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20+ Facts About Oscar Wilde, a Genius Who Always Had Something Witty to Say

Oscar Wilde is one of the most popular English authors that many people know thanks to his trenchant comments and the very famous novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. His plays are still successfully shown around the world and his novels are often quoted. Wilde believed that beauty was the most important thing and he didn’t want to have a humble life.

We at Bright Side decided to dive deep into the biography of this amazing writer that the people of Great Britain think is “the greatest wit” of all time.

Oscar Wilde as a child. At the time, children of both sexes wore dresses.

  • Oscar Wilde was born on October 16th,1854 in Dublin. His father, Sir William Wilde, was Ireland’s leading oto-ophthalmologic (ear and eye) surgeon. Besides that, he wrote books about Irish archaeology and folklore and opened a free medical center for poor people.
  • Oscar’s mother, Jane Wilde, wrote poems and was an unusual woman. She felt that she was born to do something great and she didn’t hide it. Oscar himself felt like something special. This is why he liked to tweak reality and even on his marriage certificate, he wrote the wrong date of his birth, lowering his age by 2 years.
  • Oscar had a little sister named Isola who died of meningitis at the age of 10 and an older brother named William. The boys were similar to each other: both of them had a predisposition for extra weight and they were a bit lazy. Oscar didn’t like these similarities and once he even paid his brother to grow a beard so they wouldn’t look alike.
  • Before the age of 9, the future writer studied at home and he quickly learned the French and German languages. Then, he entered the Portora Royal School where he became popular for being able to parody the school events and giving nicknames to everyone. People thought he was a genius because he could scan a 3-book novel in 30 minutes and talk about what the plot was about. After an hour of reading, he could even retell some scenes and important dialogues. Before his exams, he never really learned anything and read the literature he had to read because he wanted to. He finished school with a gold medal.
  • At Trinity College, Wilde discovered his talent for studying ancient languages. At the same time, he got really interested in aestheticism (the movement whose followers believe that beauty is above everything, even morals). His original style in clothes and self-mockery also appeared at that time.
  • In 1874, Oscar entered Magdalene College in Oxford, where he tried to be better than everyone else. He bought tweed suits with brighter patterns than his groupmates, he wore hats that were tilted on his head. Once, Oscar even made himself a jacket he saw in a dream. The jacket had shades of bronze and red, and from the back, it looked like a cello. This was the first stage of Wilde’s revolution in clothes.
  • Back when he was in school, Oscar wore purple and bright red shirts, and instead of the regular books like everyone else had, he wanted to have big books. When he was at Oxford, Wilde started to pay even more attention to clothes. He even once said that if he were alone on a deserted island, he would still change clothes for dinner.
  • Oscar grew long hair, he despised “men’s sports” even though he boxed from time to time, and he decorated his rooms with peacock feathers, lilies, sunflowers, and pieces of art. He wore really bright clothes, which is why some people thought he was crazy and others despised him. Once, the groupmates that didn’t like him, grabbed him and dragged to the top of a high hill. But Oscar found a great solution to this silly situation. He stood up, dusted himself off, and said that the view from that hill was stunning.
  • Even though he didn’t look like it, he was pretty strong. Once, 4 students decided to beat Wilde and wreck his place. But they didn’t know what was coming: he threw one of them out, beat the second one, threw the third one down the stairs, and pushed the fourth one under his furniture.
  • When he finished his studies, Oscar went to London. Thanks to his trenchant comments and his behavior, he was quickly accepted into the community there. Wilde became a welcome guest in any group.
  • Once, he met Lillie Langtry, who later became a famous actress (not without Oscar’s help.) Even though she was married, Wilde dedicated poems to her and tried to spend as much time with her as possible. Once, Wilde waited the entire night for her to return home and her husband even tripped over Oscar because he didn’t see him in the darkness.

