Friday, September 30, 2016

Witty and Wilde

"Demolishing the complacency of Victorian social, moral, and artistic assumptions with the weapons of wit, Wilde delighted in turning stuffy platitudes upside down and then turning to the audience for applause. It was a brilliant performance that ensured that during his life, Wilde would be both greatly admired and maliciously mocked."

"Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1854, the second son of Sir William Wilde, a prominent surgeon, and Jane Wilde (née Elgee), a poet and Irish nationalist. He was raised in an affluent, successful, and intellectually stimulating home. From an early age, Oscar and his brother Willie were allowed to sit at the foot of the adults’ dinner table and listen to the conversations of the Wildes and their guests, many of whom were prominent in Irish social and literary circles...He excelled in Latin and Greek and won a scholarship to Trinity College, Dublin, which he entered in October, 1871...and won a scholarship worth ninety-five pounds per year at Magdalen College, Oxford, which he entered in October, 1874." 

"It was at Oxford that Wilde encountered two men who were to influence his thought. The first was art critic and writer John Ruskin, who was at the time a professor of fine arts. Ruskin believed that art should have a moral component, and as Wilde worked with him on a road-building project, Wilde found the idea that art might promote the improvement of society to be an attractive one. Wilde was also exposed to a contrary, and more important, influence in the form of Walter Pater, fellow of Brasenose College. According to Pater, what mattered in life and art were not moral or social concerns, but the intense appreciation of sensual beauty, especially that produced by works of art."

"In 1888, Wilde entered the seven-year period of his greatest success, during which he published almost all the work — as novelist, short story writer, dramatist, and social and literary critic — on which his reputation rests..." Among these works are The Importance of Being Earnest, Lady Windermere's Fan, An Ideal Husband, and The Picture of Dorian Gray. The Canterville Ghost first appeared in The Court and Society Review in 1887.

Wilde's affair with the son of the Marquis of Queensbury set the stage for the author's notorious court case and downfall. He was found guilty of "gross indecency" and sentenced to several years of very harsh imprisonment. Upon release in 1897, he moved to France, penniless and without family, where he died in 1900.

Quoted text is from "Oscar Wilde" By: Aubrey, Bryan, Dictionary of World Biography: The 19th Century, Literary Reference Center database.

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