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Oscar Wilde

Photograph taken in 1882 by Napoleon Sarony
Born 16 October 1854(1854-10-16)
Dublin, Ireland
Died 30 November 1900 (aged 46)
Paris, France
Occupation Playwright, short story writer, poet, journalist
Nationality Irish
Period Victorian era

Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900) was an Irish writer, poet and prominent aesthete. His parents were successful Dublin intellectuals, and from an early age he showed his intelligence, becoming fluent in French and German, then an outstanding classicist, first at Dublin, then at Oxford. After university, Wilde moved around trying his hand at various literary activities: he published a book of poems, then toured America lecturing extensively on aestheticism. Returning to London he worked prolifically as a journalist for four years. Known for his biting wit, flamboyant dress, and glittering conversation, Wilde had become one of the most well-known personalities of his day. He produced a series of dialogues and essays that developed his ideas about the supremacy of art. Though, it was his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray - still widely read - that brought him more lasting recognition. He became one of the most successful playwrights of the late Victorian era in London with a series of social satires which continue to be performed, especially his masterpiece The Importance of Being Earnest.

At the height of his fame and success, he suffered a dramatic downfall in a sensational series of trials. Wilde sued his lover's father for libel, the case went to trial, but was dropped. Wilde then imprisoned for two years' hard labour after being convicted of "gross indecency" with other men. In prison he wrote De Profundis, a dark counterpoint to his earlier philosophy of pleasure. After release from prison he set sail for Dieppe by the night ferry, never to return to Ireland or Britain. In France he wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol, a long, terse poem commemorating the harsh rhythms of prison life, but no further creative work. He died destitute in Paris at the age of forty-six.


Early life

Statue of Oscar Wilde by Danny Osborne in Dublin's Merrion Square (Archbishop Ryan Park)

Oscar Wilde was born at 21 Westland Row, Dublin (now home of the Oscar Wilde Centre, Trinity College, Dublin) the second of three children born to Sir William Wilde and Jane Francesca Wilde, two years behind William ("Willie"). Jane Wilde, under the pseudonym "Speranza" (the Italian word for 'Hope'), wrote poetry for the revolutionary Young Irelanders in 1848 and was a life-long Irish nationalist.[1] She read the Young Irelanders poetry to Oscar and Willie, inculcating a love of them to her sons.[2] Paintings and busts of ancient Greece and Rome in their home testified to her interest in the neo-classical revival.[2] William Wilde was Ireland's leading oto-ophthalmologic (ear and eye) surgeon and was knighted in 1864 for his services to medicine.[1] He also wrote books about Irish archaeology and peasant folklore. A renowned philanthropist, his dispensary for the care of the city's poor at the rear of Trinity College, Dublin, was the forerunner of the Dublin Eye and Ear Hospital, now located at Adelaide Road.

In addition to his children with his wife, Sir William Wilde was the father of three children born out of wedlock before his marriage: Henry Wilson, born in 1838, and Emily and Mary Wilde, born in 1847 and 1849 respectively to a different mother or mothers than Henry. Sir William acknowledged paternity of his illegitimate children and provided for their education, but they were reared by his relatives rather than with his wife and legitimate children.

In 1855, the family moved to No. 1 Merrion Square, where Wilde's sister, Isola, was born the following year. The Wildes' new home was larger and, with both his parents' sociality and success soon became a "unique medical and cultural milieu"; guests at their salon included Sheridan le Fanu, Charles Lever, George Petrie, Isaac Butt, William Rowan Hamilton and Samuel Ferguson.[2]

Until he was nine, Oscar Wilde was educated at home, where a French bonne and a German governess taught him their languages. He then attended Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, Fermanagh.[3] He summered at the villa his father built in Moytura, County Mayo, until he left Oxford.[4] It was there the young Wilde played with the older George Moore.

Isola died aged eight of meningitis. Wilde's poem Requiescat is dedicated to her memory:[5]

"Tread lightly, she is near
Under the snow
Speak gently, she can hear
the daisies grow"

The family was again struck by tragedy when Emily and Mary died in an accident in 1871. When the dress of one caught fire; her sister rushed her out of the house and down the steps to roll her in the snow, but her dress caught alight, and both died.

When Sir William died in 1876 his estate was found to be less substantial than his family had believed and produced little income. His illegitimate son, Henry Wilson, a physician who had entered practice with his father, supported his stepmother and half brothers financially while the executors sold some of Sir William's property to pay the estate debts and provide some funds for the family. Henry Wilson died unexpectedly in 1877.

University education

Trinity College, Dublin

He left Portora with a royal scholarship to read classics at Trinity College, Dublin, from 1871 to 1874,[6] sharing rooms with his older brother Willie Wilde. Trinity, one of the leading classical schools, set him with scholars such as R.Y. Tyrell, Arthur Palmer and his tutor, John Pentland Mahaffy who inspired his interest in Greek literature. Wilde later, though having reservations about Mahaffy, was generous with his praise calling him "my first and best teacher" and "the scholar who interested me in Greek things".[7] For his part Mahaffy first boasted of having created Wilde, only, later, to credit him as "the only blot on my tutorship".[8] Wilde quickly established himself as an outstanding student: he came first in his class in his first year, and won a scholarship by competitive examination in his second, and then, in his finals, won the Berkeley Gold Medal, the highest academic award at Trinity. The university also offered a course in aesthetics, and the Museum Building, just built in 1861, had been inspired by John Ruskin's teachings.[Notes 1]

The University Philosophical Society also provided an education, discussing intellectual and artistic subjects such as Rosetti and Swinburne weekly. Wilde quickly became an established member - the members' suggestion book for 1874 contains two pages of banter (sportingly) mocking Wilde's emergent aestheticism. He even presented a paper entitled "Aesthetic Morality".[9] He was encouraged to compete for a demyship to Magdalen College, Oxford - which he won easily, having already studied Greek for over nine years.

Magdalen College, Oxford

At Magdalen he read Greats from 1874 to 1878, from where he applied to join the Oxford Union, but failed to be elected.[10]

Attracted by its dress, secrecy and ritual, Wilde petitioned the Apollo Masonic Lodge at Oxford, and was soon raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason.[11] During a resurgent interest in Freemasonry in his third year, he commented he "would be awfully sorry to give it up if I secede from the Protestant Heresy".[12] He was deeply considering converting to Catholicism, discussing the possibility with clergy several times. In 1877 Wilde was left speechless after an audience with Pope Pius IX in Rome.[13] He eagerly read Cardinal Newman's books, and became altogether more serious in 1878, when he met the Reverend Sebastian Bowden, a priest in the Brompton Oratory who had received some high profile converts. Neither his father, who threatened to cut off his funds, nor Mahaffy thought much of the plan; but mostly Wilde, the supreme individualist, baulked at the last minute from pledging himself to any formal creed. On the appointed day of his baptism, Fr Bowden received a bunch of altar lilies instead. He retained a lifelong interest in Catholic theology and liturgy.[14]

Oscar Wilde at Oxford. The loud check of his suit shows his interest in dress was developing.

While at Magdalen College, Wilde became particularly well known for his role in the aesthetic and decadent movements. He wore his hair long, openly scorned "manly" sports, and decorated his rooms with peacock feathers, lilies, sunflowers, blue china and other objets d'art, once remarking to friends whom he entertained lavishly, "Every day I find it harder and harder to live up to my blue china".[15] The line quickly became famous, grasped as a slogan for the aesthetes and as the epitome of their terrible vacuousness by critics.[15] Some elements disdained the aesthetes, but their languishing attitudes and showy costumes became a recognised pose.[16] By his third year Wilde had truly begun to create himself and his myth, and saw his learning developing in much larger ways than merely the prescribed texts. This attitude resulted in him being rusticated for one term, when he nonchalantly returned to college late from a trip to Greece with Prof. Mahaffy.[17]

Wilde was deeply impressed by John Ruskin and Walter Pater, who argued for the central importance of art in life. He did not meet Prof. Pater until his third year, but had been enthralled by his Studies in the History of the Renaissance, published during Wilde's final year in Trinity.[18] Pater argued that man's sensibility to beauty should be refined above all else, and that each moment should be felt to its fullest extent. Years later in De Profundis, Wilde called Pater's Studies... "that book that has had such a strange influence over my life".[19] He learned tracts of the book by heart, and carried it with him on travels in later years. Pater gave Wilde his sense of almost flippant devotion to art, though it was Ruskin who gave him a purpose for it.[20] Ruskin despaired at the self-validating aestheticism of Pater, for him the importance of art lay in its potential for the betterment of society. He too admired beauty, but it must be allied with and applied to moral good. When Wilde eagerly attended his lecture series The Aesthetic and Mathematic Schools of Art in Florence, he learned about "aesthetics" as simply the non-mathematical elements of painting. Despite being given to neither early rising nor manual labour, Wilde volunteered for Ruskin's project to convert a swampy country lane into a smart road neatly edged with flowers.[20] Wilde was later to comment ironically when he wrote in The Picture of Dorian Gray that "All art is quite useless".

While at Magdalen, Wilde won the 1878 Newdigate Prize for his poem Ravenna, which reflected on his visit there the year before, and he duly read it at Encaenia.[21] In November 1878, he graduated with a rare double first in his B.A. of Classical Moderations and Literae Humaniores (Greats). Wilde wrote a friend, "The dons are 'astonied' beyond words - the Bad Boy doing so well in the end!"[22]

Apprenticeship of an aesthete: 1880-1890

Trade card for 'Aesthetic' cigars, using a photo taken by Napoleon Sarony, 1882

After graduation from Oxford, Wilde returned to Dublin, where he met again Florence Balcombe, a childhood sweetheart. She, however, became engaged to Bram Stoker (who later wrote Dracula), and they married in 1878.[23] Wilde was disappointed but stoic: he wrote to her, remembering "the two sweet years - the sweetest years of all my youth" they had spent together.[24] He also stated his intention to "return to England, probably for good". This he did in 1878, only visiting briefly twice.[25]

Unsure of his next step, he wrote to various acquaintances enquiring about Classics positions at Oxbridge.[26] The Rise of Historical Criticism was his submission for the Chancellor's Essay prize of 1879, which, though no longer a student, he was still eligible to enter. Its subject, "Historical Criticism among the Ancients" seemed ready-made for Wilde - with both his skill in composition and ancient learning - but he struggled to find his voice with the long, flat, scholarly style.[27] Unusually, no prize was awarded that year.[28] [Notes 2] With the last of his inheritance from the sale of his father's houses, he set himself up as a bachelor in London.[29]

At 27 years old, in mid-1881, Wilde issued a volume entitled Poems: he had published many shorter lyrics and poems in magazines, especially the Dublin University Magazine and Kottabos, but this collected, revised and expanded his poetic efforts.[30] The book was generally well received, and sold out its first print run of 750 copies, prompting further printings in 1882. Bound in a rich, enamel, parchment cover (embossed with gilt blossom) and printed on hand-made Dutch paper, Wilde was also to present many copies to the dignitaries and writers who would receive him over the next few years.[31] The Oxford Union condemned the book for alleged plagiarism in a tight vote. The Librarian, who had liked the book and wanted it for the library, returned the presentation copy to Wilde with a note of apology.[32][33]

The 1881 British Census listed Wilde as "Boarder" at 1 Tite Street, Chelsea, where Frank Miles, a society painter, was the head of the household.[34] Wilde would spend the next six years in London and Paris, and in the United States where he travelled to deliver lectures.


