Oscar Wilde

(Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde)

born, Oct. 16, 1854, Dublin, Ireland
died, Nov. 30, 1900, Paris, France
Irish wit, poet, and dramatist whose reputation rests on his comic masterpieces Lady Windermere's Fan (1892) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). He was a spokesman for the late 19th - century Aesthetic movement in England, which advocated art for art's sake; and he was the object of celebrated civil and criminal suits involving homosexuality and ending in his imprisonment (1895 - 97).
16. October 1854: Osacr Wilde was born of professional and literary parents. His father, Sir William Wilde, was Ireland's leading ear and eye surgeon, who also published books on archaeology, folklore, and the satirist Jonathan Swift; his mother was a revolutionary poet and an authority on Celtic myth and folklore.
26. April 1855: Wilde is baptized in Dublin
1864 - 1871: Wilde attends the Portora Royal School, in Enniskillen.
1871 - 1874: He steps into the Trinity College, Dublin. During his time in Dublin he wins a Scholarship for the Magdalen College in Oxford in the height of 95 Pound. In Oxford the college awardes him a degree with honours.
1874 - 1880: In 1874 and 1877 he travells to Italy two times with John Pentland Mahaffy and William Goulding. During his first stay he also writes the Graffiti d’Italia. But also other things happen during these six years: He distinguishes himself not only as a classical scholar, a poseur, and a wit but also as a poet by winning the coveted Newdigate Prize in 1878 with a long poem, Ravenna; On the 19. April 1876 his father died. He was deeply impressed by the teachings of the English writers John Ruskin and Walter Pater on the central importance of art in life and particularly by the latter's stress on the aesthetic intensity by which life should be lived. Like many in his generation, Wilde is determined to follow Pater's urging "to burn always with [a] hard, gemlike flame." But Wilde also delightes in affecting an aesthetic pose; this, combined with rooms at Oxford decorated with objets d'art, resulted in his famous remark: "Oh, would that I could live up to my blue china!"
1880 - 1881: In the summer of 1880, he goes together with his friend Frank Miles to Chelsea. In September his first play for the stage, Vera; or, The Nihilists is published. In this time Aestheticism is the rage and despair of literary London, an Wilde suceeds in establishing himself in social and artistic circles by his wit and flamboyance. Soon the periodical Punch makes him the satiric object of its antagonism to the Aesthetes for what was considered their unmasculine devotion to art; and in their comic opera Patience, Gilbert and Sullivan based the character Bunthorne, a "fleshly poet," partly on Wilde. Wishing to reinforce the association, Wilde publishes, at his own expense, Poems (1881), which echoes, too faithfully, his discipleship to the poets Algernon Swinburne, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and John Keats.
1882: Eager for further acclaim, Wilde agrees to lecture in the United States and Canada in January, announcing on his arrival in New York City that he has "nothing to declare but his genius." Despite widespreas hostility in the press to his languid poses and aesthetic costume of velvet jacket, knee breeches, and black silk stockings, Wilde for 12 months exhortes the Americans to love beauty and art; then returnes to Great Britain to lecture on his impressions of America. In this year he also publishes two new poems, titled Le Jardin and La Mer.
9. July 1883: The verse tragedy The Duchess of Padua appears as private printing in small edition.
29. May 1884: Wilde marries Constance Lloyd, daughter of a prominent Irish barrister; two children, Cyril and Vyvyan, are born, in 1885 and 1886.
1884 - 1888: Meanwhile, Wilde is a reviewer for the Pall Mall Gazette and then becomes editor of Woman's World (1887 - 89). During this period of apprenticeship as a writer, he publishes The Canterville Ghost (1887) and The Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888), which reveals his gift for romantic allegory in the form of the fairy tale.
1889: He stops writing for Woman's World an publishes Pen, Pencil and Poison, The Decay of Lying, The Birthday of the Little Princess and The Portrait of Mr. W. H.
1890: In the the summer of 1890 Wilde writes and publishes nearly his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (published in Lippincott's Magazine, 1890, and in book form, revised and expanded by six chapters, 1891). In this book Wilde combines the supernatural elements of the Gothic novel with the unspeakable sins of French decadent fiction. Critics charged immorality despite Dorian's self - destruction; Wilde, however, insisted on the amoral nature of art regardless of an apparently moral ending.
1891: Intentions (1891), consisting of previously published essays, restated his aesthetic attitude toward art by borrowing ideas from the French poets Théophile Gautier and Charles Baudelaire and the American painter James McNeill Whistler. In the same year, two volumes of stories and fairy tales also appeared, testifying to his extraordinary creative inventiveness: Lord Arthur Savile's Crime, and Other Stories and A House of Pomegranates. But in this year Wilde met a man, who should become his "fate": Lord Alfred Douglas, the third son of the eight Marquess of Queensbury. A passionate and fatal friendship beginns.
1892: But Wilde's greatest successes were his society comedies. Within the conventions of the French "well - made play" (with its social intrigues and artificial devices to resolve conflict), he employes his paradoxical, epigrammatic wit to create a form of comedy new to the 19th - century English theatre. His first success, Lady Windermere's Fan, demonstrates that this wit could revitalize the rusty machinery of French drama. In the same year, rehearsals of his macabre play Salomé, written in French and designed, as he said, to make his audience shudder by its depiction of unnatural passion, were halted by the censor because it contained biblical characters. A second society comedy, A Woman of No Importance (written 1892 but produced 1893), convinced the critic William Archer that Wilde's plays "must be taken on the very highest plane of modern English drama."
1893: Salome is published, an English translation appeares in 1894 with Aubrey Beardsley's celebrated illustrations. He beginns his work on the play An Ideal Husband.
1894: Wilde travels to Paris, where he meets again Lord Alfred Douglas. Together, they travel to Florence. In the autumn he spends a few weeks in Brighton, one more time together with Lord Douglas.
1895: In rapid succession, Wilde's final plays, An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest, were produced in the first minths of 1895. In many of his works, exposure of a secret sin or indiscretion and consequent disgrace is a central design. If life imitated art, as Wilde insisted in his essay The Decay of Lying (1889), he was himself approximating the pattern in his reckless pursuit of pleasure. In addition, his close friendship with Lord Alfred Douglas, infuriated his father, the Marquess of Queensberry. Accused, finally, by the marquess of being a sodomite, Wilde, urged by Douglas, sued for criminal libel. Wilde's case collapsed, however, when the evidence went against him, and he dropped the suit. Urged to flee to France by his friends, Wilde refused, unable to believe that his world was at an end. He was arrested and ordered to stand trial. Wilde testified brilliantly, but the jury failed to reach a verdict. In the retrial he was found guilty and sentenced, in May 1895, to two years at hard labour. Most of his sentence was served at Reading Gaol, where he wrote a long letter to Douglas (published in 1905 in a drastically cut version as De Profundis. The complete manuscript was published on the 1. January 1969) filled with recriminations against the younger man for encouraging him in dissipation and distracting him from his work.
1896: This year was one of the worst in the life of Wilde. On the 3. February his mother died. His wife Constance gets awarded the guardianship for Wildes sons. But also the two requests for grace, which had been sent by Wilde to the minister of the interior are rejected.
1897: In May Wilde is released, a bankrupt, and immediately travels to France, hoping to regenerate himself as a writer. His only remaining work, however, was The Ballad of Reading Gaol (published 1898), revealing his concern for inhumane prison conditions. Despite constant money problems he maintaines, as George Bernard Shaw said, "an unconquerable gaiety of soul" that sustaines him, and he is visited by such loyal friends as Max Beerbohm and Robert Ross, later his literary executor; he is also reunited with Douglas.
1898 - 1899: Wilde travels through Europe (Italy, France, Switzerland).
1900: The relationship with Lord Douglas is over. He dies suddenly of acute meningitis brought on by an ear infection. In his semiconscious final moments, he is received into the Roman Catholic church, which he had long admired. He is buried in Paris. The grave sculpture (finished 1912) carries the inscription:
"And alien tears will fill for him / Pity’s long broken urn
For his mourners will be outcast men / And outcasts always mourn"


