Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born at 21 Westland Row, Dublin, on 16 October 1854.
His father was an eminent eye and ear specialist; his mother wrote under the pen-name 'Speranza'. They soon moved to 1 Merrion Square, where Oscar was allowed to frequent his mother's salon.
Wilde defeated Edward Carson for the foundation scholarship in classics at Trinity College, Dublin, and in 1874 won a scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he was influenced by John Ruskin, Walter Pater and Cardinal Newman. He became a disciple of aestheticism, pursuing beauty for beauty's sake; his poem Ravenna (1878) won the Newdigate Prize.
Wilde's wit and eccentric dress attracted attention, and in 1882 he undertook a lecture tour in America, advising a customs officer that he had 'nothing to declare but my genius'. In 1884, he married Constance Lloyd, a barrister's daughter, and embarked on a literary career. His first success was The Happy Prince (1888), but his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) offended Victorian susceptibilities.
The triumph of his play Lady Windermere's Fan (1892) inaugurated his most glorious years. It was followed by A Woman of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband (1895) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). Audiences were delighted by such epigrams as 'To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune ... to lose both seems like carelessness' and 'All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his.'
However, Wilde had formed a liaison with the young Lord Alfred 'Bosie' Douglas, whose bullying father, the Marquis of Queensberry, accused Wilde of sodomy. In a libel case, Wilde collapsed under cross-examination by his old rival Carson, and in 1895 was sentenced to two years' hard labour for homosexual offences, which inspired The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898). Prurient Victorian England denounced Wilde and sentenced him to more than prison. Performances of his plays were cancelled. Wilde's wife changed her surname and with her two young sons, moved abroad to escape the scandal. On his release, Wilde lived in Paris. He was received into the Catholic Church on 29 November 1900, and died a day later.
Plaques at 21 Westland Row and 1 Merrion Square, Dublin.
Richard Ellmann, Oscar Wilde (1987).
From the Appletree Press title: Famous Irish Lives.
Also from Appletree: Irish Museums and Heritage Centres.