The aesthetic movement was caricatured in Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera Patience (1881). While Patience was a success in New York City, its producers were unsure how well aestheticism was known in the rest of America. So Richard D'Oyly Carte invited Wilde for a lecture tour of North America, simultaneously priming the pump for the U.S. tour of Patience and selling one of the most charming aesthetes to the public. Wilde arrived on 3 January 1882 aboard the SS Arizona reputedly telling a customs officer that "I have nothing to declare except my genius", although the first recording of this remark is many years afterward.[35] Wilde criss-crossed the country on a gruelling schedule, lecturing in a new town every few days.[36]

Keller cartoon from the Wasp of San Francisco depicting Wilde on the occasion of his visit there in 1882

During his tour of the United States and Canada, Wilde was mercilessly caricatured in the press. For example, The Wasp, a San Francisco newspaper, published a cartoon ridiculing Wilde and aestheticism but he was also well received in such settings as the mining town of Leadville, Colorado.[37]

The Springfield Republican commented on Wilde's behaviour during his visit to Boston to lecture on aestheticism, suggesting that Wilde's conduct was more of a bid for notoriety rather than a devotion to beauty and the aesthetic. Wilde's teaching was criticised by T.W. Higginson, a cleric and abolitionist, who wrote in Unmanly Manhood, of his general concern that Wilde, "[whose] only distinction is that he has written a thin volume of very mediocre verse", would improperly influence the behaviour of men and women, arguing that his poetry "eclipses masculine ideals [..that..] under such influence men would become effeminate dandies".[38] Though Wilde's press reception was hostile, he was the toast of the town, feted in the most fashionable salons in every city he visited.


His earnings, plus expected income from The Duchess of Padua allowed him to move to Paris between February and mid-May 1883, there he met Robert Sherard, whom he entertained constantly: "We are dining on the Duchess tonight", Wilde would declare before taking him to a fancy restaurant.[39] In August he briefly returned to New York for the production of Vera, his first play, after it was turned down in London. He reportedly entertained the other passengers with Ave Imperatrix!, A Poem On England, about the rise and fall of empires. E.C Steadman, in Victorian Poets describes this "lyric to England" as "manly verse - a poetic and eloquent invocation".[40] [Notes 3] Wilde's presence was again notable, the play was initially well received by the audience, but when the critics returned lukewarm reviews attendance fell sharply and the play closed a week after it had opened.[41]

He was left to return to England and lecturing: Personal Impressions of America, The Value of Art in Modern Life and Dress were among his topics. In London, he had been introduced to Constance Lloyd in 1881, daughter of Horace Lloyd, a wealthy Queen's Counsel. She happened to be visiting Dublin in 1884, when Wilde was lecturing at the Gaiety Theatre (an 18 year old W. B. Yeats was also among the audience). He proposed to her, and they married on 29 May 1884 at the Anglican St. James Church in Paddington, London.[42] Constance's allowance of £250 was generous, but the Wildes' tastes were relatively luxurious and, after preaching to others for so long, their home was expected to set new standards of design. No. 16 Tite Street was duly renovated in seven months at considerable expense. The couple quickly produced two sons, Cyril (1885) and Vyvyan (1886).

Robert Ross at twenty-four

Robert Ross had read Wilde's poems before they met, and he was unrestrained by the Victorian prohibition against homosexuality, even to the extent of estranging himself from his family. A precocious seventeen year old, by Richard Ellmann's account, he was " young and yet so knowing, was determined to seduce Wilde".[43] Wilde who had long alluded to Greek love, and - though an adoring father - was put off by the carnality of his wife's second pregnancy, relented to Ross's attentions in Oxford in 1886.[44]

Criticism over artistic matters in the Pall Mall Gazette provoked a letter in self-defence, and soon Wilde was a contributor to that and other journals during the years 1885-1887. He enjoyed reviewing and journalism, it was a form that suited his style: he could organise and share his views on art, literature and life, yet it was less tedious than lecturing. Buoyed up, his reviews were largely chatty and positive.[45]

Editorship: 1887-1889

Oscar Wilde reclines with Poems for Napoleon Sarony. In The Picture of Dorian Gray Lord Wotton speaks "languidly" three times and "languorously" once. If Wilde appeared to emulate him it was through hard work; by the late '80s he was a father, an editor, and a writer.[46]

His flair, having previously only been put into socialising, suited journalism and did not go unnoticed. With his youth nearly over, and a family to support, in mid 1887 Wilde became the editor of The Lady's World magazine, his name prominently appearing on the cover.[47] He promptly renamed it The Woman's World and raised its tone, adding serious articles on parenting, culture, and politics, keeping discussions of fashion and arts. Two pieces of fiction were usually included, one to be read to children, the other for the ladies themselves. Wilde used his wide artistic acquaintance to solicit good contributions, including those of Lady Wilde and his wife Constance, while his own "Literary and Other Notes" were themselves popular and amusing.[48]

The initial vigour and excitement he brought to the job began to fade as administration, commuting and office life became tedious. His lack of interest showed in the magazine's declining quality and flagging sales. Increasingly sending instructions by letter, he began a new period of creative work and his own column appeared less regularly.[49][50]

The Portrait of Mr. W.H., which he had begun in 1887, was published in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine in July 1889.[51] It is a short story in which a theory that Shakespeare's sonnets were written out of the poet's love of the boy actor "Willie Hughes", is advanced, retracted, and then propounded again. The only evidence for this is two supposed puns within the sonnets themselves.[52] The anonymous narrator is at first sceptical, then believing, finally flirtatious with the reader. By the end fact and fiction have melded together.[53] "You must believe in Willie Hughes" he told an accquantaince, "I almost do myself".[54] In October 1889, Wilde had finally found his voice in prose and, at the end of the second volume, Wilde left The Woman's World.[55] The magazine outlasted him by one volume.[49]

All the World's a Stage: 1890-1895

Wilde, having tired of journalism, had been busy setting out his aesthetic ideas more fully in his series of dialogues which were published in the major literary-intellectual journals of the day. Pen, Pencil and Poison: A Study was published in 1889 by his friend Frank Harris, editor of the Fortnightly Review,[56] while The Decay of Lying: A Dialogue was in Eclectic Magazine in February of the same year.[57]

They were followed by the first version of The Picture of Dorian Gray, published as the lead story in the July 1890 edition of Lippincott's Monthly Magazine, along with five other novels.[58] Wilde revised it extensively, adding six new chapters at the behest of his publisher, for publication in book form the following year.[59] It was Wilde's annus mirabilis: apart from his novel, he also published several collections of earlier published pieces. His critical prose writings were significantly revised and packaged as Intentions.[60] Meanwhile two collections of fairy stories for children were published , Lord Arthur Saville's Crime & Other Stories, and in September The House of Pomegranates was dedicated "To Constance Mary Wilde".[61]

The 1891 census records the Wildes' residence at 16 Tite Street,[62] where he lived with his wife Constance and sons. Wilde though, not content with being more well-known than ever in London, returned to Paris in November 1891. The success of his stories and novel behind him, his thoughts had begun to move towards the dramatic form, though it was the biblical iconography of Salome that filled his head.[63] He was received at the salons littéraires, including the famous mardis of Stéphane Mallarmé, a renowned symbolist poet of the time.[64] One evening, after discussing his ideas of Salome, he returned to his hotel to notice a blank copybook lying on the desk. It occurred to him to write down what he had been saying. Salomé, written in French, was soon nearly finished.[65] When Wilde left just before Christmas, the Paris Echo newspaper referred to him as "le great event" of the season.[66] Rehearsals, including Sarah Bernhardt began, but the play was refused a licence by the Lord Chamberlain, since it depicted biblical characters.[67]Salomé was published jointly in Paris and London in 1893, but was not performed until 1896 in Paris, during Wilde's incarceration.[68]


Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas in 1893

In mid-1891 poet Lionel Johnson introduced Wilde to Lord Alfred Douglas, an undergraduate at Oxford at the time. An intimate friendship sprang up between Wilde and Douglas, but it was not initially sexual, nor did the sexual activity progress far when it eventually took place. According to Douglas, speaking in his old age, "from the second time he saw me, when he gave me a copy of Dorian Gray which I took with me to Oxford, he made overtures to me. It was not till I had known him for at least six months and after I had seen him over and over again and he had twice stayed with me in Oxford, that I gave in to him. I did with him and allowed him to do just what was done among boys at Winchester and Oxford ... Sodomy never took place between us, nor was it attempted or dreamed of. Wilde treated me as an older one does a younger one at school".[69] After Wilde realised that Douglas only consented in order to please him, Wilde permanently ceased his physical attentions.[70]


Wilde, who had first set out to irritate Victorian society with his dress and talking points, then outrage it with Dorian Gray, his novel of vice hidden beneath art, finally found a way to critique society on its own terms. Lady Windermere's Fan was first performed on the 20 February 1892 at St James Theatre, packed with the cream of society. On the surface a witty comedy, there is subtle subversion underneath: "it concludes with collusive concealment rather than collective disclosure".[71] The audience, like Lady Windermere, are forced to soften harsh social codes in favour of a more nuanced view. The play was enormously popular, touring the country for months, but largely thrashed by conservative critics.[72] When Wilde answered the calls of "Author!" and appeared before the curtains at the end, they were more offended by the cigarette in his hand than his egoistic speech:

Ladies and Gentlemen. I have enjoyed this evening immensely. The actors have given us a charming rendition of a delightful play, and your appreciation has been most intelligent. I congratulate you on the great success of your performance, which persuades me that you think almost as highly of the play as I do myself.[73][74]

It was followed by A Woman of No Importance in 1893, another essentially Victorian comedy: revolving around the spectre of illegitimate births, mistaken identities and late revelations.[75] Wilde was commissioned to write two more plays, and An Ideal Husband, written in 1894, followed in January 1895.[76]

Peter Raby said these essentially English plays were well-pitched, "Wilde, with one eye on the dramatic genius of Ibsen, and the other on the commercial competition in London's West End, targeted his audience with adroit precision".[77]

Feasting with panthers

Wilde was now infatuated with Douglas and they began a tempestuous affair, consorting together regularly. If Wilde was relatively indiscreet, even flamboyant, in the way he acted, Lord Douglas was reckless in public. Wilde, who was earning up to £100 a week from his plays (his salary at The Woman's World had been £6), indulged Douglas's every whim: material, artistic or sexual. Their relationship was not marked by fidelity, and Douglas soon dragged Wilde into the Victorian underground of gay prostitution. Douglas and some Oxford friends began to discuss homosexual-law reform, "The Cause", and they founded an Oxford journal, The Chameleon, to which Wilde "sent a page of paradoxes originally destined for the Saturday Review".[78] Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young, was to come under attack six months later at Wilde's trial, where he was forced to defend the magazine to which he had unthinkingly sent his work.[79] In any case, it became unique: The Chameleon was not published again.