The Picture of Dorian Gray is a book that has many different dimensions and is continuously being interpreted and reinterpreted since it's first publishing date in 1890. The story's main character is a young man named Dorian Gray, he is the inspiration of Basil Hallward's art. Basil paints a picture of Dorian, which he considers a masterpiece. Lord Henry Wotton, a friend of Basil's and then also to Dorian, is there at the time of the last sitting that Dorian does for the painting. Dorian is fascinated by Lord Henry and his unconventional (perhaps immoral?) ideas. Lord Henry discusses the wonders of youthfulness and the dismay of aging. Dorian is greatly affected by Lord Henry's words. He then after sees the picture in completion, he is extremely upset the thought of the picture retaining youth and splendor versus the aging of himself in reality that he says, "...If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young and the picture was to grow old! For that - for that - I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!". At this point Dorian's looks stay the same as the day he proclaims the phrase above. Although his physical features are not changing, he is changing. Under the influence of Lord Henry, Dorian starts exploring life in new ways. While this developmet begins, Basil Hallward is afraid of the fact that Lord Henry becomes more and more important for Dorian with every single day. He thinks, that Lord Henrys influence over Dorian will end in a desaster. For him the way how Lord Henry lives his life is nothing, that should inspire a young man. And as the plot continues we can see this fear was entitled. At the beginning of this new step in Dorian's life he meets a young actress named Sybil Vane, with whom he "fall's in love with". He also wants to merry her. One evening he wants, that Lord Henry and Basil come with him to the theater where Sybil performs. But the evening ends in a catastrophe, because Sybil plays very badly and Dorian has only loved her because she has been a fantastic actress. As it soon appears to him, he was not actually in love with her, and so he then breaks off their hasty engagement and in turn she commits suicide. This is the point in which we discover that there is a change in the picture of Dorain.. In one chapter of the book Basil comes to see after him after Sybils death but the suicide does not affect Dorian at all. Also Dorian starts to realize, that something happens with him. He also tells Basil that he wants that their friendship will never be over. At this time we can find a few good feelings and thouts in Dorians personality. Dorian hides the picture in a always locked room of his house, as he beginns to see the first changes on the canvas. At this time Lord Henry sends Dorian a book that soon becomes his "bible". The book narrates the story of a french lord that lives hid life in decadence and disdain for the people around him. Then as time goes on the painting changes to represent Dorian's soul, the grotesque thing that has become of it. After years and years of living with reckless abandon does Dorian Gray truly consider what his life has become. On the evening before Dorians 38thBirthday Basil comes to him because he wants to talk to him before he travelles to Paris with his pictures. Dorian showes him what the picture as become. While Basil is looking at the picture, Dorian takes a knife and kills him. On the next morning he forces an old firend to help him destroying the corpse. He then decides that he want's a "new life" and wants to talk with Lord Henry about it during a party, but Lord Henry laughs at him. At home Dorian starts to slash at his picture with a knife in a brief moment of passion. This turns the painting back to the original form, when Dorian was much younger on the day Basil finished it and Dorian made his wish for youth. And now Dorian Gray physically aged and turned into what his painting had been which signifies the end of his painful existence.


