He was born in Dublin in 1854 into a family from the wealthy Protestant minority. He soon dressed exotically, wore his hair long, decorated his rooms with sunflowers, lilies, peacock's feathers. In 1879 settled in London and became the leading personality of English decadentism. In 1884 he married Constance Lloyd. He wrote a lot of works thanks to the visits to the studio of Basil Ward's painter:
-'The happy prince and other tales' (a collection of fairy tales);
-'A woman of no importance', 'An ideal husband' and 'The importance of being earnest' (comedies in the tradition of the comedies of manners).
In 1895 his challenge to Victorian moralism and his close relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas were fatal to him because he was accused of homosexual practices and was imprisoned in Reading prison where he wrote 'De profundis' (a confession in form of a letter to Lord Alfred Douglas) and 'the ballad of Reading gaol' (a poem written under intense emition, which contains sympathy with the outcasts from society). He was eclectic because wrote verse, narrative, essay and drama. His name is associated with Aesthetism, the movement originating in France and introduced in England by the American painter James McNeill Whistler. He was the embodiment of Aesthetism because changelled the conventions of his time. The Aesthetes rejected the idea that art must be didactic to people and advocated the principle of 'art for art's saje'. They were fascinated by the contrast art-life, asserting the superiority of art, and their supreme aim was the cult of Beauty as a pure form because it is the only reality that matters; while the abstractions like truth and morality are elusive and cannot be grasped. He died in Paris in 1900.
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Dorian Gray is an upoer class young man of extraordinary beauty. A painter, Basil Hallward, is so impressed by his looks that he decides to paint a full-lenght portrait of him. But Dorian isn't wonderfully handsome. 'There was something in his face that made one trust him at once. At the candour of youth was there, as well as all youth's passionate purity. One felt that he had kept himself unspotted from the world'. This is a novel influenced by Huysmans' 'A rebours'. It can be read as a version of the myth of Faust, a man who loses his soul in returnal for eternal youth and beauty. The idea of a portrait growing old is a variant of Balzac's 'Peaude Chagrin', but Wilde is indebted to Poe's 'oval portrait'. There is even the motif of the 'double'. The final stabbing of the picture and subsequent invention of the roles can be read in more than one way: the triumph of art over life because in the end is the picture that survives in the glory of its beauty, but it can also signify the impossibility of a life pursuing sensual and intellectual delight with no acceptance of moral responsability.
The ballade of reading Gaol
When he left prison (he was accused by the Marquis of Queensberry of homosexual practices and somdomite, he began this work which was published under his prisoner number, 'C.C.3' in February 1898. Wilde made wide use of colloquial and solemn language, protested against social injustices (he condamned the bourgeoise Victorian society) and expressed strong moral indignation (he attacked the hypocrisy because the hypocrit attacks everything). This poem demonstrates Wilde's mastery of the literary ballad, especially the six-line stanza developed by Coleridge in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner". His feelings about Douglas' treachery provided the theme of the betrayal. This poem is dedicated to a certain C.T.W. (Charles Thomas Woolridge), a cavalry man in the Royal horse guards whose jealousy drove him to murder his 23-year-old wife. This man was executed at Reading gaol on July 1896 and the poem begins with the suffering of the love of the man who kill love. In fact Wilde contrasts the human betrayal of love with divine love for the repentant sinner.