“I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.”
Oscar Wilde was an Irish writer prominent in the Victorian era who is best known for his critically acclaimed plays, poems, and novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. He is also infamous for his relationship with Lord Alfred Dougles, the son of the powerful Marquess of Queensberry. The relationship ultimately led to his arrest and imprisonment in the l895.
Most notable for being a playwright, Wilde actually spent his early years writing poetry. He released a collection of his work entitled Poems at just 27 years old. The release was a modest critical success. Wilde was devoted fan of American poet Walt Whitman, whom he met during a lecture tour around the United States. Whitman described Wilde in the Philadelphia Press (The Toast).
“He seemed to me like a great big, splendid boy. He is so frank, and outspoken, and manly. I don’t see why such mocking things are written of him,” said Whitman.
Walt Whitman (left) and Oscar Wilde (right)
Wilde faced heavy criticism for his flamboyant nature. He was a part of Victorian Aesthetic Movement, which rejected the rigid discipline of the Victorian era and emphasized the importance of art in everyday life. Wilde’s highly stylized dress, long hair, and outspoken manner helped increase his notoriety during his late career. He was an avid collector of expensive China, a common practice among those in the aesthetic movement. At one time was caricatured by George Du Maurier and F. C. Barnard after wearing a velvet vest and carrying around a flower (“Biography”).
In 1890, Wilde released his only full-length novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. The novel centers around a young, handsome man named Dorian Gray. After he has his portrait painted he finds he remains forever beautiful, while the painting ages and takes on all his corrosion. The main character becomes obsessed with a “poisonous” yellow book that leads him further down the road of corruption. Many believe this book is actually the French novel Against Nature by J.K. Huysmans. The novel tells the story of a man who rejects society. Following initial release of The Picture of Dorian Gray, the novel was heavily criticized for its homoeroticism, leading Wilde to release an expanded version of the text. The new version excluded passages that portrayed the male characters in a feminine manner (“Biography”).
In 1895, Wilde’s career came to an end when we was arrested after losing a libel case against the Marquess of Queensberry, who claimed he was having a homosexual affair with his son. The court ruled in favor of the Marquess, and Wilde was sentenced to two years imprisonment. Following his release, Wilde was broke and didn’t produce any more major works.
Wilde and Sir Alfred Douglas
Oscar Wilde plays an interesting part in queer history. Though he never openly admitted to being gay, he actually contested the fact in court, many consider him to be one of the world’s great queer writers. Yet when most hear the name Oscar Wilde, they think of his great plays – The Importance of Being Earnest, Lady Windermere’s Fan, An Ideal Husband. Most don’t consider the potentially large impact his sexuality played in his life and works.
During the Victorian Era, prominent writers like Wilde would have been comparable to our pop culture icons today. They were heavily celebrated and equally scrutinized. Wilde and others who participated in aestheticism were not only breaking the mold of the rigid Victorian era, but shattering it.
“How can a woman be expected to be happy with a man who insists on treating her as if she were a perfectly normal human being.”
“Biography.” Oscar Wilde. European Graduate School, n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.
“Oscar Wilde.” Bio. A&E Television Networks, 2015. Web. 23 Apr. 2015.
“Oscar Wilde and Walt Whitman Probably Had Sex Once.” The Toast. N.p., 17 Sept. 2013. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.