At Douglas's encouragement, Wilde stepped up the pace of casual sexual affairs. Through Douglas he met Alfred Taylor, and they both introduced him to a series of young, working class, male prostitutes from 1892 onwards. These relationships usually took the same form: Wilde would meet the boy, offer him gifts, dine him privately and then take him to a hotel room. Unlike Wilde's idealised, pederastic relations with John Gray, Ross and Douglas, all of whom remained part of his aesthetic circle, these consorts were uneducated and knew nothing of literature. Soon his public and private lives had become sharply divided, in De Profundis he wrote to Douglas that it was like "feasting with panthers".[80]

Lord Queensberry

Lord Alfred's father, The Marquess of Queensberry, was known for his outspoken atheism, brutish manner and creation of the modern rules of boxing. He and his wife had been casually accquainted in passing with Wilde for several years. His oldest son, Francis Douglas, Viscount Drumlanrig, possibly had an intimate association with Archibald Philip Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery, the Prime Minister to whom he was private secretary, which ended with Viscount Drumlanrig's death in an unexplained shooting accident. The Marquess of Queensberry came to believe his sons had been corrupted by older homosexuals or, as he phrased it in a letter in the aftermath of Viscount Drumlaing's death: "Montgomerys, The Snob Queers like Rosebery and certainly Christian Hypocrite like Gladstone and the whole lot of you".[81]

Queensberry confronted Wilde and Lord Alfred on several occasions, but each time Wilde was able to mollify him. In June 1894, he called to Wilde at 16 Tite Street, without an appointment, and clarified his stance:

"I do not say that you are [a homosexual], but you look it, and pose at it, which is just as bad. And if I catch you and my son again in any public restaurant I will thrash you"

to which Wilde responded:

"I don't know what the Queensberry rules are, but the Oscar Wilde rule is to shoot on sight".[82]

His account in De Profundis was less triumphant, describing Queensberry was epileptic with rage, screaming every insult under the sun.[83][84] Queensberry only described the scene once, saying Wilde had "shown him the white feather", meaning he had acted cowardly.[84] Though trying to remain calm, Wilde saw that he was becoming ensnared in a brutal family quarrel. He did not wish to bear Queensberry's insults, but he knew to confront him could lead to disaster were his liaisons disclosed publicly.

The Importance of Being Earnest

Wilde's final play again returns to the theme of switched identities: the play's two protagonists engage in "bunburying", the maintenance of alternate personas in the town and country, which allows them to escape Victorian social mores.[44] The play, universally acknowledged as a riposte to Wilde's boast to André Gide that he had "put my genius into my life, and only my talent into my works" - premiered on St. Valentine's day 1895.[44] Wilde had firmly reached his artistic maturity and rapidly wrote the play in late 1894.[85]

Wilde's professional success mirrored escalation in his feud with Queensberry. He had planned to publicly insult Wilde by throwing a bouquet of spoiling vegetables onto the stage; Wilde was tipped off and had Queensberry barred from entering the theatre.


The Marquess of Queensberry's calling card with the offending inscription "For Oscar Wilde posing Somdomite [sic]"

Wilde vs Queensberry

On the 18 February 1895, the Marquess left his calling card at Wilde's club, the Albemarle, inscribed: "For Oscar Wilde, posing somdomite"[sic].[86] [Notes 4] Wilde, egged on by Douglas and against the advice of his friends, made a complaint of criminal libel against the Marquess of Queensberry, who was arrested, then freed on bail. The libel trial became a cause célèbre as salacious details of Wilde's private life with Alfred Taylor and Lord Alfred Douglas began to appear in the press. A team of detectives, with the help of the actor Charles Brookfield, had directed Queensberry's lawyers (led by Edward Carson QC) to the world of the Victorian underground. Here Wilde's association with blackmailers and male prostitutes, cross-dressers and homosexual brothels was recorded, and various persons involved were interviewed, some being coerced to appear as witnesses.[87]

The trial opened on the 3rd April 1895 amongst scenes of near hysteria both in the press and the public galleries. The extent of the evidence massed against Wilde forced him to meekly declare "I am the prosecutor in this case".[88]

Wilde's lawyer, Sir Edward George Clarke, opened the case with a direct examination of Wilde on the topic of two highly suggestive letters Wilde had written to Lord Alfred Douglas, knowing that the defence had possession of the letters and would surely introduce them in a dramatic scandalous fashion if he did not. Wilde stated that the letters had been obtained by blackmailers who had attempted to extort money from Wilde, but he had refused, as he considered them works of art worthy of publication rather than something shameful.[1]

On cross-examination, Queensberry's lawyer, Edward Carson, questioned Wilde as to how he perceived the moral content of his works.[2] In particular, Carson claimed that Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young, a biting satirical mockery of Victorian morality, is a decadent and dangerous work designed to corrupt the morals of youth, and that The Picture of Dorian Gray is a "perverted novel" which glorifies homosexual love. Wilde handled the cross-examination with charateristic wit and flippancy, claiming that works of art are not capable of being moral or immoral but only well made or poorly made, and that only "brutes and illiterates," whose views he could not understand, would make moral judgements about art. Carson later used this exchange in his opening statement for the defence to portray Wilde as haughty, arrogant, and condescending towards "ordinary" people.

Carson then questioned Wilde serially about his many accquaintances with uneducated lower class men of half his age who were either unemployed or worked as servants.[3] Wilde admitted being on a first-name basis with the men and giving them gifts of money, fine clothes, drinks, meals at expensive restaurants, and travel abroad at expensive hotels, but insisted that nothing untoward had occurred and that the men were merely good friends of his. Carson repeatedly pointed out that intimate friendship and lavish gifts were highly unusual between a well-educated older aristocratic gentleman and young, uneducated servants, and insinuated that the men were male prostitutes. Wilde replied that he did not believe in social barriers, and that he simply enjoyed the company of young men.

Carson asked whether Wilde was aware that two of his young friends had recently been arrested for immoral behavior while dressed in women's clothing. Wilde replied that he was, that he thought the charges were ridiculous and had been dropped in any case.

In one critical exchange, Carson asked Wilde whether he had ever kissed a certain servant boy. Wilde replied, "Oh, dear no. He was a particularly plain boy — unfortunately ugly — I pitied him for it."[89] Carson, scenting blood, pressed him on the point, repeatedly asking why the boy's ugliness was relevant. Wilde hesitated and became flustered, complaining of Carson's insults and attempts to unnerve him, finally saying that it was inappropriate flippancy when he should have been more serious in his reply.[4]

In his opening statement for the defence[5], Carson portrayed Wilde as a vicious and morally repugnant older man who habitually preyed upon naive youths and seduced them into a life of homosexuality. He noted the contradiction between Wilde's pompous and arrogant portrayal of his writing as intelligible only to the elite and refined with his explanation of his association with servant boys as based on a personal sense of democratic egalitarianism and lack of regard for social barriers. He said that he planned to call several male prostitutes as witnesses who would testify that they had had sex with Wilde, which would render the libel charge unsupportable, since a libel must be false.

On the advice of his lawyers, Wilde then decided to drop the libel prosecution against Queensberry, since the testimony of the male prostitutes would almost certainly have rendered a conviction impossible as well as creating an even more tremendous scandal. Queensberry was found not guilty, as the court declared that Queensberry's accusation that Wilde was "posing as a Sodomite" was justified, "true in substance and in fact."[6]

The Crown vs Wilde

After Wilde left the court, a warrant for his arrest was applied for and served on him at the Cadogan Hotel, Knightsbridge. Robbie Ross found him there with Reginald Turner; both men advised Wilde to go at once to Dover and try to get a boat to France; his mother advised him to stay and fight like a man. Wilde, lapsing into inaction, could only say, "The train has gone. It's too late."[90] Wilde was arrested for "gross indecency" under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885. In British legislation of the time, this term implied homosexual acts not amounting to buggery, which was an offence under a separate statute.[91][92] At Wilde's instruction, Ross and Wilde's butler forced their way into the bedroom and library of 16 Tite Street, packing some personal effects, manuscripts, and letters.[93] Wilde was then imprisoned on remand at Holloway where he received daily visits from Lord Alfred Douglas.

Wilde in the dock, from The Illustrated Police News, 4 May 1895

Events moved quickly and his prosecution opened on 26 April 1895. Wilde had already begged Douglas to leave London for Paris, but Douglas complained bitterly, even wanting to take the stand; however he was pressed to go and soon fled to the Hotel du Monde. Ross and many other gentlemen also left the United Kingdom during this time. Under cross examination Wilde presented an eloquent defence:

Charles Gill (prosecuting): What is "the love that dare not speak its name?"

Wilde: "The love that dare not speak its name" in this century is such a great affection of an elder for a younger man as there was between David and Jonathan, such as Plato made the very basis of his philosophy, and such as you find in the sonnets of Michelangelo and Shakespeare. It is that deep spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect. It dictates and pervades great works of art, like those of Shakespeare and Michelangelo, and those two letters of mine, such as they are. It is in this century misunderstood, so much misunderstood that it may be described as "the love that dare not speak its name," and on that account of it I am placed where I am now. It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing unnatural about it. It is intellectual, and it repeatedly exists between an older and a younger man, when the older man has intellect, and the younger man has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him. That it should be so, the world does not understand. The world mocks at it, and sometimes puts one in the pillory for it."[94]

The trial ended with the jury unable to reach a verdict and Wilde's counsel, Sir Edward Clark, was finally able to agree bail.[95] Wilde was freed from Holloway and went into hiding at the house of Ernest and Ada Leverson, two of Wilde's firm friends. The Reverend Stewart Headlam put up most of the £5,000 bail,[96] having disagreed with Wilde's heinous treatment by the press and the courts. Edward Carson approached Frank Lockwood (QC) and asked 'Can we not let up on the fellow now?'[97] His request was denied.

The final trial was presided over by Mr Justice Wills. On 25 May 1895 Wilde and Alfred Taylor were convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to two years' hard labour.[98] The judge described the sentence as "totally inadequate for a case such as this," although it was the maximum sentence allowed for the charge under the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885.[99] Wilde's response "And I?, May I say nothing my Lord?" was drowned out in cries of "Shame".[100]


Wilde was imprisoned first in Pentonville and then Wandsworth prisons in London. The regime at the time was tough, "hard labour, hard fare and a hard bed" was the guiding philosophy, and it wore particularly harshly on Wilde as a gentleman, though his status provided him no special privileges.[101] In November he was forced to attend Chapel, and there he was so weak from illness and hunger that he collapsed, bursting his right ear drum, an injury that would later contribute to his death.[102] He spent two months in the infirmary.[102][103]

Richard B. Haldane, the Liberal MP and reformer, visited him and had him transferred in November to HM's Prison, Reading, 30 miles west of London.[104] Wilde knew the town of Reading from happier times, boating on the Thames and visits to the Palmer family (including a tour of the famous Huntley & Palmers biscuit factory, quite close to the prison). The transfer itself was the lowest point of his incarceration, as a crowd jeered and spat at him on the platform.[102] Now known as prisoner C. 3.3 (Gallery C, 3rd floor, cell three) he was not, at first, even allowed paper and pen, but Haldane eventually succeeded in allowing access to books and writing materials.[105] Wilde requested, among others, the Bible in French, Italian and German grammars, some Greek texts, Dante, En Route (a new French novel about Christian redemption) by Joris-Karl Huysmans, St Augustine, Cardinal Newman and Pater's essays.[106]

Between January and March 1897 Wilde wrote a 50,000-word letter to Douglas, which he was not allowed to send, but permitted to take with him upon release.[107] In it he repudiates Lord Douglas for what Wilde finally sees as his arrogance and vanity; he had not forgotten Douglas's remark, when he was ill, "When you are not on your pedestal you are not interesting."[108] He also felt redemption and fulfilment in his ordeal, realising that his hardship had filled the soul with the fruit of experience, however bitter it tasted at the time.