The Picture of Dorian Gray revolves around Dorian's dual nature. On the one hand, he is the young hero whose adventures the novel records; on the other, he is a painted image of "extraordinary personal beauty." When Lord Henry tells him that his exceptional looks will not last, the young man prays that he be allowed to remain as he is in Basil's portrait of him. Dorian wants to enjoy his youth for ever. His "mad wish" is a key to the archetypal factors which condition the novel, for the quality of "eternal youth" is a primary attribute of Dionysos. That Dorian is invested with the attributes of Dionysos is, however, corroborated in the novel. The morning after he cold - bloodedly turns his back on Sibyl Vane, he checks to see whether Basil's portrait has really altered. It has - - and he immediately understands what this signifies for him:
"Eternal youth, infinite passion, pleasures subtle and secret, wild joys and wilder sins - - he was to have all these things. The portrait was to bear the burden of his shame: that was all."
The young man who realizes this has known only the passions of an adolescent's dreams. In other words, he believes that, under normal circumstances, such pleasures would stain him, not only morally, but physically. And so he prays that he may enjoy every pleasure which life can offer him, and yet remain unmarked by his experience. Such passions as those he wants to enjoy are associated with Dionysos. This is confirmed toward the end of the novel, when Lord Henry, following their discussion of Basil's murder, says to Dorian:
"You have drunk deeply of everything. You have crushed the grapes against your palate. Nothing has been hidden from you."
The novel begins with Dorian praying that he be granted the "eternal youth" proper only to a god. To seek to appropriate a god's attributes is an other very interesting signal for us. Not coincidentally, central to the novel is another myth whose subject has psychological background: It is introduced in an analogy toward the end of the novel, while Dorian is playing the piano. Lord Henry remarks:
"What a blessing it is that there is one art left to us that is not imitative ! Don't stop. I want music tonight. It seems to me that you are the young Apollo, and that I am Marsyas listening to you."
Not only Lord Henry, but Dorian too can be likened to Marsyas. For his portrait gradually assumes the aspect of a "hideous old satyr". When he tries to destroy it, he (unwillingly ?) kills himself, and the portrait reverts to its original Apollonian perfection.
By virtue of his "mad prayer," Dorian thus appropriates the attributes of both Dionysos and Apollo. He is a symbolic personification of both Dionysian intoxication and Apollonian form; of Dionysian involvement and Apollonian unapproachability. He is able to enjoy the Dionysian pleasures to which he wants to abandon himself, but at an Apollonian distance.



