Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin and educated at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he felt the influence of Ruskin and Pater.
He distinguished himself as a scholar-wit and an aesthete immediately upon his arrival at Oxford in 1874. He travelled in Italy and Greece and published his first volume of poems in 1881.
In 1884 Wilde married Constance Lloyd, and a period of intensive literary production ensued, beginning with his fairy tales The Happy Prince and Other Tales for children, rich in ironical comment on the selfishness and hypocrisy.
In his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, his aestheticism is to be found with all its aspects: the superiority of the artist over the rules of society and morality. The story of the portrait growing old and monstrous while the person it portrays – Dorian Gray – always remains young and handsome is a variant of Balzac’s Peau de Chagrin. In spite of its exasperated aestheticism teaches in essence a moral lesson which was overlooked owing to Wilde’s scandalous life.
It is as a dramatist, however, that Wilde still holds his place in literature. His reputation rests on four “comedies of manners”: Lady Windermere’s Fan; A Woman of no importance; An ideal Husband; The importance of Being Earnest, his masterpiece.
All of them provide an elegant – and ironical – picture of the upper classes of Wilde’s Time.
Wilde was a man who needed a life ostentation; his vanity landed him into disaster. The father of Lord Alfred Douglas accused him of homosexual dealings. The writer was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment with hard labour. In his misery the poet wrote The Ballad of reading Gaol and De Profundis.
After his release form lived in France rejected by most of his friends, he died in France in 1900.