...I wanted to eat of the fruit of all the trees in the garden of the world... And so, indeed, I went out, and so I lived. My only mistake was that I confined myself so exclusively to the trees of what seemed to me the sun-lit side of the garden, and shunned the other side for its shadow and its gloom.[109]

On his release, he gave the manuscript to Ross, who may or may not have carried out Wilde's instructions to send a copy to Douglas (who later denied having received it). De Profundis was partially published in 1905, its complete and correct publication first occurred in 1962 in The Letters of Oscar Wilde.[Notes 4]

Decline: 1897-1900


Wilde was released on the 19 May 1897, though his health had suffered greatly, he had a feeling of spiritual renewal. He immediately wrote to the Jesuits requesting a six month Catholic retreat; when the request was denied, Wilde wept.[110] He left England the next day for the continent, to spend his last three years in penniless exile. He took the name "Sebastian Melmoth", after Saint Sebastian and the titular character of Melmoth the Wanderer, Wilde's great-uncle Charles Maturin's gothic novel.[111]

Wilde spent mid-1897 with Robert Ross in in Berneval-le-Grand, where he wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol. The poem narrates the execution of a man who murdered his wife for her infidelity; it moves from an objective story-telling to symbolic group identification with the prisoners as a whole.[112] No attempt is made to assess the justice of the laws which convicted them, but rather the brutalisation of the punishment that all convicts share. Instead he juxtaposes the executed man and himself with the line "and so each man kills the thing he loves"[113]; Wilde too was separated from his Wife and sons. Wilde adopted the proletarian ballad form, and the title page anonymised the author as "C.3.3." He suggested it be published in Reynold's Magazine, "because it circulates widely among the criminal classes - to which I now belong - for once I will be read by my peers - a new experience for me".[114] It was a commercial success, going through seven editions in less than two years, only after which "[Oscar Wilde]" was added, though many in literary circles had known Wilde to be the author.[115][116] It brought him a little money.

Although Douglas had been the cause of his misfortunes he and Wilde were reunited in August 1897 at Rouen. This meeting was disapproved of by the friends and families of both men. Constance Wilde was already refusing to meet Wilde or allow him to see their sons, though she kept him supplied with money. During the latter part of 1897, Wilde and Douglas lived together near Naples, but for financial and other reasons, they separated.[117]

Wilde's final address was at the dingey Hôtel d'Alsace (now known as L'Hôtel), in Paris; "This poverty really breaks one's heart: it is so sale, so utterly depressing, so hopeless. Pray do what you can" he wrote to his publisher.[118] He corrected and published An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest, the proofs of which Ellman argues show a man "very much in command of himself and of the play"[119] but he refused to write anything else "I can write, but have lost the joy of writing".[119] He spent much time wandering the Boulevards alone, and spent what little money he had on alcohol.[120] A series of embarrassing encounters with English visitors, or Frenchmen he had known in better days, further damaged his spirit. On 12 October he sent a telegram to Ross: "Terribly weak. Please come."[121] On one of his final trips outside the hotel is quoted as saying, less than a month before his death, "My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One of us has got to go."[122] His moods fluctuated; Max Beerbohm relates how, a few days before Wilde's death, their mutual friend Reginald 'Reggie' Turner had found Wilde very depressed after a nightmare. "I dreamt that I had died, and was supping with the dead!" "I am sure", Turner replied, "that you must have been the life and soul of the party."[123][124] Turner was one of the very few of the old circle who remained with Wilde right to the end, and was at his bedside when he died.

The tomb of Oscar Wilde in Père Lachaise Cemetery


On his deathbed Wilde was conditionally baptised into the Roman Catholic church by Fr. Cuthbert Dunne, a Passionist priest from Dublin.[125] Fr Dunne recorded the baptism:

As the voiture rolled through the dark streets that wintry night, the sad story of Oscar Wilde was in part repeated to me....Robert Ross knelt by the bedside, assisting me as best he could while I administered conditional baptism, and afterwards answering the responses while I gave Extreme Unction to the prostrate man and recited the prayers for the dying. As the man was in a semi-comatose condition, I did not venture to administer the Holy Viaticum; still I must add that he could be roused and was roused from this state in my presence.[126]

[Notes 5]

Wilde died of cerebral meningitis on 30 November 1900. Different opinions are given as to the cause of the meningitis; Richard Ellmann claimed it was syphilitic; Merlin Holland, Wilde's grandson, thought this to be a misconception, noting that Wilde's meningitis followed a surgical intervention, perhaps a mastoidectomy; Wilde's physicians, Dr. Paul Cleiss and A'Court Tucker, reported that the condition stemmed from an old suppuration of the right ear (une ancienne suppuration de l'oreille droite d'ailleurs en traitement depuis plusieurs années) and did not allude to syphilis.

Wilde was initially buried in the Cimetière de Bagneux graveyard outside Paris; in 1909 his remains were disinterred to Père Lachaise Cemetery, inside in the city.[127] His tomb was designed by Sir Jacob Epstein, comissioned by Robert Ross, who asked for a small compartment to be made for his own ashes which were duly transferred in 1950. The modernist angel depicted as a relief on the tomb was originally complete with male genitalia which were broken off by a visitor and subsequently kept as a paperweight by a succession of cemetery keepers; their current whereabouts are unknown. In 2000, Leon Johnson, a multi-media artist, installed silver prosthesis to replace them.[128]

The epitaph is a verse from The Ballad of Reading Gaol:[129]

And alien tears will fill for him
Pity's long-broken urn,
For his mourners will be outcast men,
And outcasts always mourn.

Themes and influences

1881 caricature in Punch

For Wilde, the purpose of art was to guide life, and to do this it must concern itself only with the pursuit of beauty, disdaining morality. Just as Dorian Gray's portrait allows its owner to escape the corporeal ravages of his hedonism, and Miss Prism mistakes a baby for a book in The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde sought to juxtapose the beauty he saw in art onto daily life.[44] This was a practical as well as philosophical project: in Oxford he surrounded himself with blue china and lilies; in America he lectured on interior design; in London he paraded down Piccadily carrying a lily, long hair flowing.[44] In Victorian society, Wilde was a colourful agent provocateur: his art, like his paradoxes, sought to subvert as well as sparkle. His own estimation of himself was of one who "stood in symbolic relations to the art and culture of my age".[130] Ellman argues that Wilde's poem Hélas was a sincere, though flamboyant attempt to explain the dichotomies he saw in himself:[131]

TO drift with every passion till my soul
Is a stringed lute on which all winds can play,

For much of his life, Wilde advocated socialism, which he argued "will be of value simply because it will lead to individualism".[132] He also had a strong libertarian streak as shown in his poem Sonnet to Liberty and, subsequent to reading the works of Peter Kropotkin (whom he described as "a man with a soul of that beautiful white Christ which seems coming out of Russia") he declared himself an anarchist.[133] Wilde was concerned about the effect of moralising on art: following his vision of art as separate from life, he thought that the government most amiable to artists was no government at all. This point of view did not align him with the Fabians, the leading intellectual socialists of the time.[134] In The Soul of Man Under Socialism he presents a vision of society where mechanisation has freed human effort from the burden of necessity, and can be expended entirely on artistic creation.


Wilde's was the sole literary signatory of George Bernard Shaw's petition for a pardon of the anarchists arrested (and later executed) after the Haymarket massacre in Chicago in 1886.[135] Other political influences on Wilde may have been William Morris and John Ruskin.[136] Wilde was also a pacifist and quipped that "When liberty comes with hands dabbled in blood it is hard to shake hands with her". After his release from prison, Wilde wrote several long letters to the Daily Chronicle, describing the brutal conditions of English prisons and advocating penal reform.He repeated the themes of the corruption and degeneration of punishment that he had earlier outlined in The Soul of Man Under Socialism.[137]

Wilde, like his parents before him, also supported the cause of Irish Nationalism. When Charles Stewart Parnell was falsely accused of inciting murder Wilde wrote a series of astute columns defending him in the Daily Chronicle.[135]

Selected oeuvre


No. 34 Tite Street, Chelsea, the Wilde family home from 1884 to his arrest in 1895. In Wilde's time this was No. 16—the houses have been renumbered.[138]

Wilde's life continues to fascinate, he has been the subject of numerous biographies since his death. The earliest were memoirs by those known to him including Frank Harris, his friend and editor, who wrote a biography, Oscar Wilde: His Life and Confessions. Of his other close friends, Robert Sherard, Robert Ross his literary executor, Charles Ricketts and Lord Alfred Douglas variously published biographies, reminiscences or correspondence. In 1946, Hesketh Pearson published The Life of Oscar Wilde (Methuen), it contains material derived from conversations many who had known or worked with Wilde. It gives a vivid impression of Wilde's presence must have been like, although dated. In 1954 Vyvyan Holland published his memoir Son of Oscar Wilde, which recounts the difficulties Wilde's wife and children faced after his imprisonment.[139] It was revised and updated by Merlin Holland in 1989.

Wilde's life was still waiting for independent, true scholarship when Richard Ellmann began researching his 1987 biography Oscar Wilde, for which he posthumously won a National (USA) Book Critics Circle Award in 1988 [140] and a Pulitzer Prize in 1989.[141] It is considered to be the definitive work on the subject.[142] Ray Monk, a philosopher and biographer, described Ellman's Oscar Wilde as a "rich, fascinating biography that succeeds in understanding another person".[143] The book was the basis for the 1997 film Wilde, directed by Brian Gilbert.[144]

Neil McKenna's 2003 biography, The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde, offers an exploration of Wilde's sexuality. Often speculative in nature, it was widely criticised for its lack of scholarly rigour and pure conjecture.[145][146] Thomas Wright's Oscar's Books (2008) explores Wilde's reading from his childhood in Dublin to his death in Paris.[147] After tracking down many books that once belonged to Wilde's Tite Street Library, (dispersed at the time of his trials) he was the first to examine Wilde's marginalia.

Wilde's charm also had a lasting affect on the Parisian literati, who have produced a number of original biographies and monographs on him. Andre Gide, on whom Wilde had such a strange effect, wrote, In Memoriam, Oscar Wilde, Wilde also features in his journals.[148] Thomas Louis, who had earlier translated books on Wilde into French, produced his own L’esprit d’Oscar Wilde in 1920.[149] Modern books include Philippe Jullian's Oscar Wilde,[150] and L'affaire Oscar Wilde ou Du danger de laisser la justice mettre le nez dans nos draps (The Oscar Wilde Affair, or, On the Danger of Allowing Justice to put its Nose in our Sheets) by Odon Vallet, a French religous historian.[151]


  1. ^ Ruskin even visited Trinity College to see it, calling it "quite the finest thing ever done from my teaching." (Coakley, Davis; "The Neglected Years: Wilde in Dublin" in "Rediscovering Oscar Wilde" Ed. C. George Sandelescu, Pg. 55-6)
  2. ^ The essay was later published in "Miscellanies", the final section of the 1908 edition of Wilde's collected works. (Mason, S. 1914, Pg. 486)
  3. ^ Ave Imperatrix had been first published in The World, an American magazine, in 1880, having first been intended for Time magazine. Apparently the editor liked the verse, so switched it to the other magazine so as to attain "a larger and better audience". It was revised for inclusion in Poems the next year. (Mason (1914) Pg. 233)
  4. ^ a b Queensberry's handwriting was almost indecipherable: The hall porter initially read "ponce and sodomite", but Queensberry himself claimed that he'd written "posing 'as' a sodomite", an easier accusation to defend in court. Merlin Holland concludes that "what Queensberry almost certainly wrote was "posing somdomite", (Holland (2004) Pg.300 )
  5. ^ Robert Ross, in his letter to More Adey (dated 14 December 1900), described a similar scene: "He was conscious that people were in the room, and raised his hand when I asked him whether he understood. He pressed our hands. I then went in search of a priest and with great difficulty found Fr Cuthbert Dunne, of the Passionists, who came with me at once and administered Baptism and Extreme Unction. - Oscar could not take the Eucharist".(Holland/Hart-Davis (2000)Pg. 1219-1220)


