11 Fascinating Facts About Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde: a name that evokes wit, flamboyance, literary genius and the scandalous brilliance of Victorian England. He was more than just the author of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ and the mind behind ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray.’ Wilde’s life was as rich and complex as his literary creations, filled with moments that would seem almost implausible in fiction.

From multiple baptisms to an editorship that challenged Victorian norms, each chapter of his life reads like a story penned by the master himself.

So, let’s embark on a journey through 11 fascinating facts about Oscar Wilde, where each tidbit is a reminder that truth can be, indeed, stranger and more delightful than fiction.”

#1 – Oscar Wilde wrote just one novel.

Oscar Wilde, primarily known for his plays, poetry, and essays, authored only one novel in his lifetime, “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” First published in 1890, this novel stands as a singular yet significant testament to Wilde’s literary genius and his profound exploration of aestheticism, morality, and the nature of beauty.

“The Picture of Dorian Gray” is notable for its exploration of the theme of hedonism and the idea that beauty and pleasure are the only things worth pursuing in life. The story revolves around Dorian Gray, a young man whose portrait ages and bears the scars of his moral corruption, while he himself remains outwardly youthful and unblemished. The novel delves into the consequences of living a life devoted solely to pleasure and the pursuit of beauty, making it a profound moral tale.

Wilde’s novel was considered highly controversial at the time of its publication, as it was seen as an affront to the rigid moral codes of Victorian society. The book’s exploration of decadence, vanity, and the supernatural elements linked to the portrait were subjects of much criticism and fascination. “The Picture of Dorian Gray” was used as evidence against Wilde during his 1895 trials for “gross indecency,” further adding to its notoriety.

Despite the initial controversy, the novel has since been recognized as a classic of Western literature and a seminal work in the canon of aestheticism. Its blend of Gothic horror elements with philosophical musings on art and morality reflects Wilde’s own complex views on the purpose and value of art.

#2 – Oscar Wilde was a Polyglot

Oscar Wilde’s linguistic proficiency extended beyond his mastery of English. He was a polyglot, possessing the ability to speak and understand multiple languages. This skill not only reflects his intellectual prowess but also played a significant role in shaping his literary works.

Wilde’s interest in languages began early in his life. Raised in an intellectual household in Dublin, he was exposed to various languages and cultures. His mother, Jane Francesca Elgee, a poet and Irish nationalist, was known to have influenced his love for language and literature.

At Trinity College, Dublin, and later at Oxford University, Wilde honed his linguistic skills. He excelled in classics, which involved studying texts in ancient Greek and Latin. His command over these languages was not merely academic; he could appreciate and engage with the literature and philosophy of ancient cultures in their original texts, which deepened his understanding of literature and art.

In addition to Greek and Latin, Wilde was proficient in French. He had a lifelong appreciation for French literature and culture, which is evident in his works and personal correspondence. Wilde’s proficiency in French was not just in reading and writing; he was also fluent in speaking the language, which allowed him to engage directly with French literary circles and immerse himself in the culture during his various sojourns in France.

Wilde’s ability to speak multiple languages contributed to his broad literary and cultural perspective. It enabled him to draw on a wide range of influences and references in his work, from classical texts to contemporary European literature. This multilingual ability enhanced his wit, literary style, and the depth of his writing, making him not just a prominent figure in English literature but also a writer of international significance.

Wilde’s polyglot abilities reflect the breadth of his education and intellectual curiosity, traits that greatly enriched his writing and contributed to his standing as one of the most celebrated and enduring authors of his time.

#3 – His wife was a writer too

Oscar Wilde’s wife, Constance Lloyd Wilde, was an accomplished author and an active participant in the literary and intellectual circles of her time. Born in 1859, Constance was not only Wilde’s partner but also a writer in her own right, with interests in children’s literature and feminist causes.

Her literary work includes two children’s books, “There Was Once” and “A Long Time Ago,” which showcase her talent for storytelling and her affinity for the literary arts. In addition to her writing, Constance was deeply involved in the dress reform movement, advocating for more practical and less restrictive clothing for women, a cause she often wrote about.

