Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, born on the 16th of October 1854 in Dublin, Ireland, is only second to Shakespeare as the most oft quoted author in the English speaking world. His razor sharp wit combined with his majestically elegant prose to tell us some of the greatest stories of all time.
He was a voracious playwright, but to many his greatest work outside of plays is undoubtedly his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Dorian Gray is the story of a young man who sells his soul away for the promise of eternal youth and perpetual beauty. Told with Wilde’s fantastic wit and magical prose, the book caused a national outrage when it was first published in 1890, for the hedonism and decadence contained in the novel as well as its supposed homosexual overtones, even though the 1890 version was censored heavily before it was ever printed.
Sadly, this grand book spurred many members of the public to attack Wilde and his “homosexual agenda”, leading to the arrest of Mr Wilde and his good friend and supposed lover Alfred Taylor in 1895 for Sodomy and Gross Indecency. Wilde was sentenced to 2 years hard labour. During his time in jail performing hard labour, he passed out and ruptured his ear drum upon the chapel floor, an injury that is said to have lead directly to his contracting cerebral meningitis and subsequent death a few years later.
When Oscar Wilde died in Paris in 1900, he died completely destitute and penniless.
When you compare books written today to Mr Wilde’s writing you will find that his writing stands up remarkably well, a good hundred years after they were written, which cannot be said for all of the work to come out of that time.
Any modern assessment of the man is sure to mention his great charm and incredible wit, but he was so much more than a clever man with a flair for writing. He created some of the most memorable and colorful characters in modern literary history. His willingness to play and venture into the worlds of the heretofore unknown have rightfully earned him a place in the history books as one of the greatest authors, not only of his time, but of all time.
Whilst his writing can seem somewhat impenetrable and obtuse, with a little persistence many modern readers find that with a bit of help, the efforts required to fall in love with the man are more than worth the time invested.
He was probably the first man to be tried and sentenced by an angry public, spurred on by a media with an agenda. The public fury whipped up against him mighty pall to what seems so regular today, but his sexual proclivities made him a pariah, and in histories eyes, perhaps a venerable one.