  1. ^ a b "Literary Encyclopedia - Oscar Wilde". 25 January 2001. Retrieved 3 April 2009. 
  2. ^ a b c Coakley, Davis; "The Neglected Years: Wilde in Dublin" in "Rediscovering Oscar Wilde" Ed. C. George Sandelescu, Pg. 53
  3. ^ Ellman (1988) Pg. 20
  4. ^ Coakley, Davis; "The Neglected Years: Wilde in Dublin" in "Rediscovering Oscar Wilde" Ed. C. George Sandelescu, Pg. 55-6
  5. ^ Ellman (1998) Pg. 24
  6. ^ Ellman (1988) Pg. 25
  7. ^ Ellman (1988) Pg.26
  8. ^ Ellman (1988) Pg. 27
  9. ^ Ellman (1988) Pg.29
  10. ^ See pages 183-5 of Thomas Toughill's "The Ripper Code" (The History Press, 2008) which mention Toughill's research in the archives of the Oxford Union. This book also contains a photograph of Wilde's unsuccessful entry in the Union's "Probational Members Subscriptions" (022/8/F2/1) for the period 1862-1890.
  11. ^ Ellman (1988) Pg.39
  12. ^ Ellman (1988) Pg.65
  13. ^ Ellman 1988 Pg. 70
  14. ^ Schwchord, Ronald; "Wilde's Dark Angel and the Spell of Decadent Catholicism" in "Rediscovering Oscar Wilde" Pg. 375-6
  15. ^ a b (1988) Pg. 43-4
  16. ^ Breen (1977, 2000) Pg.22–23
  17. ^ Ellman (1988) Pg. 78
  18. ^ Ellman (1988) Pg. 46
  19. ^ Holland/Hart-Davis (2000) Pg. 735, De Profundis
  20. ^ a b Ellman (1988) Pg.95
  21. ^ Ellman (1988) Pg. 93
  22. ^ Letter to William Ward; Holland/Hart-Davis (2000) Pg. 70; see also Ellman (1988) Pg. 94
  23. ^ Kifeather (2005) Pg. 101
  24. ^ Letter to Florence Balcombe, Holland/Hart-Davis (2000) Pg. 71
  25. ^ Letter to Florence Balcombe, Holland/Hart-Davis (2000) Pg. 71; See also Ellman (1988) Pg. 99
  26. ^ Holland/Hart-Davis (2000)Pg. 72-8
  27. ^ Ellman (1988)Pg. 102
  28. ^ Ellman (1988) Pg. 102
  29. ^ Ellman (1988) Pg. 105
  30. ^ Ellman (1988) Pg. 131
  31. ^ Mason (1914) Pg. 282
  32. ^ Morely (1976) Pg. 36
  33. ^ Hyde (1948) Pg. 39
  34. ^ and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1881 England Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2004. Source Citation: Class: RG11; Piece: 78; Folio: 56; Page: 46; GSU roll: 1341017.
  35. ^ Website of the Oscar Wilde Society of America retrieved 19th February 2010
  36. ^ Chronology of Wilde's Lecture tour of America access date 19 February 2010
  37. ^ Oscar Wilde - Wilde in America access date 3rd April 2009
  38. ^ "Unmanly Manhood" by Higginson
  39. ^ Ellman, R. (1988) Pg. 205
  40. ^ Mason (1972) Pg.232
  41. ^ Ellman (1988) Pg. 228
  42. ^
  43. ^ Ellman (1988) Pg. 259
  44. ^ a b c d e Mendelshon, Daniel; The Two Oscar Wildes, New York Review of Books, Volume 49, Number 15 · 10 October 2002
  45. ^ Ellman (1988) Pg. 247-8
  46. ^ Ellman (1988) Pg. 289
  47. ^ Mason (1914) Pg. 219
  48. ^ Ellman (1988) Pg. 276
  49. ^ a b Mason (1914) Pg. 202
  50. ^ Letter to Arthur Fish; Holland/Hart-Davis (2000) Pg. 404
  51. ^ (Vol. CXLVI, No. 885, July 1889); see Mason (1914) Pg. 6
  52. ^ Review in the Guardian, 29 March 2003
  53. ^ Ellman (1998) Pg. 280
  54. ^ Ellman (1998) Pg. 280
  55. ^ Letter to Wemyss Reid, Holland/Hart-Davis (2000) Pg. 413
  56. ^ Mason, S. (1914), Pg. 71
  57. ^ Mason, S. (1914) Pg. 69
  58. ^ Mason (1914) Pg. 105
  59. ^ Mason (1914) Pg. 341
  60. ^ MasonS. (1914) Pg. 355
  61. ^ Mason.S (1914 Pg. 360-2
  62. ^ "Registrar General Records". Wilde, Oscar O'Flahertie Wills (1856-1900), author. National Archives. Retrieved 12 March 2010. 
  63. ^ Ellman, (1988) Pg. 322 ,
  64. ^ Ellman, (1988) Pg. 316
  65. ^ Ellman (1988) Pg. 323
  66. ^ Ellman (1988) Pg. 326
  67. ^ Mason (1914) Pg. 371
  68. ^ Mason (1914) Pg. 369
  69. ^ Harris, Frank (2005) Oscar Wilde His Life and Confessions, Volume 2. Kessinger Publishing p xlii ISBN 10 1417904836
  70. ^ Hyde (1948) Pg.144
  71. ^ Ellman, (1988) Pg. 344 ,
  72. ^ Ellman, (1988) Pg.347
  73. ^ Ellman (1988) Pg.344-5
  74. ^ Lady Windermere's Fan
  75. ^ Ellman (1980) Pg. 360
  76. ^ Ellman (1988) Pg. 404
  77. ^ Raby (1997) Pg. 146
  78. ^ Holland/Hart-Davis (2000) Pg. 702, De Profundis
  79. ^ Holland/Hart-Davis, (2000) Pg. 703 (De Profundis)
  80. ^ Holland/Hart-Davis (2000) (De Profundis)
  81. ^ Ellman (1988) Pg. 402
  82. ^ Ellman (1988) Pg. 421
  83. ^ Holland/Hart-Davis, (2000) Pg. 699-700
  84. ^ a b Ellman (1988) Pg. 396
  85. ^ Ellman, (1988) Pg. 398
  86. ^ Holland (2004) Pg.300
  87. ^ Ellmann, (1988) Pg. 415
  88. ^ Ellman (1988) Pg. 418
  89. ^ Irish Peacock & Scarlet Marquis, Merlin Holland
  90. ^ Harris (1916)
  91. ^ Offences Against the Person Act 1861, ss 61, 62
  92. ^ Hyde (1948) Pg. 5
  93. ^ Ellman (1988) Pg. 429
  94. ^ Transcript of Wilde's trial, published online by University of Missouri-Kansas Law School; See also Ellman (1988) Pg. 435
  95. ^ Old Bailey records online
  96. ^ Holland (2003) - Introduction by Sir Travers Humphrey QC
  97. ^ Ellman (1988) Pg. 435
  98. ^ Old Bailey records online
  99. ^ Hyde (1948) Pg.144
  100. ^ Transcript of Wilde's trial, published online by University of Missouri-Kansas Law School
  101. ^ Ellman (1988) Pg. 474
  102. ^ a b c Ellman (1988) Pg. 465
  103. ^ Holland/Hart-Davis, (2000) Pg. 735
  104. ^ Ellman (1988) Pg. 456
  105. ^ Ellman (1988) Pg. 475
  106. ^ Ellman (1988) Pg. 477-8
  107. ^ Holland/Hart-Davis, (2000) Pg. 683
  108. ^ Holland/Hart-Davis, (2000) Pg. 700 (De Profundis)
  109. ^ Holland/Hart-Davis, (2000) Pg. 739 (De Profundis)
  110. ^ Holland/Hart-Davis (2000) Pg. 841-2
  111. ^ Holland/Hart-Davis (2000) Pg. 842
  112. ^ Page in Sandelescu 1994 Pg.308
  113. ^ Page in Sandelescu 1994 Pg.310
  114. ^ Kiberd (2000) Pg. 336
  115. ^ Mason (1914) Pg. 408-10
  116. ^ Ellman (1988) Pg. 526
  117. ^ Hyde (1948) Pg. 308
  118. ^ Letter to Leonard Smithers, Holland/Hart-Davis (2000) Pg. 1092
  119. ^ a b Ellman (1988) Pg.527
  120. ^ Ellman (1988) Pg.528
  121. ^ Holland/Hart-Davis (2000) Pg. 1119
  122. ^ Ellman (1988) Pg. 546
  123. ^ M. Beerbohm (1946) "Mainly on the Air"
  124. ^ Letter of Robert Ross to More Adey, Holland/Hart-Davis (2000) Pg. 1213
  125. ^ Holland/Hart-Davis (2000) Pg.1224
  126. ^ Holland/Hart-Davis (2000) Pg.1223
  127. ^ Holland/Hart-Davis (2000) Pg. 1230
  128. ^, (Re)membering Wilde, retrieved on 2007-01-12
  129. ^ Ellman (1988) Pg. 553
  130. ^ Holland/Hart-Davis, (2000) Pg. 737-8 (De Profundis)
  131. ^ Ellman, 1988, Pg.132-3
  132. ^ Wilde, Oscar, "The Soul of Man Under Socialism", The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, Collins.
  133. ^ Holland/Hart-Davis, (2000) Pg. 754 (De Profundis)
  134. ^ Kiberd (1996) Ch.2
  135. ^ a b Ellman (1988) Pg.273
  136. ^ "Muckley, Peter A: 'With them, in some things: Oscar Wilde and the Varieties of Socialism. Retrieved 16 August 2007.
  137. ^ Oscar Wilde Fan Club Website
  138. ^ Bristow, Joseph (2009). Oscar Wilde and Modern Culture: The Making of a Legend. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press. p. xli. ISBN 9780821418376. 
  139. ^ Great Britain: A Life of Concealment Time article 27 September 1954 accessed 2010-02-22
  140. ^ Website of the National Book Critics Circle Award accessed 2010-02-22
  141. ^ Pulitzer listing accessed 2010-02-22
  142. ^ Guardian article The 10 most popular misconceptions about Oscar Wilde 7 May 2003 accessed 2010-02-22
  143. ^ Monk Website accessed 2010-02-22
  144. ^ IMDb accessed 2010-02-22
  145. ^ 26 October 2003 Guardian article It was all Greek to Oscar accessed 2010-02-22
  146. ^ [ Times 26 October 2003 The Secret Life of Oscar] accessed 2010-02-22
  147. ^ Guardian article 26 September 2009 Oscar's Books by Thomas Wright accessed 2010-02-22
  148. ^ In Memoriam, Oscar Wilde, by Andre Gide, Editions Mercure De France, Paris, 1905
  149. ^ Paris, G. Crès & Cie, Collection Anglia, marqué : 4e édition (OCLC 3243250)
  150. ^ Editions Christian de Bartillat, Paris, (6 avril 2000), ISBN 2841002209
  151. ^ Editions Albin Michel, 1995, 154 p. Paris ISBN 10:2226079521


  • Beckson, Karl E (1998), The Oscar Wilde encyclopedia, AMS studies in the nineteenth century, no. 18, AMS Press, ISBN 9780404614980, 
  • Breen, Richard (1977, 2000) Oxford, Oddfellows & Funny Tales Penny Publishing Limited London ISBN 1901374009
  • Ellmann, Richard (1988), Oscar Wilde, Vintage Books, ISBN 9780394759845, 
  • Igoe, Vivien (1994), A literary guide to Dublin : writers in Dublin, literary associations and anecdotes, Methuen, ISBN 9780413674203, 
  • Harris, Frank (1916) Oscar Wilde: His Life and Confessions [in two volumes]. New York
  • Holland, Merlin, and Hart-Davis, Rupert (2000) [Eds.]: The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde. New York: Henry Holt and Co. ISBN 0805059156
  • Holland, Merlin (2003) Irish Peacock and Scarlet Marquess: The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde (UK and Ireland edition), The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde (International) Fourth Estate
  • Holland, Merlin (Ed.) (2003) The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. Collins ISBN 10 0007144369
  • Hyde, H. Montgomery Oscar Wilde: The Aftermath, Farrar Straus ltd, New York (1964) Mandarin (1990)
  • Kiberd, Declan (1996) Ch.2 "Inventing Ireland: The Literature of a Modern Nation", Harvard University Press ISBN 10:0-674-46363-3
  • Kilfeather, Siobhán Marie (2005). Dublin, a cultural history. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195182022. 
  • Mason, Stuart (1914; new ed. 1972) Bibliography of Oscar Wilde. Rota pub; Haskell House Pub ISBN 10 0838313787
  • Morley, Sheridan (1976), Oscar Wilde, London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, p. 39, ISBN 0297771604 
  • Raby, Peter (ed.). (1997) The Cambridge Companion to Oscar Wilde. Cambridge University press ISBN 0-521-47987-8
  • Sandulescu, C.George [Ed.] Rediscovering Oscar Wilde The Princess Grace Irish Library ISBN 0-86140-376-2 xvi, 464pp.

