Oscar Wilde Biography
Source: The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.
(Oscar Fingall O’Flahertie Wills Wilde), 1854–1900, Irish author and wit, b. Dublin. He is most famous for his sophisticated, brilliantly witty plays, which were the first since the comedies of Sheridan and Goldsmith to have both dramatic and literary merit. He studied at Trinity College, Dublin, and at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he distinguished himself for his scholarship and wit, and also for his eccentricity in dress, tastes, and manners. Influenced by the aesthetic teachings of Walter Pater and John Ruskin, Wilde became the center of a group glorifying beauty for itself alone, and he was satirized with other exponents of "art for art’s sake" in Punch and in Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta Patience. His first published work, Poems (1881), was well received. The next year he lectured to great acclaim in the United States, where his drama Vera (1883) was produced. In 1884 he married Constance Lloyd, and they had two sons, Cyril and Vyvyan.
Later he began writing for and editing periodicals, but his active literary career began with the publication of Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime and Other Stories (1891) and two collections of fairy tales, The Happy Prince (1888) and The House of Pomegranates (1892). In 1891 his novel Picture of Dorian Gray appeared. A tale of horror, it depicts the corruption of a beautiful young man pursuing an ideal of sensual indulgence and moral indifference; although he himself remains young and handsome, his portrait becomes ugly, reflecting his degeneration.
Wilde’s stories and essays were well received, but his creative genius found its highest expression in his plays—Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892), A Woman of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband (1895), and his masterpiece, The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), which were all extremely clever and filled with pithy epigrams and paradoxes. Wilde explained away their lack of depth by saying that he put his genius into his life and only his talent into his books. He also wrote two historical tragedies, The Duchess of Padua (1892) and Salomé (1893).
In 1891, Wilde had become intimate with Lord Alfred Douglas, and the marquess of Queensberry, Douglas’s father, accused Wilde of homosexual practices. Foolishly, Wilde brought action for libel against the marquess and was himself charged with homosexual offenses under the Criminal Law Amendment, found guilty, and sentenced to prison for two years. His experiences in jail inspired his most famous poem, The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), and the apology published by his literary executor as De Profundis (1905). Released in 1897, he lived in France until his death, plagued by ill health and bankruptcy.
On Women and Men
"Women are sphinxes without secrets"
"All women become like their mothers, that is their tragedy; no man does, that is his."
"Never trust a woman who tells you her real age; a woman who tells you that would tell you anything."
"Women are meant to be loved, not understood."
"A woman will flirt with anyone in the world, so long as other women are looking on."
"Women can discover everything except the obvious."
"If a woman wants to hold a man, she has merely to appeal to the worst in him."
"Crying is the refuge of plain women and the ruin of pretty ones."
"If you really want to know what a woman means, which is dangerous, always look at her but never listen."
"For fascinating women, sex is a challenge; for others, it is merely a defence."
"35 is a very attractive age: London society is full of women who have, of their own free choice, remained 35 for years."
"Women give to men the very gold of their lives; but they always want it back in small change."
"I like men who have a future, and women who have a past."
"If a man is a gentleman he knows quite enough, and if he is not a gentleman, whatever he knows is likely to be bad for him."
"Men become old, they never become good."
"I sometimes think that God, in creating man, rather overestimated His ability."
Oscar Wilde on Love and Marriage
"The Niagara Falls is simply a vast amount of water going the wrong way over some unnecessary rocks; the sight of that waterfall must be one of the earliest and keenest disappointments in American married life."
"A man can be happy with any woman, so long as he does not love her."
"The happiness of a married man depends on the people he has not married."
"The husbands of very beautiful women usually belong to the criminal classes."
"London if full of women who trust their husbands; one can always recognise them because they look so thoroughly happy."
"Twenty years of romance makes a woman look like a ruin; twenty years of marriage makes her look like a public building."
"The three women I have most admired are Queen Victoria, Sarah Bernhardt, and Lillie Langtry. The first had great dignity, the second a lovely voice, and the third a perfect figure; I would have married any one of them with the greatest pleasure."
"The only real tragedy in a woman's life is that her past is always her lover, and the future is invariably her husband."
"In married life, three is company, two is none."
"The proper basis for a marriage is mutual misunderstanding."
"There is nothing in the world like the devotion of a married woman; it's a thing that no married man knows anything about."
"When a woman marries again, it is because she detested her first husband; when a man marries again; it is because he adored his first wife. Women try their luck, men risk theirs."
"I have always been of the opinion that a man about to get married should know either everything or nothing."
"Men marry because they are tired, women because they are curious; both are disappointed."
Oscar Wilde at Large
"Anyone can sympathize with the sufferings of a friend; it requires a very fine nature to sympathize with a friends' success."
"A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal."
"Education is a wonderful thing, provided you always remember that nothing worth knowing can ever be taught."
"It is a very sad thing that nowadays there is so little useless information around."
"Ignorance is a rare exotic fruit; touch it, and the bloom, has gone."
"The only duty we owe history is to rewrite it."
Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative."
"A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing."
"Fashion is what one wears oneself; what is unfashionable is what other people wear."
"No great artist ever sees things as they really are; if he did, he would cease to be an artist."
"Society often forgives the criminal but it never forgives the dreamer."
"Thre is no such thing as a moral or immoral book; books are well written or badly written."
"Examinations consist of the foolish asking questions the wise cannot answer."
"Punctuality is the thief of time."
"The truth is rarely pure and never simple."
Oscar Wilde on Life
"The book of life begins with a man and woman in a garden; it ends with revelations."
"The good end happily and the bad unhappily; that is what fiction means."
"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."
"Experience is the name we all give to our mistakes."
"The only thing worse in the world than being talked about is not being talked about."
"Children begin by loving their parents. After a time, they judge them; rarely is ever do they forgive them."
"The old believe everything; the middle-aged suspect everything; the young know everything."
"Nothing succeeds like excess."
"In this world there are only two tragedies; one is not getting what one wants, the other is getting it."
"To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness."
"To get back one's youth, one merely has to repeat one's follies."
"Young people nowadays assume that money is everything, and when they get older they know it."
"It is better to have a permanent income than to be fascinating."
"No man is ever rich enough to buy back his past."
"A man cannot be too careful in his choice of enemies."
"Every great man nowadays has his disciples, but it is always Judas who writes the biography."
On The Importance of Being Oscar Wilde
"When I had to fill in the immigration papers, I gave my age as 19, and my profession as genius; I added that I had nothing to declare except my talent."
"I have put my genius into my life, whereas all I have put into my work is my talent."
"I can resist everything except temptation."
"I have very simple tastes, I am always satisfied with the very best."
"I like talking to a brick wall, I find it is the only thing that never contradicts me."
"Whenever people agree with me, I always feel I must be wrong."
"One half of the world does not believe in God, and the other half does not believe in me."
"Praise makes me humble, but when I am abused I know I have touched the stars."
"I shall have to die, as I have lived, beyond my means."
"To regain my youth I wold do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early, or become respectable."
"If this is the way Queen Victoria treats her prisoners, she doesn't deserve to have any."
"I shall never makes a new friend in life, though I rather hope to make a few in death."
"I have had my hand on the moon; what is the use of trying to rise a little way from the ground?"
"This wallpaper will be the death of me; one of us will have to go."