Lillie Langtry

  • Trying to become famous, Wilde agreed to give lectures about aestheticism and went on a tour that later became famous. When he was at US customs, he said he had “nothing to declare but his genius.”
  • The first lecture was extremely successful and people applauded him. But not all of his performances were that successful. The press was quite hostile, and so were many local people. On Wall Street, Wilde even had to run away.
  • The writer also had to perform in front of miners who warmly welcomed him, and Wilde even said that the miners were very well-behaved compared to the people he met in big cities.
  • When he returned home, Oscar met Constance Lloyd, the daughter of a famous Irish lawyer, and he married her. When he was asked why he fell in love with her, Oscar said that it was because she didn’t speak much.
  • Wilde wore very provocative clothes and made his wife do the same thing. Once, she had to wear a dress made of old white muslin and bright-yellow stockings. People thought that her clothes were tasteless and Constance herself was shy and boring.
  • Over time, Wilde’s love for his wife started to die down. When she got pregnant, there were rumors that he was disgusted by her. He even said that when he got married, she was a charming girl, white and slender like a lily. And one year later, she became heavy and shapeless.
  • But they still had 2 sons, Cyril and Vyvyan. Oscar wrote tales for them that he later published. Then he became the editor of Woman’s World where he added serious articles about child rearing, culture, and politics.

Oscar with his wife Constance and son Cyril

  • After his trip to the US, Wilde stopped wearing his suits. There was almost nothing left of the gentleman with long hair walking around Piccadilly with a sunflower in his hand. The Punch newspaper even printed a joke, “That there were a whole stock of trade faded lilies, dilapidated sunflowers, and shabby peacock feathers, several long-haired wigs, a collection of incomprehensible poems, and a number of impossible pictures for sale.”
  • Wilde decided to cut his long hair and to make the hairdresser understand what hairstyle he wanted, he took him to the Louvre and showed him a Roman marble bust.
  • In 1890, Wilde published his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, which brought him amazing success and a charge of immorality. Oscar wrote more than 10 open letters to the editorials of British newspapers and magazines explaining that art doesn’t depend on morality. One year later, the novel was published with a lot of additions and a foreword from the author.
  • From 1891 to 1895 was a period when Wilde was incredibly popular. He wrote the plays Salomé, Lady Windermere’s Fan, An Ideal Husband, and The Importance of Being Earnest, and he became the most popular person in London. The newspapers called him one of the best playwrights of the time and praised his style and originality.

Performance of the Oscar Wilde play Lady Windermere’s Fan at the Theatre Royal, 1945

  • In 1891, Wilde met Alfred Douglas, an attractive and spoiled young man. This meeting would soon become the biggest tragedy of his life. Oscar got really interested in Bosie, as Alfred was called, to the point that he would do anything for him. The wife of the writer was worried about the terrible costs and sudden disappearances of Oscar, but he told her that all of this was necessary in order for him to write.
  • Douglas didn’t want to hide his relationship with Wilde and wanted everyone to see them together. They went abroad together several times. Soon, the father of Alfred found out about their relationship, and Wilde was sentenced to 2 years in prison.

Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas in 1893

  • Wilde spent the first 6 months in prisons for particularly serious crimes and the rest, he spent in the reading prison. The jail time completely broke the talented writer. The bad food and difficult conditions made him physically weak and he suffered from illnesses and insomnia. The overseer didn’t like him and punished him for even the slightest mistakes. Once, Oscar fell in the chapel and damaged his eardrum. This injury later became the reason for his death.

  • Almost all of his friends stopped communicating with him. Douglas never visited him. The whole time Wilde was in prison, Douglas lived abroad selling the things Oscar had given to him. He even wrote, “When you are not on your pedestal you are not interesting.” Wilde’s wife, despite what relatives advised, didn’t divorce him and visited him in jail twice.

Oscar Wilde abroad after prison

  • After he left prison in 1897, Oscar moved to France. He was poor and lived off the money his wife sent to him. She didn’t want to see him, but Bosie came. He took advantage of what little money Wilde had, and when Wilde asked him to share the money, he got angry. When the money ended, Bosie left.
  • In France, Wilde changed his name to Sebastian Melmoth and wrote the famous poem The Ballad Of Reading Gaol. He also published several articles with his ideas about how to improve the lives of prisoners. Some of these ideas were implemented.
  • Oscar Wilde died in France on November 30, 1900, from meningitis. He was buried in Paris and there was a sphynx with wings put on top of his grave. Over time, a legend appeared that whoever would kiss the sphynx, would find love and never lose it again. The sphynx was covered with so much lipstick that in order to avoid damaging the monument, on November 30, 2011, it was surrounded by a fence.

What is your attitude toward the work of Oscar Wilde? Which novels have you read?

Preview photo credit EAST NEWS