The novel can thus be defined as a symbolic representation of a dialectic between two aspects of Wilde's personality. Dorian is an archetypal image by which both aspects are fascinated. This suggests that his behaviour symbolizes Wilde's unconscious (i.e. unacknowledged) attitudes. Dorian is characterized by his obsession with objets d'art. For example, when Basil comes to console him about Sibyl's death, he is unwilling to discuss the matter. He does not want to admit the possibility that his behaviour was reprehensible. He tells his friend: "If one doesn't talk about a thing, it has never happened. It is simply expression, as Harry says, that gives reality to things". Later, after murdering Basil, he again seeks to avoid acknowledging what he has done: "He felt that the secret of the whole thing was not to realize the situation".
Dorian escapes from every unpleasant realization by turning his attention to other things. Unwilling to admit that his actions have moral implications, he seeks refuge in art. On hearing of Sibyl's death, he accepts an invitaton, for that very evening, to go to the opera. He learns to see life only from an aesthetic perspective. He reflects:
"Form is absolutely essential to it. It should have the dignity of a ceremony, as well as its unreality, and should combine the insincere character of a romantic play with the wit and beauty that makes such plays delightful to us. "
The consequence of this attitude is that he finds himself increasingly "stepping outside" his experiences in order to observe them from a distance. Instead of living his experiences more intensely, he finds himself observing them, as in a theatre. He confesses to Lord Henry, with reference to Sibyl's suicide:
"I must admit that this thing that has happened does not affect me as it should. It seems to me simply like a wonderful ending to a wonderful play. It has all the terrible beauty of a Greek tragedy, a tragedy in which I took a great part, but by which I have not been wounded."
He tells Basil: "To become the spectator of one's own life, as Harry says, is to escape the suffering of life". Some eighteen years later, Dorian no longer even feels part of his own drama. He has become only a spectator, and what he sees is a projection of the grotesque shape that his own personality has assumed. He coldly watches Basil as the latter reacts to his now hideously deformed painting:
"The young man was leaning against the mantelshelf, watching him with that strange expression that one sees on the faces of those who are absorbed in a play when some great artist is acting. There was neither real sorrow in it nor real joy. There was simply the passion of the spectator, with perhaps a flicker of triumph in his eyes."
He is no longer watching himself only. He is watching another person's reaction to the callousness and cruelty which he does not want to recognize in himself.
Throughout the novel, the mechanism whereby involvement is translated into aesthetic perspective is associated with fear. For example, when Dorian first meets Lord Henry, to distract him from the latter's words, he turns to observe a bee:
"He watched it with that strange interest in trivial things that we try to develop when things of high import make us afraid, or when we are stirred by some new emotion for which we cannot find expression, or when some thought that terrifies us lays sudden siege to the brain and calls on us to yield."
He has been granted the means to enjoy life to the full, but - - paradoxically - - he is afraid of life. Consequently, he seeks refuge in a pseudo - aestheticism. For example, when he shows Alan Campbell into the room where Basil's murdered body lies, he is suddenly afraid that he will have to see the consequence of what he has done: "There he stopped, feeling afraid to turn round, and his eyes fixed themselves on the intricacies of the pattern before him". His subsequent passion for objets d'art, so lengthily described in chapter XI, is simply a way "by which he could escape, for a season, from the fear that seemed to him at times to be almost too great to be borne". He is afraid of that side of his own personality for which he is not prepared to accept responsiblity.
Dorian is the Wildean dandy par excellence. He is what both Basil and Lord Henry would like to be. It is worth noting that Wilde wrote of the characters in his only novel: "Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry what the world thinks me: Dorian what I would like to be - - in other ages, perhaps". Dorian personifies a conflict between Dionysian and Apollonian elements particularly fascinating to his creator. He has a passion for "the colour, the beauty, the joy of life", but avoids becoming involved with any experience for fear of it causing him possible pain. Basil's and Lord Henry's fascination with him represents Wilde's obsession with a young dandy whose evasiveness and pseudo - aestheticism symbolize his own unconscious fears.
The Wildean dandy is content with philosophic contemplation. He is afraid of the power that an individual - - any individual - - is potentially capable of exercising over him. He does not involve himself in the worries of his friends, for worry signals suffering, and the Wildean dandy will do everything possible to avoid suffering. He blocks off any realization that might pain him. He is afraid of his own unacknowledged desires. He is afraid to live the kind of life that so fascinates him. His wit is just one of his means of defence. It is a way of evading the obligation to respond to the demands and individuality of another person.



