Oscar Wilde was an author, playwright, and poet born on 16 October 1854 in Dublin, Ireland. After graduating from Oxford University with first class marks, he lectured as a poet, art critic and became known for his flamboyant style and genius wit. Wilde is remembered not only for his work but also for his infamous imprisonment for homosexuality. Wilde was arrested on charges of gross indecency in 1895 after his affair with a younger man, and after spending two years in prison, he died in poverty three years after his release at the age of 46.
After graduating from Oxford, Wilde remained in England, moving to London, where he focused on writing poetry and published his first collection, ‘Poems’, in 1881. Wilde established himself as a leading figure of the aesthetic movement, a theory of art and literature that emphasised the pursuit of beauty for beauty’s sake, rather than to promote any political or social viewpoint.
Perhaps surprisingly, on 29 May 1884 Wilde married Englishwoman Constance Lloyd. Together they had two sons, Cyril born in 1885, and Vyvyan, born in 1886.
In 1891 Wilde published his first and only novel, ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’. The novel follows a beautiful young man who wishes that his portrait ages while he remains youthful and lives a life of sin and pleasure. Although now respected as a classic work, contemporary critics were outraged at the lack of morality. This discourse of deviance perhaps characterised Wilde from then on, in both his literary and personal life.
Despite establishing himself as a respected literary professional, it was Wilde’s personal life which really grabbed the attention of the public. At the pinnacle of his success, Wilde began an affair with Lord Alfred Douglas. On 18 February 1895, Douglas’ father left a card at Wilde’s home addressed to ‘Oscar Wilde: Posing Sodomite’. Wilde was so outraged by the note that he sued him for libel, a decision that would ruin his life.
Wilde’s attempt to sue for libel quickly became his arrest on charges of ‘gross indecency’. Wilde was convicted on 25 May 1895 and sentenced to two years in prison. After leaving prison in 1897, mentally, physically, and financially broke, he went into exile in France. He briefly reunited with Douglas, but died of meningitis on 30 November 1900, at the age of 46.
Wilde’s treatment and sentencing reflected complex attitudes regarding promiscuity within Victorian England, particularly homosexuality. His prison sentence destroyed the morally controversial but respected lecturer and literary professor that was Oscar Wilde. In an attempt to protect his character, Wilde was punished for his sexual ‘deviancy’, which essentially ruined his life.