travels on the night boat from Newhaven to Dieppe. He arrives at Dawn and is met by two close friends Robert Ross and Reggie Turner. On the 28th of August he is re-united with “Bosie” at the Hotel de la Poste in Rouen, France. Constance writes from Genoa on the 29th of September forbidding Oscar to visit her and the children after hearing of his re-union with “Bosie”.

1898: Constance dies on the 7th of April after an operation on her spine.

1899: His brother Willie dies on the 13th of March.

When and Where Did he Die?

30th November 1900, Hotel d’Alsace, 13 Rue des Beaux Arts, Paris, France of cerebral meningitis after an operation for an ear infection.

Age at Death:

46.

Written Works:

1881: “Poems”.
1883: “Vera, or the Nihilists”.
1887: “The Canterville Ghost.”.
1888: “The Happy Prince and other Tales”.
1892: “Lady Windermere’s Fan”.
1891: “A House of Pomegranates”. “Intentions”. “Lord Arthur Saville’s Crime”. “The Picture of Dorian Gray”. “The Duchess of Padua”.
1893: “A Woman of No Importance”.
1895: “An Ideal Husband”. “The Importance of Being Earnest.
1898: “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.”
(1905): “De Profundis”.

Marriage:

29th May 1884 to Constance Mary Lloyd at St. James Church, Sussex Gardens, Paddington, London.

Site of Grave:

Originally given a Sixth Class burial in Bagneux Cemetery, Paris. Later transferred to Le Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris in 1909. His tomb is sculpted by Sir Jacob Epstein.

Places of Interest:

LONDON:

The British Library, St. Pancras.
Monument near St Martin’s in the Fields.

Further Information:

Oscar Wilde Society, c/o Vannesa Harris, 100 Peacock Street, Gravesend, Kent, DA12 1E.