External links

Historical societies

Historical notes


Online texts by Oscar Wilde



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (1854-10-161900-11-30) was an Irish playwright, poet and author of essays and novels.


See also


  • God knows; I won't be an Oxford don anyhow. I'll be a poet, a writer, a dramatist. Somehow or other I'll be famous, and if not famous, I'll be notorious. Or perhaps I'll lead the life of pleasure for a time and then—who knows?—rest and do nothing. What does Plato say is the highest end that man can attain here below? To sit down and contemplate the good. Perhaps that will be the end of me too.
    • Sheridan Morley, "Oscar Wilde" (George Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London, 1976), p. 31.
    • Reply to his friend and contemporary David Hunter-Blair who asked him what his real ambition was, in about 1878.
  • Tread Lightly, she is near
    Under the snow,
    Speak gently, she can hear
    The daisies grow.
  • Lo! with a little rod
    I did but touch the honey of romance —
    And must I lose a soul's inheritance?
  • Over the piano was printed a notice: Please do not shoot the pianist. He is doing his best.
    • Personal Impressions of America (Leadville) (1883)
  • Appearance blinds, whereas words reveal.
    • Personal Impressions of America (Leadville) (1883)
  • And down the long and silent street,
    The dawn, with silver-sandalled feet,
    Crept like a frightened girl.
  • Be warned in time, James, and remain, as I do, incomprehensible: to be great is to be misunderstood.
  • The honest ratepayer and his healthy family have no doubt often mocked at the dome-like forehead of the philosopher, and laughed over the strange perspective of the landscape that lies beneath him. If they really knew who he was, they would tremble. For Chuang Tsǔ spent his life in preaching the great creed of Inaction, and in pointing out the uselessness of all things.
  • Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.
    • "The Relation of Dress to Art," The Pall Mall Gazette (February 28, 1885)
    • reprinted in Aristotle at Afternoon Tea:The Rare Oscar Wilde (1991)
  • A poet can survive everything but a misprint.
  • Most modern calendars mar the sweet simplicity of our lives by reminding us that each day that passes is the anniversary of some perfectly uninteresting event.
  • A simile committing suicide is always a depressing spectacle.
  • And, after all, what is a fashion? From the artistic point of view, it is usually a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.
  • We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language.
  • Art finds her own perfection within, and not outside of herself. She is not to be judged by any external standard of resemblance. She is a veil, rather than a mirror.
    • Intentions (1891)
  • All art is immoral.
    • Intentions (1891)
  • le mystère de l'amour est plus grand que le mystère de la mort.
  • The mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death.
  • On [George Bernard Shaw] An excellent man: he has no enemies, and none of his friends like him.
  • People who count their chickens before they are hatched act very wisely because chickens run about so absurdly that it's impossible to count them accurately.
    • Letter from Paris, (May 1900)
  • It is better to have a permanent income than to be fascinating.
    • The Model Millionaire, 1912.
  • Tell me, when you are alone with him [ Max Beerbohm ] Sphinx, does he take off his face and reveal his mask?
    • In a letter to Ada Leverson [Sphinx] recorded in her book Letters To The Sphinx From Oscar Wilde and Reminiscences of the Author (1930)

The Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888)

  • "She said that she would dance with me if I brought her red roses," cried the young Student; "but in all my garden there is no red rose."
  • Be happy, be happy; you shall have your red rose. I will build it out of music by moonlight, and stain it with my own heart's-blood. All that I ask of you in return is that you will be a true lover, for Love is wiser than Philosophy, though she is wise, and mightier than Power, though he is mighty.
    • "The Nightingale and the Rose"
  • Why, what a wonderful piece of luck! Here is a red rose! I have never seen any rose like it in all my life. It is so beautiful that I am sure it has a long Latin name.
    • "The Nightingale and the Rose"

The Decay of Lying (1889)

  • Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life.
  • It is always the unreadable that occurs.
  • His style is chaos illumined by flashes of lightning.
  • No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist.
  • Art persists, it timelessly continues.

The Critic as Artist (1891)

  • Meredith is a prose Browning, and so is Browning. He used poetry as a medium for writing in prose.
    • Pt. I
  • Anybody can make history. Only a great man can write it.
    • Pt. I
  • There is no mode of action, no form of emotion, that we do not share with the lower animals. It is only by language that we rise above them, or above each other---by language, which is the parent, and not the child, of thought.
    • Pt. I
  • Every great man nowadays has his disciples, and it is always Judas who writes his biography.
    • Pt. I / Gilbert
  • Truth, in the matters of religion, is simply the opinion that has survived.
    • Pt. I
  • Oh! journalism is unreadable, and literature is not read.
    • Pt. I
  • I am but too conscious of the fact that we are born in an age when only the dull are treated seriously, and I live in terror of not being misunderstood.
    • Pt. I
  • The one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it.
    • Pt. I
  • It is through art, and through art only, that we can realize our perfection; through art and art only that we can shield ourselves from the sordid perils of actual existence.
    • Pt. II
  • As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular.
    • Pt. II
  • There is no sin except stupidity.
    • Pt. II
  • To be good, according to the vulgar standard of goodness, is obviously quite easy. It merely requires a certain amount of sordid terror, a certain lack of imaginative thought, and a certain low passion for middle-class respectability.
    • Pt. II

Lady Windermere's Fan (1892)

  • Nowadays we are all of us so hard up that the only pleasant things to pay are compliments. They're the only things we can pay.
    • Lord Darlington, Act I
  • I can resist everything except temptation.
    • Lord Darlington, Act I
  • Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it.
    • Lord Darlington, Act I
    • Often quoted as: Life is far too important to be taken seriously.
  • I am the only person in the world I should like to know thoroughly.
    • Mr. Dumby, Act II
  • My experience is that as soon as people are old enough to know better, they don't know anything at all.
    • Cecil Graham, Act II
  • Between men and women there is no friendship possible. There is passion, enmity, worship, love, but no friendship.
    • Lord Darlington, Act II
  • My own business always bores me to death. I prefer other people's.
    • Cecil Graham, Act III
  • We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.
    • Lord Darlington, Act III
  • In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.
    • Mr. Dumby, Act III
  • What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
    • Lord Darlington, Act III
  • Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.
    • Mr. Dumby, Act III
  • I have never admitted that I am more than twenty-nine, or thirty at the most. Twenty-nine when there are pink shades, thirty when there are not.
    • Mrs. Erlynne, Act IV
  • What a pity that in life we only get our lessons when they are of no use to us.
    • Lady Windermere, Act IV

A Woman of No Importance (1893)

  • The growing influence of women is the one reassuring thing in our political life.
    • Kelvil, Act I
  • Mrs. Allonby: They say, Lady Hunstanton, that when good Americans die they go to Paris.
    Lady Hunstanton: Indeed? And when bad Americans die, where do they go to?
    Lord Illingworth: Oh, they go to America.
    • Act I
  • The youth of America is their oldest tradition. It has been going on now for three hundred years.
    • Lord Illingworth, Act I
  • The English country gentleman galloping after a fox — the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable.
    • Lord Illingworth, Act I
  • Kelvil: May I ask, Lord Illingworth, if you regard the House of Lords as a better institution than the House of Commons?
    Lord Illingworth: A much better institution of course. We in the House of Lords are never in touch with public opinion. That makes us a civilised body.
    • Act I
  • Lord Illingworth: The Book of Life begins with a man and a woman in a garden.
    Mrs. Allonby: It ends with Revelations.
    • Act I
  • Lady Hunstanton: But do you believe all that is written in the newspapers?
    Lord Illingworth: I do. Nowadays it is only the unreadable that occurs.
    • Act I
  • Gerald: I suppose society is wonderfully delightful?
    Lord Illingworth: To be in it is merely a bore. But to be out of it simply a tragedy.
    • Act III
  • Men marry because they are tired; women because they are curious. Both are disappointed.
    • Lord Illingworth, Act III
  • I am always astonishing myself. It is the only thing that makes life worth living.
    • Lord Illingworth, Act III
  • Children love their parents. Eventually they come to judge them. Rarely do they forgive them.
    • Mrs. Arbuthnot, Act IV

A Few Maxims For The Instruction Of The Over-Educated (1894)

First published anonymously in the Saturday Review (17 November 1894) Full text online
  • Education is an admirable thing. But it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.
  • The English are always degrading truths into facts. When a truth becomes a fact it loses all its intellectual value.
  • It is a very sad thing that nowadays there is so little useless information.
  • The only link between Literature and the Drama left to us in England at the present moment is the bill of the play.
  • In old days books were written by men of letters and read by the public. Nowadays books are written by the public and read by nobody.
  • Friendship is far more tragic than love. It lasts longer.
  • Art is the only serious thing in the world. And the artist is the only person who is never serious.
  • To be really mediæval one should have no body. To be really modern one should have no soul. To be really Greek one should have no clothes.
  • Even the disciple has his uses. He stands behind one's throne, and at the moment of one's triumph whispers in one's ear that, after all, one is immortal.
  • The only thing that can console one for being poor is extravagance. The only thing that can console one for being rich is economy.
  • Those whom the gods love grow young.

Phrases and Philosophies for the use of the Young (1894)

First published in the Oxford student magazine The Chameleon (December 1894) Full text online
  • Ambition is the last refuge of the failure.
  • Religions die when they are proved to be true. Science is the record of dead religions.
  • If one tells the truth, one is sure, sooner or later, to be found out.
  • Only the shallow know themselves.
  • In examinations the foolish ask questions that the wise cannot answer.
  • The old believe everything; the middle-aged suspect everything; the young know everything.
  • To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.
  • One should always be a little improbable.
  • Time is a waste of money.
  • The only way to atone for being occasionally a little over-dressed is by being always absolutely over-educated.