The Picture of Dorian Gray begins with Basil describing his fascination with Dorian, and ends with his masterpiece reverting to its original splendour. He describes his reaction to Dorian in these words:
"When our eyes met, I felt I was growing pale. A curious sensation of terror came over me. I knew that I had come face to face with some one whose mere personality was so fascinating that, if I allowed it to do so, it would absorb my whole nature, my whole soul, my very art itself."
Such a reaction is not a reaction to another human being. It signals an intimation of something super - human. A fascination is caused by unconscious factors. It grips us; it holds us in its power; it acts upon us.
Basil Hallward: Basil lives only for his art. He is afraid of life, because it is capable of exerting an influence over him. This influence he feels as threatening. He is afraid of Dorian, because Dorian personifies the Dionysian side of his own personality which he has repressed. Thus he needs Dorian, because only through Dorian can he feel that he is alive. The contrast between them is suggestive. Basil is fascinated by what he himself is not. The attributes which he finds so fascinating stand in "compensatory" relation to him. But, instead of seeing his fascination as symbolic of a need to develop the Dionysian side of his own personality, he seeks to perpetuate his experience through art. He is punished by Dorian - Dionysos for not giving expression to his Dionysian side, and by Dorian - Apollo for thinking too highly of his art. The novel traces the consequence of his "artistic idolatry."
Lord Henry Wotton: The novel may begin in Basil's studio, but its story is triggered by Lord Henry, who is equally - - albeit differently - - fascinated by Dorian. Lord Henry is a dandy who has elaborated a theory of Individualism. He advises Dorian to enjoy life to the full, to give way to every temptation, to realize his every fantasy - - but not to allow any experience to arrest the pursuit of his pleasure. He watches Dorian's progress closely, half aware that he is experimenting on himself. Dorian has what he values most, and feels he has lost: youth. In other words, Lord Henry is also fascinated by what he is not. He is captivated by Dorian, because Dorian lives the life he would like to live. Instead of seeing Dorian as symbolizing his need to involve himself in life, he contents himself with "philosophic contemplation". He too represses his Dionysian side, but not as extremly as Basil. He feels it sufficient to experience this through Dorian. The novel traces the consequences of his desire to follow his "experiment" to its end.

Parallels: Basil and Lord Henry personify two different aspects of Wilde's personality. Basil's fascination with Dorian anticipates Wilde's fascination with Lord Alfred Douglas. For example, in the novel, Basil says that Dorian is "absolutely necessary" to him: "my life as an artist depends on him". And he tells Dorian "You became to me the visible incarnation of that unseen ideal whose memory haunts us artists like an exquisite dream". A few years after writing this, Wilde wrote to Lord Alfred Douglas "I can't live without you", and "you are the atmosphere of beauty through which I see life. You are the incarnation of all lovely things". Basil confesses his idolatry of Dorian. Similarly, Wilde, in a letter to Douglas, writes "I shall be eternally grateful to you for having always inspired me with adoration and love". The fact that the fiction antedates life suggests that the unconscious perceives more than consciousness. Similarly, Lord Henry never says a moral thing, and never does a wrong thing. He lives only through his conversation. He is too concerned with the promotion of his own views to be able to respond to those of any one else. His relationship with his wife ends in divorce - - as Wilde's did. He is also the carrier of Wilde's extravagant personality and wit. Basil is an artist whose best work stems from a passion for a young man whom he sees as a "Prince of Life." Lord Henry is a conversationalist who cuts life to pieces with his epigrams



There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about. The Picture of Dorian Gray

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. The Picture of Dorian Gray

Why is it, that one runs to ones ruin, why has destruction such a fascination.
De Profundis

Men become old, but they never become good.  Lady Windermere's Fan

No man is rich enough to buy back his past. An Ideal Husband

Women are meant to be loved, not to be understood.  The Sphinx Without a Secret
I am sick of women who love me.  Women who hate me are much more interesting.  The Picture of Dorian Gray
I prefer women with a past.  They're always so damned amusing to talk to.  Lady Windermere's Fan

Life is much too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it. Vera, of The Nihilists

A man can be happy with any woman as long as he does not love her.  The Picture of Dorian Gray

America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.
Always forgive your enemies - nothing annoys them so much.
Bigamy is having one wife too many. Monogamy is the same.
I'll be a poet, a writer, a dramatist. Somehow or other, I'll be famous, and if not famous, I'll be notorious.
I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train. From: The Importance of Being Earnest
Men always want to be a woman's first love - women like to be a man's last romance.
The only way to atone for being occasionally a little over - dressed is by being always absolutely overeducated.
Men always want to be a woman's first love - women like to be a man's last romance.
The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple.

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