Oscar Wilde is one of the most important author of the Victorian Age. He lived in the second half of XX century. He was born in Dublin in 1854 and he died in 1900. His father was known as a well ophthalmologic surgeon and his mother was a fervent nationalist. Wilde studied in Dublin, at Trinity College, that was the most important college in Ireland. He studied classical antiquities and languages and he was so good at Ancient Greek that he won a gold medal in a college competition. While was still in Trinity College he also won a prize for poetry and a scholarship to Magdalene College in Oxford (one of the most prestigious college in Oxford). So he moved to Oxford to study there and he spent there four years during which he was known by all the other students as a brilliant young man. The years he spent in Oxford to study were very important for his future life because it was there that he met two important people. The first one was Walter Pater, a philosopher. He was the first who considered a new idea of art (his motto was “art for art’s sake”) and he became the theorist of aestheticism. Another one was Ruskin. They were very important for his future literary career. When he left Oxford he decided to go to London and to settle there. It was there that he developed the idea of being a dandy. But he was in constant need of money and for this reason he decided to accept an invitation to go to the United States where he held some lectures about the Pre-Rafaelites and the Aesthetes. Coming back to Europe he stopped in Paris and lived there for three months. There he met important people such as Flaubert and Huysmann. Then he went back to England and in 1884 he married an aristocratic woman Lady Constance Lloyd. They had two children. In this period he became a book reviewer and also the editor of a literary magazine. In spite of these occupation he never stop writing and in particular he wrote some books (for example “A Christmas carol”) for children that were dedicated to his children. In this period he probably reached the maximum of fame, as the author of some plays for the theatre (such as “The importance of being Ernest”). His plays were called “society plays” because in these plays he criticised, using irony and sarcasm, the Victorian society, especially the aristocratic and the upper middle class. The audience of these comedies were mainly the people he criticised (aristocratic and upper middle class), so he became very famous and he was usually invited in the most important houses in London. But however his fame had a hard blow when he published his novel “The picture of Dorian Gray” because there were violent reactions against this book that was accused of being an immoral book and Wilde was really offended by these comments. Then, when he published a second edition of this novel, he wrote a preface in which he wanted to give his idea of art and of the artists. This preface is considered a sort of Manifest of English aestheticism (in fact the aesthetic movement in England begins with the preface of “The picture of Dorian Gray” made by Wilde himself). Then, in 1895, a member of Parliament, the Marquis of Queensberry, denounced him of having a homosexual relationship with his son. In the Victorian society homosexuality was a crime and so the people who were accused of being homosexual were condemned after a trial. So Wilde was accused and he was condemned of two years of hard labour. The last years of his life he lived in Paris, where he died after having converted, at the moment of death, to the Catholic religion.
His literary production mainly consist in prose works and drama. In fact he is not remember as a poet (he only wrote one poem). He also wrote some short story such as “The Canterville ghost” and one only novel that is “The picture of Dorian Gray”. For the theatre, the most important society plays are “The importance of being Earnest”, “Lady Windermere’s fan”, “An ideal husband” and “A woman of no importance”. He also wrote a tragedy in verses which is “Salomé” (the story of a biblical figure). “The importance of being Earnest” is the most played play of Wilde. In this play we have a very harsh, but funny, critic of the aristocratic society in the Victorian age, for whom only appearances counts. Wilde wants to show their hypocrisy and their corruption from the moral point of view. This society play is considered a new sort of comedy of manners (a genre that was born in the theatre of the XVII century in which the authors talk about the society of the time, especially the themes that were love and marriage). In fact one of the most important theme of this play is marriage: Wilde wants to criticise the institutional marriage, especially marriage among the aristocratic people, and he wants also to denounce the aristocratic in their considering money and social condition as status symbols. This play is a funny comedy because it is full of misunderstandings, paradoxes, a witty language, and also irony and sarcasm.
“The portrait of Dorian Gray” is set in London at the end of XIX century. The protagonist, Dorian Gray, is a young handsome man. His beauty is so particular that a painter, Basil, struck by him, decides to paint his portrait. On looking at his portrait Dorian expresses the desire to remain forever young and beautiful. In a sort of spell the painting grows old and it takes all the sides of evil and of corruption instead of Dorian. Dorian lives a dissipate life: he commits evils and crimes until one day he kills Basil himself, because he had discover his secret. At the end he decides to get free of the portrait and so he stabs it, but he mysteriously kills himself while the portrait regains its beauty and purity (this symbolises that only art is eternal, only art survives people). In this novel Wilde uses the third person narrator but with an internal perspective. He vividly describes the settings and he also uses the language of the senses. This novel contains a moral that is sooner or later everyone will pay for his sins and for his vices. “Dorian Gray” can be read as an allegorical novel and it is a sort of modern version of the myth of Faust (a man who sold his soul to the devil in exchange of twenty years of unlimited knowledge). Dorian Gray is a modern Faust because, in a way, he sells his soul to remain perfect, beautiful until the end of his life to satisfied his desires. The soul of Dorian is his portrait that shows the corruption and the crimes committed by him. It is also Dorian dark side.