The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)

  • Really, if the lower orders don’t set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them?
    • Algernon, Act I
  • The amount of women in London who flirt with their own husbands is perfectly scandalous.
    • Algernon, Act I
  • My dear fellow, the truth isn't quite the sort of thing one tells to a nice, sweet, refined girl.
    • Jack, Act I
  • I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone.
    • Lady Bracknell, Act I
  • The only way to behave to a woman is to make love to her if she is pretty and to someone else if she is plain.
    • Algernon, Act I
  • Ah! That must be Aunt Augusta. Only relatives, or creditors, ever ring in that Wagnerian manner.
    • Algernon, Act I
  • To lose one parent, Mr Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.
    • Lady Bracknell, Act I
  • An engagement should come on a young girl as a surprise, pleasant or unpleasant as the case may be.
    • Lady Bracknell, Act I
  • All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his.
    • Algernon, Act I
  • The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility!
    • Algernon, Act I
      • Often quoted as "The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple."
  • I have invented an invaluable permanent invalid called Bunbury, in order that I may be able to go down into the country whenever I choose.
    • Algernon, Act I
  • In married life, three is company, and two is none.
    • Algernon, Act I
  • Of course the music is a great difficulty. You see, if one plays good music, people don't listen, and if one plays bad music people don't talk.
    • Algernon, Act I
  • It is absurd to have a hard and fast rule about what one should read and what one shouldn't. More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn't read.
    • Algernon, Act I
  • I have always been of opinion that a man who desires to get married should know either everything or nothing.
    • Lady Bracknell, Act I
  • Relations are simply a tedious pack of people, who haven’t got the remotest knowledge of how to live, nor the smallest instinct about when to die.
    • Algernon, Act I
  • A Handbag?
    • Lady Bracknell, Act I
  • Mothers, of course, are all right. They pay a chap's bills and don't bother him. But fathers bother a chap and never pay his bills.
    • Jack, Act I
  • No gentleman ever has any money.
    • Algernon, Act II
  • When a man does exactly what a woman expects him to do she doesn't think much of him. One should always do what a woman doesn't expect, just as one should say what she doesn't understand.
    • Algernon, Act II
  • I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.
    • Gwendolen, Act II
  • The home seems to me to be the proper sphere for the man. And certainly once a man begins to neglect his domestic duties he becomes painfully effeminate, does he not?
    • Gwendolen, Act II
  • I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time. That would be hypocrisy.
    • Cecily, Act II
  • The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.
    • Miss Prism, Act II
  • The absence of old friends one can endure with equanimity. But even a momentary separation from anyone to whom one has just been introduced is almost unbearable.
    • Cecily, Act II
  • Well, I can't eat muffins in an agitated manner. The butter would probably get on my cuffs. One must eat muffins quite calmly, it is the only way to eat them.
    • Algernon, Act II
  • Never speak disrespectfully of Society, Algernon. Only people who can’t get into it do that.
    • Lady Bracknell, Act III
  • To speak frankly, I am not in favour of long engagements. They give people the opportunity of finding out each other's character before marriage, which I think is never advisable.
    • Lady Bracknell, Act III
  • Thirty-five is a very attractive age. London society is full of women of the very highest birth who have, of their own free choice, remained thirty-five for years.
    • Lady Bracknell, Act III
  • I've now realised for the first time in my life the vital Importance of Being Earnest.
    • Jack, Act III

An Ideal Husband (1895)

  • Science can never grapple with the irrational. That is why it has no future before it, in this world.
    • Mrs Cheveley, Act I
  • Even you are not rich enough, Sir Robert, to buy back your past. No man is.
    • Mrs Cheveley, Act I
    • Usually quoted as: No man is rich enough to buy back his own past.
  • I always pass on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it. It is never of any use to oneself.
    • Lord Goring, Act I
  • Sooner or later we have all to pay for what we do.
    • Mrs Chevely, Act I
  • Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast.
    • Mrs Chevely, Act I
  • I love talking about nothing, father. It is the only thing I know anything about.
    • Lord Goring, Act I
  • Women have a wonderful instinct about things. They can discover everything except the obvious.
    • Lord Goring, Act II
  • All sins, except a sin against itself, Love should forgive. All lives, save loveless lives, true Love should pardon.
    • Sir Robert Chiltern, Act II
  • Fashion is what one wears oneself. What is unfashionable is what other people wear.
    • Lord Goring, Act III
  • The only possible society is oneself.
    • Lord Goring, Act III
  • To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.
    • Lord Goring, Act III
  • However, it is always nice to be expected, and not to arrive.
    • Lord Goring, Act III
  • Oh, why will parents always appear at the wrong time? Some extraordinary mistake in nature, I suppose.
    • Lord Goring, Act III
  • Lord Caversham: No woman, plain or pretty, has any common sense at all, sir. Common sense is the privilege of our sex.
    Lord Goring: Quite so. And we men are so self-sacrificing that we never use it, do we, father?
    • Act III
  • Fathers should be neither seen nor heard. That is the only proper basis for family life. Mothers are different. Mothers are darlings.
    • Lord Goring, Act IV
  • When one pays a visit it is for the purpose of wasting other people's time, not one's own.
    • Lord Goring, Act IV
  • If we men married the women we deserved, we should have a very bad time of it.
    • Lord Goring, Act IV
  • I don't at all like knowing what people say of me behind my back. It makes me far too conceited.
    • Lord Goring, Act IV
  • Now don't stir. I'll be back in five minutes. And don't fall into any temptations while I am away.
    • Miss Mabel Chiltern to Lord Goring, just after accepting his proposal, Act IV

The Soul of Man Under Socialism (1895)

  • Disobedience, in the eyes of any one who has read history, is man's original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and through rebellion.
  • A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing.
  • High hopes were once formed of democracy; but democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.
  • Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.
  • The fact is, that civilisation requires slaves. The Greeks were quite right there. Unless there are slaves to do the ugly, horrible, uninteresting work, culture and contemplation become almost impossible. Human slavery is wrong, insecure, and demoralizing. On mechanical slavery, on the slavery of the machine, the future of the world depends.
  • Charity creates a multitude of sins.
  • Closed eyes listen, afraid to see on their own. Easily influenced and simply conformed.
  • Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known.
  • Now art should never try to be popular. The public should try to make itself artistic.
  • The only thing that one really knows about human nature is that it changes. Change is the one quality we can predicate of it.
  • In the old days men had the rack. Now they have the Press.

The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898)

  • I never saw a man who looked
    With such a wistful eye
    Upon that little tent of blue
    Which prisoners call the sky.
    • Pt. I, st. 3
  • When a voice behind me whispered low,
    "That fellow's got to swing."
    • Pt. I, st. 4
  • Yet each man kills the thing he loves
    By each let this be heard,
    Some do it with a bitter look,
    Some with a flattering word,
    The coward does it with a kiss,
    The brave man with a sword!
    • Pt. I, st. 7
  • It is sweet to dance to violins
    When Love and Life are fair:
    To dance to flutes, to dance to lutes
    Is delicate and rare:
    But it is not sweet with nimble feet
    To dance upon the air!
    • Pt. II, st. 9
  • Something was dead in each of us,
    And what was dead was Hope.
    • Pt. III, st. 29
  • And the wild regrets, and the bloody sweats,
    None knew so well as I:
    For he who lives more lives than one
    More deaths than one must die.
    • Pt. III, st. 35
  • And alien tears will fill for him
    Pity's long-broken urn,
    For his mourners will be outcast men,
    And outcasts always mourn.
    • Pt. IV, st. 23 -- Wilde's epitaph
  • I know not whether Laws be right,
    Or whether Laws be wrong;
    All that we know who lie in gaol
    Is that the wall is strong;
    And that each day is like a year,
    A year whose days are long.
    • Pt. V, st. 1
  • The vilest deeds like poison weeds
    Bloom well in prison air;
    It is only what is good in man
    That wastes and withers there;
    Pale Anguish keeps the heavy gate
    And the Warder is Despair.
    • Pt. V, st. 5
  • And all, but Lust, is turned to dust
    In Humanity's machine.
    • Pt. V, st. 7
  • How else but through a broken heart
    May Lord Christ enter in?
    • Pt. V, st. 14

De Profundis (1895)

  • I have said to you to speak the truth is a painful thing. To be forced to tell lies is much worse.
  • A thing is, according to the mode in which one looks at it.
  • It seems to me that we all look at Nature too much, and live with her too little.
  • The supreme vice is shallowness.
  • We are specially designed to appeal to the sense of humour.
  • We are the zanies of sorrow. We are clowns whose hearts are broken.
  • When one has weighed the sun in the balance, and measured the steps of the moon, and mapped out the seven heavens, there still remains oneself. Who can calculate the orbit of his own soul?
  • Where there is sorrow there is holy ground.
  • Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.


Note: A great many misquotations are attributed to Wilde. Please seek to verify the provenance of any quotations you believe should be ascribed to him. Once quote has been sourced, please remove it from this section and place it in the proper area of the "Sourced" section above.

  • The only creative thought one can have in an institution is how to get out.
  • A true friend stabs you in the front
  • Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.
  • Bigamy is having a wife too many, monogamy is the same.
  • Buck up and be jolly, my dear lady! Stillbirth is a sign that God has a sense of humour!
    • Notes: It is claimed that Wilde said this upon visiting a London birthing ward and visiting with a distraught mother who had just birthed stillborn twins.
  • My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.
    • Note: Wilde said this in the Left Bank hotel in Paris where he passed away on November 30, 1900. The wallpaper has also since gone and the room re-furnished in the style of one of Wilde's London flats. See also Famous last words.
    • Sometimes misquoted as "Either that wallpaper goes, or I do."
  • I am dying as I have lived: beyond my means.
    • Note: Wilde is supposed to have said this on his deathbed, while drinking a glass of champagne.
  • I don't recognize you - I've changed a lot.
  • I have nothing to declare except my Genius.
    • This is one of Wilde's most famous sayings, which he is supposed to have said while passing through a customs checkpoint in New York. However, there is no contemporary evidence that such words were ever uttered, and the first record of them is by Arthur Ransome in his 1912 book Oscar Wilde: A Critical Study. For more see:
  • I have but the simplest taste - I am always satisfied with the best.
  • Illusion is the first of all pleasures.
  • In every first novel the hero is the author as Christ or Faust.
  • Morality, like art, means drawing a line someplace.
  • One of the requisites of sanity is to disagree with the majority of the British public.
  • Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious.
  • Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.
  • Work is the curse of the drinking classes.
    • Quoted by Frank Harris in Oscar Wilde: His Life and Confessions (1916)
  • Whenever people agree with me I always feel I must be wrong.

