Oscar Wilde: Biography and Infamous Incarceration

July 18, 2019
Read about Oscar Wilde's brilliant career and tragic life in this article.

Oscar Wilde lived a very unique and tragic life. Today, we’re going to delve into the life and work of one of the most acclaimed playwrights of all time. Oscar Wilde was both a brilliant and successful writer. Unfortunately, due to the hypocritical and moralistic Victorian era of the time, he was incarcerated for being a homosexual. As a result of his incarceration, he suffered a complete breakdown.

Read on to learn about this great man whose works are internationally renown.

The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest are some of his most outstanding works today. However, when they were written, the most moralistic critics of the Victorian age criticized them. It’s possible that Wilde’s style and point of view didn’t completely agree with the conventions of the day.

Now, Wilde is very well-known and his work has been studied and translated. He’s considered one of the best writers of the English language. In addition, he’s known for his bravery, his witty personality, and his infamous incarceration for being homosexual. He also died prematurely.

The Early Years of Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin in October of 1854. He was the son of a famous physician. Oscar’s mother was a poet who influenced him. 

As a child, Oscar Wilde was a brilliant student who loved the classics. During his studies at Oxford, he began to excel in creative writing. As a result of his way with words, he won several awards.

After his studies at Oxford, he went to London with a friend who was a high-society portrait painter. This was when he wrote his first book of poems. The following year, he traveled to New York and did a speaking tour for almost an entire year.

Photo of Oscar Wilde in a suit.

Then, he returned to his country, continued his readings, and began to establish himself as one of the main representatives of the aesthetic movement. To explain, this was a movement that emphasized the search for beauty over society’s political or social ideals. 

After an early love affair with a young Irish woman who jilted him to marry another man, Oscar met a well-off English woman. Her name was Constance Lloyd, who he would marry and with whom he would have two children. A year later, he began to manage a women’s magazine called Lady’s World. 

However, his wife abandoned him during his scandalous imprisonment. In addition, she changed her surname and her children’s in order to distance themselves from her husband. Even though she never divorced Oscar, he felt an obligation to denounce the parental authority he held over his children.

Oscar Wilde’s Best Works

The seven years that he worked as editor of the magazine Lady’s World, he experienced a period of frenetic creativity. At this time, he produced almost all of his literary works. 

He published a collection of children’s stories, including The Happy Prince and Other Tales. Later, he got into the essay genre with Intentions, a series of works that extolled the principles of aestheticism.

A short time after publishing the above works, he wrote his first and only novel; A Picture of Dorian Gray. In spite of the fact that this work is considered a classic, the critics of the time felt that the novel completely lacked morality.

The story tells the life of the young Dorian Gray. He wanted his portrait to miraculously grow old while, at the same time, he remained young and lived a life of sin and wantonness.

After this, Oscar ventured into playwriting with his work Lady Windermere’s Fan. This work was so successful that he decided to dedicate himself to this genre as his main literary form.

His subsequent theater works were satirical and artful, full of deep and dark tones. Among them is another of his most outstanding works: The Importance of Being Earnest.

Oscar Wilde’s Scandal

When Oscar Wilde was experiencing continual literary success, he began an intimate relationship with a young man, who was the son of the Marquis of Queensbury. Evidently, by that time, the fact that Oscar was a homosexual wasn’t a secret to anyone.

His lover’s father sent a note to Oscar’s house. Not surprisingly, the note was quite nasty and deeply offended the famous author. So Oscar decided to report him for defamation of character, which was a decision that ruined his life. 

All the Marquis’s attorneys used thr resources at his disposal in order to present evidence of Oscar’s homosexuality. As a consequence, he spent two years in prison.

As you might suspect, prison physically, emotionally, and financially depleted Oscar. He voluntarily exiled himself to France for a time. In November of 1900, he died of meningitis at the age of 46.  

Oscar Wilde's photo of relaxing on a sofa.

The Importance of Being Earnest

It’s curious that one of the most important works of Oscar Wilde is The Importance of Being Earnest, which literally means “the importance of being honest.”

Truly, this is only another of the conflicting notes in the biography of this brilliant playwright, who saw his life fall apart due to his sexual orientation. As you might guess, this was in a time when people considered homosexuality a mental illness.

During his trial and conviction, the media had a wide range of coverage that extended to the United States. What he never found out is that his incarceration initiated a very slow process that would end in the decriminalization of homosexuality. He was a victim of 19th-century Victorian puritanical hypocrisy.

Oscar Wilde was a brilliant author, who sadly, didn’t have such a wonderful life.

His legacy lives on and some of his works have been made into movies. His life is one of many tragic stories in which homosexuality, unfortunately, was condemned. It’s a story that makes us reflect and be aware.