Oscar Wilde Biography

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The Picture of Dorian Gray Author/Context

Oscar Wilde was born in 1854 to William Ralph Willis, a surgeon, and Jane Francesca Elgee Wilde, who supported the movement for Irish independence. Educated at the Portora Royal School, Trinity College in Dublin, and Oxford University, he married Contance Lloyd in 1884 and had two children, Cyril and Vyvyan. A prolific writer whose work included short stories, poetry, fairy tales, plays, essays, and criticism, in addition to his one novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Several of his well known plays are The Importance of Being Earnest, Lady Windermere's Fan, Salome, An Ideal Husband, and A Woman of No Importance. Most of his works had to do with the Aesthetic movement, of which he was one of the most public supporters; he believed that art is useless, and it should be done simply for its own sake. Writes Karl Beckson in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 10: Modern British Dramatists, 1900-1945, "Wilde absorbed the idea that art was superior to life and that the one obligation was to transform life into art-to be as 'artificial' as possible." He had a habit of using clever epigrams in his writing, so much so that he re-used some of these epigrams in later works.

The Picture of Dorian Gray was commissioned by Lippincott's Monthly Magazine and appeared in the July, 1890 issue. Reviews showed that the public was shocked and disgusted by the book and its implicit homosexuality; Wilde added six more chapters and a subplot that would be more to the public's taste before publishing the book. The published book was given a good review and said to promote the idea that excess was evil and would make a person ugly; Wilde denied that this was his intention, however he did say that the book shows that certain excesses have their own punishments.

Moving away from his family, Wilde began an affair with a young Lord Alfred Douglas, which eventually resulted in his arrest and imprisonment for homosexuality in 1896. His punishment was hard labor at Wandsworth Prison and Reading Gaol, about which he wrote the poem "The Ballad of Reading Gaol." He was released in 1897, and died three years later, in November 1900.


Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. New York: The Modern Library, 1998.

Contemporary Authors Online: The Gale Group, 2001.

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