Multicultural Writers from Antiquity to 1945: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook

By Alba Amoia; Bettina L.Knapp | Go to book overview
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OSCAR WILDE

(1854-1900)

Mary Hudson


BIOGRAPHY

Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was a man of the world, and, like the world, he was full of contradictions. He remained till his death an Irish nationalist, yet for most of his adult life played the role of the consummate Englishman. He was the epitome of the aesthete, yet believed that socialism was mankind's one real hope. He was lavishly generous and equally self-indulgent. He was a married man ever fond of his wife and two sons, yet enjoyed the dangerous blandishments of youthful homosexual prostitutes and eventually fell in love with a young gentleman who would prove to be his undoing. He was by all accounts extremely good-natured and the toast of London town, yet he incurred the wrath of Victorian society on two sides of the Atlantic and died a well-nigh-friendless pariah. Perhaps the fact that he embodied so many contradictions contributed to his being the greatest source in the English language of paradoxical aphorisms. For these he has become world-famous. His witticisms are still fondly quoted, and his plays and poems remain as fresh now as they were when they first appeared.

He was born into a distinguished but eccentric Dublin family: his father, Sir William Wilde, was a renowned eye and ear surgeon; his mother, Jane Francesca Agnes Elgee, the poet “Speranza, had a reputation in her own right as a fiery Irish nationalist and colorful hostess. From his father he must have inherited his profligacy—Sir William was known to have fathered more than one child out of wedlock—and from his mother his flamboyancy and generosity of spirit. With his older brother Willie he was educated at the Portora Royal School in County Fermanagh (which would also have the distinction of schooling Samuel Beckett), whence he proceeded to Trinity College, Dublin, in 1871. He was awarded the Berkeley Gold Medal for Greek at Trinity and received a scholarship to study at Magdalen College, Oxford. There he came under the influence of such

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