An Ideal Husband: Biography

Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born on October 16, 1854, in Dublin, Ireland, the son of Sir William Wilde and Jane Francesca Wilde, who were both Dublin intellectuals. He was the second of three children. His mother wrote revolutionary poetry and was an Irish nationalist. Lady Wilde gave Oscar his love of the arts, and he grew up with famous literary guests in the house. His father was a surgeon knighted for his service to the government. He wrote books on archaeology and folklore and treated the poor at his dispensary.


Oscar was educated at home until he was nine, learning French and German fluently from servants. He attended Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh. On a scholarship he read classics at Trinity College, Dublin, from 1871 to 1874, sharing a room with his older brother, Willie. He was at Magdalen College, Oxford, from 1874 to 1878 on a competitive scholarship in Greek studies. At Oxford, he became known for his involvement in the aesthetic movement and his views on the pursuit of beauty. His famous line “I find it harder and harder every day to live up to my blue china” became a slogan of the aesthetes and their decadent lifestyle. He graduated with a degree in Classics and Great Writers.


In the early 1880s he set up as a bachelor in London. He traveled as a lecturer and published poems in magazines, bringing out a Collected Poems in 1881. In 1883 he produced his first play “Vera” in New York. He married Constance Lloyd in 1884, and they had two sons, Cyril and Vyvyan. In 1886, however, he became lovers with Robert Ross, rebelling against the Victorian prohibition against homosexuality. Though he played the idle aristocrat, he worked hard as a writer and critic for various journals between 1885 and 1887, publishing short stories and essays. He became editor of The Woman’s World in 1887, a journal of fashion and the arts. In 1888 he published a book of fairytales, The Happy Prince and Other Tales. In 1891 his novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, was criticized for its decadent philosophy. In 1891 he met Mallarmé and the Symbolist poets in Paris. His tragedy in French, “Salome,” written in 1893, was censored in London. 


He finally hit his stride with drawing-room comedy, a vehicle for his outrageous views. “Lady Windermere’s Fan” (1892), “A Woman of No Importance” (1893), “An Ideal Husband” (1895), and “The Importance of Being Earnest” (1895), were wildly popular plays, but his career came to a halt with his arrest and conviction for a homosexual relationship with Alfred Douglas. Wilde was sentenced to hard labor for two years, which broke his health. He published De Profundis and “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” after his release in 1897. He spent his last three years in exile in Paris. He died in poverty of cerebral meningitis, converting to Catholicism on his deathbed, November 30, 1900.