Oscar Wilde, 1854-1900



Oscar Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born and grew up in Dublin. He was the son of a surgeon, Sir William Wilde and the writer Jane Francesca Elgee. From his school days and certainly at Oxford University, the beginnings of his fanatical aestheticism could be found in his extravagant dress sense and consummate style. Until his first expression of homosexual feelings in 1886, Oscar Wilde's works were shallow or derivative. However, his sexual revelation seemed to be a turning point: his productivity increased, and the quality improved. The guilt he felt about his homosexuality and his treatment of his wife, Constance (who he had married in 1884), and their two children, could be seen to have completed his ability to write on the themes of evil, crime and suffering. He wrote The Importance of Being Earnest (his last play) in 1886. By 1890, Wilde seemed to have come to the conclusion that the 'evil' in himself could not be controlled, and so explored the theme not within the safe confines of a fairytale, but in a dark, sinister novel with a tragic ending: The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891). Wilde was imprisoned for homosexual acts in 1895 and went bankrupt before he left the prison. Wilde died in 1900 but his name is still synonymous with the bohemian lifestyle, wit and comic theatre.

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Sir Robert Chiltern, a popular Government minister, seemingly has the perfect life: a successful job and an ideal wife. But his impeccable reputation and loving marriage are both threatened when Mrs. Chieveley shows up on the scene with evidence of an inmoral behaviour in Sir Chiltern's past. As Sir Chiltern struggles with his fear of losing his marriage and his morals, things are further complicated when it is learned that his closest friend, the idle and irreverent Lord Goring, had at one time a romantic affair with Chieveley, immediately calling his innocent intentions into question.

Oscar Wilde's audacious drama of social scandal centres around a long-concealed revelation of Mrs Arbuthnot, Lord Illingworth's wife, over their illegitimate son, Gerald. Although Mrs. Arbuthnot eventually wins her son's allegiance and his acceptance of her socially-taboo past behaviour, the end of the play sees them on their way into an exile of sorts, while Lord Illingsworth continues his life in the mainstream of smart London society. Wilde also said that the character of Illingworth was his most autobiographical of characters, and some of his bleakly skeptical and paradoxical observations are characteristic of Wilde himself. Although the strict Victorian morals of Wilde's time appear anachronistic to us today, his characters' genuine feelings and motives, make this play as relevant to a modern audience as it was when first performed in 1893.

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