Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born on October 16, 1854, in Dublin. His father, William Robert Wilde (later Sir William), was an eminent eye specialist who also wrote medical texts and studies of Irish folklore. His mother, Jane Speranza Francesca Wilde, wrote patriotic Irish verse under the pseudonym, Speranza, and was a supporter of Irish independence.
Oscar Wilde's intellectual abilities became apparent when he attended Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, where in 1871 he won an award for the best classical scholar. He was awarded a scholarship and attended Trinity College, Dublin, where he read Classics. In 1874, he won Trinity's Berkeley Gold Medal for Greek and earned a scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford. During his student years, he toured Italy and Greece, and in 1878, his poem "Ravenna" won the Newdigate Prize. That year he was awarded a First Class degree, and was recognized as having written the year's best examination.
After graduation, Wilde moved to London, where he cultivated a reputation as a wit and a Dandy. He quickly became famous in fashionable and intellectual circles, and was known for his brilliant conversation. Having been influenced at Oxford by the aesthetic theories of Walter Pater, Wilde was soon one the leaders of the aesthetic movement.
In 1882, Wilde made a highly successful lecture tour of America, giving over 140 lectures on aesthetics. The following year his first play, Vera; or, the Nihilist, was produced in New York, but closed after only a week.
Wilde married Constance Lloyd, the daughter of an Irish barrister in 1884. They had two sons, Cyril and Vyvyan. Needing income to support his young family, Wilde became editor of The Woman's World magazine, from 1887 to 1889.
Wilde was now on the brink of the six-year creative period that would establish his name as one of the most brilliant writers in English literature. In 1890, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde's only novel, was published in serial form in an American magazine. The following year it was expanded and published in book form. Reviews were largely negative, and critics attacked what they declared to be the immorality of the book. Wilde responded that, on the contrary, he regarded it as a very moral book.
Wilde then wrote four society comedies: Lady Windermere's Fan (1892), A Woman of No Importance (1893) , An Ideal Husband (1895), and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), all of which were extremely popular, and they retain their popularity on the stage today. The only exception to Wilde's success during this period was Salomï¿½, a poetic drama Wilde wrote in French in 1891, which was refused a license by the Lord Chamberlain. It was never produced in England in Wilde's lifetime.
In spite of his successful comedies, however, Wilde was not long to be celebrated in England. In 1895, only two weeks after the premiere of The Importance of Being Earnest, the series of events that would bring about his downfall had began. Wilde was a close friend of Lord Alfred Douglas, and Douglas's father, the ninth Marquis of Queensberry, now accused him of homosexuality. Wilde responded by suing the marquis for criminal libel. During the trial damaging testimony was made about Wilde's friendships with a number of young men, and Wilde withdrew his suit. But since homosexual acts between men were illegal, Wilde was arrested. His first trial resulted in a hung jury, but he was convicted of gross indecency in a second trial in May. He was sentenced to two years hard labor. During his imprisonment, Wilde wrote De Profundis, a long and bitter letter to Alfred Douglas. It was not published until 1908.
After Wilde was released, he immediately left England and traveled to France. The Ballad of Reading Gaol, his response to his prison experience, was published in 1898. During his last two years, Wilde traveled around Europe, staying with friends. He returned to Paris in 1900, where he died of meningitis on November 30.