Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin into the family of a distinguished Irish surgeon and educated at Dublin and Oxford Universities. His mother "was a writer of poetry and prose. Under the influence of John Ruskin, Wilde joined the Aesthetic Movement and soon became its leader. He made himself the apostle of "art for art's sake" and of the cult of beauty. In 1882 he made a triumphant tour of the United States lecturing on the Aesthetic Movement in England.
The next ten years saw the appearance of all his major works. They include fairy-tales: The Happy Prince (1888), A House of Pomegranates (1891), stories: Lord Arthur Savile's Crime (1891), the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), several sparkling comedies, up to now repeatedly produced all over the world: Lady Windermere's Fan (1893), A Woman of No Importance (1894), An Ideal Husband (1895), The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). Oscar Wilde also wrote poems, political and literary essays (The Soul of Man under Socialism, Intentions, 1891) and various occasional pieces on history, drama and painting. He had the reputation of a brilliant society wit. Wilde's splendid literary career and social position suddenly collapsed when in 1895 he was sentenced to a two-years' term of imprisonment for immoral practices. After his release he lived in obscurity in France. In 1898 he published his best-known poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol.
An abridged version of his prose confession bearing the Latin name of De Profundis (Out of the Depths) was printed posthumously, its full text only to appear as late as 1962. The writer's aesthetic views are disclosed in the three essays of Intentions (The Decay of Lying, The Critic as an Artist, and Pen, Pencil and Poison) and, in his most brilliantly paradoxical style, in the famous preface to Dorian Gray:
The artist is the creator of beautiful things.
To reveal art and conceal the artist is art's aim...
They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty.
There is no such thing as moral or immoral book.
Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.
All art is quite useless.
Fortunately, Oscar Wilde's work disproves his own statements, thus adding another paradox to his life and work.
Irish wit, poet, and dramatist whose reputation rests on his comic masterpieces Lady Windermere's Fan (1892) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). He was a spokesman for the late 19th-century Aesthetic movement in England, which advocated art for art's sake; and he was the object of celebrated civil and criminal suits involving homosexuality and ending in his imprisonment (1895-97).
Wilde was born of professional and literary parents. His father, Sir William Wilde, was Ireland's leading ear and eye surgeon, who also published books on archaeology, folklore, and the satirist Jonathan Swift; his mother was a revolutionary poet and an authority on Celtic myth and folklore.
After attending Portora Royal School, Enniskillen (1864-71), Wilde went, on successive scholarships, to Trinity College, Dublin (1871-74), and Magdalen College, Oxford (1874-78), which awarded him a degree with honours. During these four years, he distinguished himself not only as a classical scholar, a poseur, and a wit but also as a poet by winning the coveted Newdigate Prize in 1878 with a long poem, Ravenna. He was deeply impressed by the teachings of the English writers John Ruskin and Walter Pater on the central importance of art in life and particularly by the latter's stress on the aesthetic intensity by which life should be lived. Like many in his generation, Wilde was determined to follow Pater's urging "to burn always with [a] hard, gemlike flame." But Wilde also delighted in affecting an aesthetic pose; this, combined with rooms at Oxford decorated with objets d'art, resulted in his famous remark: "Oh, would that I could live up to my blue china!"