Oscar Wilde was born on 16 October 1854 in Dublin, the second of three children. His full name was Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde. A multi-faceted writer, Wilde could compose poems, essays, short fiction, novels and plays with equal skill.
His mother, Jane Wilde, was an author and life-long Irish nationalist who wrote poetry for the revolutionary Young Irelanders in 1848 under the name Speranza (Italian for 'hope'). Wilde's father, William Wilde, was Ireland's leading ear and eye surgeon and was knighted in 1864 for his services to medicine.
Wilde studied classics at Trinity College, Dublin. An outstanding student, he was awarded the Berkeley Gold Medal, the highest award available to students of this subject at Trinity. He then won a demyship (a form of scholarship) to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he studied for four years. In 1878, Wilde won the Newdigate Prize for his poem Ravenna. In November of that year, he graduated with a double first.
At Magdalen, Wilde became part of the Aesthetic and decadent movements, whose aims included making an art of life. He began to wear his hair long, and openly scorned 'manly' sports. Although frowned upon by some fellow students, he was respected within his aesthetic circle. Wilde was influenced by English writers like John Ruskin and Walter Pater, who argued for the importance of art in life. These values appear within all his writings, and in The Picture of Dorian Gray in particular.
Wilde caused a stir in the wider world too, whilst lecturing and teaching on aesthetic values in 1879. Critics suggested that his conduct was more of a bid for notoriety than a devotion to beauty and the aesthetic. They also scrutinised the links between Wilde’s writing, personal image and homosexuality, calling his work and way of life ‘immoral’.
After losing his childhood sweetheart to Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, he moved to London and married Constance Lloyd in 1884. They had two sons, Cyril (1885) and Vyvyan (1886). In the mid-1880s, he turned to journalism to support his young family. From 1887 to 1889, Wilde worked as a reviewer for the Pall Mall Gazette. He then became editor of The Woman's World.
Having previously built up a reputation amongst the rich and powerful in London Society as a ‘media personality’, Wilde was eventually taken seriously as a writer. His work included short story collections: The Happy Prince and Other Stories (1888), Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime and Other Stories (1891) and A House of Pomegranates (1891). His only published novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, appeared in 1890 as the lead story in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine.
He would become better known as a dramatist, achieving true fame in 1892 with the first production of Lady Windermere’s Fan. A Woman of No Importance followed, as well as An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest.
But as befalls many celebrities today, Wilde’s success came to a sudden and shocking end following a very public scandal. This was due, in particular, to his intimate friendship with Lord Alfred Douglas. He was arrested and charged with homosexual conduct, a crime at that time. The Importance of Being Earnest was taken off the stage in the middle of its run. Wilde was convicted, and imprisoned in Reading Gaol from 1895 to 1897.
His fame transformed into notoriety, Wilde spent his last three years abroad and cut off from artistic circles and society. He died, poor and secluded, on 30 November 1900 from cerebral meningitis. He is buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.