Wilde, Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills (1854-1900) By Riddell, Fraser
Oscar Wilde was an Irish playwright, essayist, author and poet, and one of Victorian England’s chief proponents of Aestheticism. His works are often characterised by the use of humorous paradox, which questions Victorian certainties of truth, value and morality. Wilde is best known today for his play The Importance of Being Earnest (1894), his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890, revised 1891) and his imprisonment in 1895 on grounds of ‘gross indecency’ after a series of scandalous trials. Individualism is central to Wilde’s philosophy, and many of his works challenge or ironise social conventions that seek to limit autonomy of personal expression. Wilde prefigures the concerns of much twentieth-century Modernist literature in his critique of Realism, his scepticism regarding authentic selfhood and his often absurd dramatic mode.
Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin on 16 October 1854, the son of upper-middle class Anglo-Irish intellectuals. His earliest education was at the staunchly Protestant Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, before he progressed to Trinity College, Dublin in 1871. Wilde excelled as a student of Greek, and in 1874 was awarded a scholarship to read Classics at Magdalen College, Oxford. Here he was influenced by aesthetic theorists Walter Pater and John Ruskin. Having graduated with a double first, Wilde settled in London in 1879, where he soon set about cultivating an image as an aesthete and dandy.