About Oscar Wilde

  • An Assyrian wax statue, effeminate, but with the vitality of twenty men.
  • From the beginning Wilde performed his life and continued to do so even after fate had taken the plot out of his hands.
    • W. H. Auden, "An Improbable Life," review of The Letters of Oscar Wilde (editor, Rupert Hart-Davis) in The New Yorker, 9 March 1963.
  • What has Oscar in common with Art? except that he dines at our tables and picks from our platter the plums for the puddings he peddles in the provinces.
  • That sovereign of insufferables, Oscar Wilde has ensued with his opulence of twaddle and his penury of sense. He has mounted his hind legs and blown crass vapidities through the bowel of his neck, to the capital edification of circumjacent fools and foolesses, fooling with their foolers. He has tossed off the top of his head and uttered himself in copious overflows of ghastly bosh. The ineffable dunce has nothing to say and says it—says it with a liberal embellishment of bad delivery, embroidering it with reasonless vulgarities of attitude, gesture and attire. There never was an impostor so hateful, a blockhead so stupid, a crank so variously and offensively daft. Therefore is the she fool enamored of the feel of his tongue in her ear to tickle her understanding. The limpid and spiritless vacuity of this intellectual jelly-fish is in ludicrous contrast with the rude but robust mental activities that he came to quicken and inspire. Not only has he no thought, but no thinker. His lecture is mere vebal ditchwater—meaningingless, trite and without coherence. It lacks even the nastiness that exalts and refines his verse. Moreover, it is obviously his own; he had not even the energy and independence to steal it. And so, with a knowledge that would equip and idiot to dispute with a cast-iron dog, and eloquence to qualify him for the duties of a caller on a hog-ranche, and an imagination adequate to the conception of a tom-cat, when fired by contemplation of a fiddle-string, this consummate and star-like youth, missing everything his heaven-appointed functions and offices, wanders about, posing as a statute of himself, and, like the sun-smitten image of Memnon, emitting meaningless murmurs in the blaze of women’s eyes. He makes me tired. And this gawky gowk has the divine effrontery to link his name with those of Swinburne, Rossetti and Morris—this dunghill he-hen would fly with eagles. He dares to set his tongue to the honored name of Keats. He is the leader, quoth’a, of a renaissance in art, this man who cannot draw–of a revival of letters, this man who cannot write! This little and looniest of a brotherhood of simpletons, whom the wicked wits of London, haling him dazed from his obscurity, have crowned and crucified as King of the Cranks, has accepted the distinction in stupid good faith and our foolish people take him at his word. Mr. Wilde is pinnacled upon a dazzling eminence but the earth still trembles to the dull thunder of the kicks that set him up.
  • If, with the literate, I am
    Impelled to try an epigram,
    I never seek to take the credit;
    We all assume that Oscar said it.
  • The same lesson [of the pessimistic pleasure-seeker] was taught by the very powerful and very desolate philosophy of Oscar Wilde. It is the carpe diem religion; but the carpe diem religion is not the religion of happy people, but of very unhappy people. Great joy does not gather the rosebuds while it may; its eyes are fixed on the immortal rose which Dante saw.
  • The dinner table was Wilde's event and made him the greatest talker of his time…
  • "Leyendo y releyendo, a lo largo de los años, a Wilde, noto un hecho que sus panegiristas no parecen haber sospechado siquiera: el hecho comprobable y elemental de que Wilde, casi siempre, tiene razón."
    • Reading and re-reading Wilde throughout the years, I notice a fact that people who praise him apparently haven't in the very least: the basic and verifiable fact that Wilde is almost always right.
  • "Como Chesterton, como Lang, como Boswell, Wilde es de aquellos venturosos que pueden prescindir de la aprobación de la crítica y aun, a veces, de la aprobación del lector, pues el agrado que nos proporciona su trato es irresistible y constante."
    • Like Chesterton, like Lang, like Boswell, Wilde is one of the happy few who do not need the approval of the critic, nor even, sometimes, the approval of the reader, for the pleasure they give us is constant and irresistible.
  • "I wish I'd said that"
    (by Wilde, to a witty remark by James McNeill Whistler), to which Whistler riposted:
    • "You will, Oscar, you will!"
    • James McNeill Whistler
      • Quoted in James McNeil Whistler by Lisa N. Peters, p. 57, ISBN 1-880908-70-0.


  • Why was I born with such contemporaries?
  • I'm not young enough to know everything.

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Simple English

1882 Portrait by Napoleon Sarony.

[[File:|thumb|right|200px|Two men in suits sit on a bench with their legs crossed. Wilde and his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, in 1893.]] Oscar Wilde (Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde, 16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900) was an Irish writer, poet and playwright. He wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the plays Salomé, The Importance of Being Earnest, An Ideal Husband, and Lady Windermere's Fan.

Wilde was bisexual. He was married, and had two children. His downfall came as a result of his affair with a younger man, Lord Alfred Douglas.

Wilde was an outstanding classical scholar, at Trinity College, Dublin, then at Magdalen College, Oxford University. In London, he worked as a journalist for four years. Known for his biting wit, flamboyant clothes, and glittering conversation, Wilde was one of the best known personalities of the day. It was his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, which brought him full recognition. Then he turned to writing drama. He wrote Salomé in French in Paris in 1891, but it was refused a licence. Unperturbed, Wilde produced four society comedies in the early 1890s, which made him one of the most successful playwrights of late Victorian London.

At the height of his fame and success—his masterpiece, The Importance of Being Earnest, was still on stage in London—Wilde sued his lover's father for libel. After a series of trials, Wilde was convicted of gross indecency with other men and sentenced to two years of hard labour in Reading Goal (jail). In prison he wrote De Profundis, a long letter which discusses his spiritual journey through his trials, forming a dark counterpoint to his earlier philosophy of pleasure.

Upon his release he left immediately for France, never to return to the British Isles. There he wrote his last work, The Ballad of Reading Gaol, a long poem commemorating prison life. Living in a Paris hotel, he was destitute, with little money and few friends. His last memorable words were: "My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One of us has got to go".[1]p546 He died of cerebral meningitis at the age of forty-six.

Wilde's wife, Constance Lloyd, changed the family name to Holland after his conviction, and took the children to Switzerland.


The affair

Wilde's lover was the son of the Marquess of Queensbury, who was known for his outspoken atheism, brutish manner and creation of the modern rules of boxing. Queensberry, who feuded regularly with his son, confronted Wilde and Lord Alfred as to the nature of their relationship. In June 1894, he called on Wilde at 16 Tite Street without an appointment, and said: "If I catch you and my son again in any public restaurant I will thrash you"


Wilde vs Queensberry

On the 18 February 1895, the Marquess left his calling card at Wilde's club, the Albemarle, inscribed: "For Oscar Wilde, posing as a sodomite".[2]

Wilde, egged on by Douglas and against the advice of his friends, initiated a private prosecution against Queensberry, and had him arrested on a charge of criminal libel. As sodomy was then a crime, Queensberry's note amounted to a public accusation that Wilde had committed a felony, forming the legal basis for libel charges. Queensberry could avoid conviction for libel only by demonstrating that his accusation was, in fact, true.

In his opening speech for the defence, Counsel for Queensbury, Edward Carson, announced that he had found several male prostitutes who were to testify that they had sex with Wilde. On the advice of his lawyers, Wilde then decided to drop the libel prosecution against Queensberry. Queensberry was found not guilty, as the court declared that his accusation that Wilde was "posing as a Somdomite" was justified, "true in substance and in fact".[3]

Under the Libel Act 1843, Queensberry's acquittal rendered Wilde legally liable for the considerable expenses Queensberry had incurred in his defence, which left Wilde bankrupt.

The Crown vs Wilde

After Wilde left the court, a warrant for his arrest was applied for on charges of sodomy and gross indecency. Friends found Wilde at a hotel; they advised him to go to Dover and try to get a boat to France. His mother advised him to stay and fight like a man. Wilde was duly arrested and then imprisoned on remand at Holloway, where he received daily visits from Douglas.

Events moved quickly. His prosecution opened on the 26 April 1895 and Wilde pleaded not guilty. He had already begged Douglas to leave London for Paris, and Douglas fled to the Hotel du Monde. Under cross examination Wilde was at first hesitant, then spoke eloquently:

Charles Gill (prosecuting): What is "the love that dare not speak its name?"
Wilde: " 'The love that dare not speak its name' in this century is such a great affection of an elder for a younger man as there was between David and Jonathan, such as Plato made the very basis of his philosophy, and such as you find in the sonnets of Michelangelo and Shakespeare. It is that deep spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect. It dictates and pervades great works of art, like those of Shakespeare and Michelangelo, and those two letters of mine, such as they are. It is in this century misunderstood, so much misunderstood that it may be described as 'the love that dare not speak its name', and on that account of it I am placed where I am now. It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing unnatural about it. It is intellectual, and it repeatedly exists between an older and a younger man, when the older man has intellect, and the younger man has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him. That it should be so, the world does not understand. The world mocks at it, and sometimes puts one in the pillory for it".[4]

This response was, however, counterproductive in a legal sense as it only served to reinforce the charges of homosexual behaviour. The trial ended with the jury unable to reach a verdict. Wilde's counsel, Sir Edward Clark, was finally able to agree bail.[5] The Reverend Stewart Headlam put up most of the £5,000 bail,[6] having disagreed with Wilde's treatment by the press and the courts. Wilde was freed from Holloway and, shunning attention, went into hiding at the house of Ernest and Ada Leverson, two of his firm friends. Edward Carson approached Frank Lockwood (QC) and asked "Can we not let up on the fellow now?"[1]p435 Lockwood answered that he would like to do so, but feared that the case had become too politicised to be dropped.

At the final trial, Wilde and Alfred Taylor were convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to two years' hard labour.[7] The judge described the sentence as "totally inadequate for a case such as this", although it was the maximum sentence allowed for the charge under the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885.[8] Wilde's response "And I? May I say nothing, my Lord?" was drowned out in cries of "Shame" in the courtroom.[9]


  • I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.
  • A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.
  • Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.
  • A poet can survive everything but a misprint.
  • We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language.
  • On George Bernard Shaw: An excellent man: he has no enemies, and none of his friends like him.
  • Hard work is simply the refuge of people who have nothing whatever to do.
  • Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life.
  • Anybody can make history. Only a great man can write it.
  • Truth, in the matters of religion, is simply the opinion that has survived.
  • The one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it.
  • I can resist everything except temptation. (Lord Darlington in Lady Windermere's Fan)
  • Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it. (Lord Darlington in Lady Windermere's Fan)
  • We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. (Lord Darlington in Lady Windermere's Fan)
  • What a pity that in life we only get our lessons when they are of no use to us. (Lady Windermere)
  • In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. (Mr Dumby)
  • Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes. (Mr Dumby)
  • The English country gentleman galloping after a fox — the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable. (Lord Illingworth)
  • Children love their parents. Eventually they come to judge them. Rarely do they forgive them. (Mrs. Arbuthnot)
  • To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.



  • The Canterville Ghost (1887)
  • The Happy Prince and Other Stories (1888)
  • Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories (1891)
  • Intentions (1891)
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)
  • A House of Pomegranates (1891)
  • The Soul of Man under Socialism (First published in the Pall Mall Gazette, 1891, first book publication 1904)
  • De Profundis (1905)
  • The Letters of Oscar Wilde (1960) This was rereleased in 2000, with letters uncovered since 1960, and new, detailed, footnotes by Merlin Holland.
  • Teleny or The Reverse of the Medal (Paris,1893)


  1. 1.0 1.1 Ellmann, Richard 1988. Oscar Wilde. New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 9780394759845
  2. Holland, Merlin, ed 2003. Irish Peacock and Scarlet Marquess: the real trial of Oscar Wilde. New York: Fourth Estate. p300
  3. Trial transcript
  4. Transcript of Wilde's trial, published online by University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School; See also Ellmann (1988:435)
  5. Oscar Fingal O'Fflahartie Wills Wilde, Alfred Taylor, Sexual Offences > sodomy, 22nd April 1895". Old Bailey Proceedings Online. Retrieved 22 April 2010.
  6. Holland (2003) – Introduction by Sir Travers Humphrey QC
  7. Oscar Fingal O'Fflahartie Wills Wilde, Alfred Waterhouse Somerset Taylor, Sexual Offences > sodomy, 20th May 1895". Old Bailey Proceedings Online. Retrieved 22 April 2010.
  8. Hyde (1948:144)
  9. Sentencing Statement of Justice Wills. Criminal Trial Transcript Page, University of Missouri-Kansas Law School. Retrieved 22 April 2010.

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