Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin, the capital of the Republic of Ireland, in 1854. At the time the whole Ireland was part of the British Empire. His father was a physician and his mother was an appreciated Irish poetess and writer under whose influence the artistic tastes of Oscar Wilde no doubt developed.
He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin and at Magdalen College, Oxford. After finishing his studies he travelled in France and Germany. He learned French so well that he was able to write his play Salomé in that language and to receive unanimous praise for the beautiful French in which he wrote it.
In 1895 he was involved in a great scandal in the aristocratic world and was accused of immorality. He was sentenced to two years imprisonment and was sent to Reading jail.
Wilde never admitted that he was guilty and always said that he was a victim of the intrigues of his enemies. His moral sufferings in prison inspired him to write his famous poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol a masterpiece of verse, expressing profound humane feelings.
After being released from prison, he immediately left England and went to France, where he died only three years later, in 1900.
Oscar Wilde made himself known first as a poet, by publishing poems in various periodicals and magazines. In 1881 he published his volume of Poems which enjoyed an enormous success, although today his poems are less highly regarded.
He made a great impression on the British public with something quite new in English literature when he published his collection of graceful stories The Happy Prince and Other Stories (1888) which was followed by a second similar collection A House of Pomergranates (1891). In these stories he expresses his humanitarian sentiments and sympathy with the sufferings of the poor while the stories abound in witty satirical allusions to contemporary topics.
In 1891 Wilde also published The Picture of Dorian Gray, a novel which is considered to be Wilde’s most important work as in it be expresses his ideas on art which should develop, as he sees it, only under the guiding of “art for art’s sake” or aesthetic isolation.
Oscar Wilde as carried into the zenith of his career by a series of successful comedies which were produced between 1892 and 1895: Lady Windermere’s Fan, A Woman of No Importance, The Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest.
The influence of the Norwegian playwright Ibsen is felt to some extent in that each of the plays contains a “problem” which the author brings before us on the stage. However, this is very timidly done and Wild’s criticism of the world in which he lived is not boldly enough stated, although the aristocratic world to which his characters belong is presented in the most unfavorable light.
Oscar Wilde remains in the history of English literature as one of the chief representatives of Aestheticism or the Aesthetic Movement, which believed in art as a substitute for life and which flourished in England in the last decade of the 19th century.
However, the characters in his stories do not struggle and sacrifice themselves in order to establish the reign of beauty in the world but that of goodness and equity. On the other hand, humane feelings are not to be found among those at the top of the social scale, but only among the humble and the poor or even outside humanity (a statue, a swallow, etc.).
Oscar Wilde is in the first place a playwright and storyteller. He was also a poet very much appreciated in his time. His plays, which contain elements from Victorian farce and melodrama, are not an expression of those views on art and life which he proclaimed in his symbolical novel The Picture of Dorian Gray or in his impressive fairy tales.
However, they make a strong impression on the spectator owing to studied wit of the dialogue all throughout the plays, which turns them into pure style and a world in which action exists only to make possible an extremely witty conversation.
Virgiliu Stefanescu-Draganesti, Oscar Wilde