Who is Oscar Wilde?

Born Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde on October 16 1854, Wilde was the second son born into a family of Anglo-Irish descent. His father, Sir William Wilde, was Ireland’s leading ear and eye specialist and a renowned philanthropist. His mother, Jane Francesca Elgee was herself a successful writer and a poet for the revolutionary ‘Young Irelanders. Oscar Wilder was an accomplished playwright, novelist, poet and writer of short stories. Well-known for his witty and cutting sense of humour, he was one of late Victorian London’s greatest celebrities.

Wilde studied classics at Trinity College, Dublin, from 1871 to 1874. An outstanding student, he won the Berkeley Gold Medal, the highest award available to classics students at Trinity. He was also awarded a scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he continued his studies from 1874 to 1878, where he became a part of the Aesthetic movement, one of its tenets being to make an art of life. While at Magdalen, he won the 1878 Newdigate Prize for his poem Ravenna. In November 1878, he graduated with a double first in classical moderations and Literae Humaniores, or ‘Greats’.

After graduating from Magdalen, Wilde returned to Dublin, where he met and fell in love with Florence Balcombe, who, in turn became engaged to Bram Stoker. On hearing of her engagement, Wilde became distraught and wrote to her stating his intention to leave Ireland permanently. He left in 1878 and was to return to his native country only twice, for brief visits.

While In London, Wilde met Constance Lloyd, daughter of wealthy Queen’s Counsel Horace Lloyd. They married on May 29, 1884 in Paddington, London. Constance’s allowance of £250 allowed the Wildes to live in relative luxury. The couple had two sons, Cyril (1885) and Vyvyan (1886). She died in 1898 following spinal surgery and was buried in Staglieno Cemetery in Genoa, Italy. Cyril was killed in France in World War I. Vyvyan survived the war and went on to become an author and translator. He published his memoirs in 1954.

Wilde’s sexual orientation has variously been considered bisexual, homosexual, and paederastic. He may have had significant sexual relationships with (in chronological order) Frank Miles, Constance Lloyd (his wife), Robert Baldwin Ross, and Lord Alfred Douglas (“Bosie”). Wilde also had numerous sexual encounters with working-class male youths, who were often rent boys.

Wilde had a dramatic fall from grace following a famous trial. He was convicted for having acted in ‘gross indecency’ and was imprisoned for two years and had to do hard labor.

Wilde died of cerebral meningitis on November 30, 1900. On his deathbed Wilde was received into the Roman Catholic church. He was buried in the Cimetière de Bagneux outside Paris but was later moved to Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.