#4 – His mother was an Irish revolutionary

Jane Francesca Elgee Wilde

Oscar Wilde’s mother, Jane Francesca Elgee Wilde, was more than just a mother to a famous writer. She played a significant role in Ireland’s fight for independence from British rule. Born in 1821, she was deeply passionate about her country’s freedom and used her talents as a writer to support this cause. Writing under a pen name, “Speranza,” Jane contributed powerful articles to “The Nation,” a well-known Irish newspaper that supported Irish nationalism.

Her writings weren’t just stories; they were bold and inspiring messages that encouraged people to stand up for Ireland’s independence. Growing up, Oscar Wilde was surrounded by his mother’s strong political beliefs and her love for writing, which greatly influenced his own work. Jane Wilde’s involvement in Ireland’s fight for freedom and her own writing career made her a remarkable figure in her own right, adding an interesting layer to Oscar Wilde’s family history.

#5 – Oscar Wilde converted to Catholicism on his deathbed in a Parisian hotel room.

Oscar Wilde made a significant decision at the end of his life. While he was in a hotel room in Paris, he chose to become a Catholic. This change happened right before he passed away. Wilde had always been interested in Catholicism throughout his life, and this final choice was made in a quiet hotel room, marking a personal and spiritual moment for him as he faced his last days.

#6 – Oscar Wilde was imprisoned in Reading Gaol.

Oscar Wilde faced a tumultuous period in his life that culminated in his imprisonment in Reading Gaol. This event was a significant turning point in his life and career.

Wilde was convicted of “gross indecency” under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885. This law was primarily used to prosecute homosexual acts, which at the time were illegal in the United Kingdom.

Before his imprisonment, Wilde was involved in a series of trials that began in 1895. He initially sued the Marquess of Queensberry for libel, as the Marquess had accused him of being a homosexual. However, this lawsuit backfired, leading to Wilde’s own arrest and trial.

Wilde was sentenced to two years of hard labor and spent the majority of this time in Reading Gaol, a prison in Berkshire, England. His imprisonment was undoubtedly harsh for Wilde, and significantly affected his health and well-being.

The prison experience profoundly influenced his later work. After his release, he wrote “The Ballad of Reading Gaol,” a lengthy poem that reflects on the brutal realities of prison life and the inhumanity of the penal system. This poem is one of his most famous works and was published under the pseudonym “C.3.3.,” which was his cell block and cell number in Reading Gaol.

#7 – Oscar Wilde moved to France in later life

After his release from prison in 1897, he lived in exile in France under the name Sebastian Melmoth. He never returned to his former glory and died impoverished in Paris in 1900.

#8 – Oscar had three illegitimate siblings

Oscar Wilde had a family background that was complex and, in some ways, unconventional for his time. The fact that he had three illegitimate siblings is an aspect that sheds light on the family dynamics and social context of his early life.

His father, Sir William Wilde, was a prominent ear and eye surgeon in Ireland and was also known for his archaeological and anthropological interests. However, he was notorious for his extramarital affairs. These liaisons resulted in the birth of three children who were Oscar’s half-siblings.

The three illegitimate children of Sir William Wilde were Henry Wilson, Emily Wilde, and Mary Wilde. They were raised alongside Oscar and his two legitimate siblings, Willie and Isola, in the Wilde household. This arrangement, though not widely publicized, was somewhat known in their social circles.

#9 – He was baptised 3 times.

Oscar was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1854. He was baptized as an infant in the Protestant Anglican faith, which was the religion of his father, Sir William Wilde. This initial baptism followed the customary practice of the Anglican Church, marking the child’s entry into the Christian faith.

Sometime later, his mother took him and his brother Willie to be baptised as a catholic at a church in County Wicklow.

His third baptism happened on his death bed in Paris.

#10 – He attended the same school as Samuel Beckett.

Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett, two luminaries of Irish literature, share the notable connection of having attended the same educational institution, Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, Ireland. Oscar attended the school around 1865 and Samuel Beckett between 1920 and 1923.

#10 – He was the editor of the then popular womens’ magazine “The Woman’s World”.

Oscar Wilde took over the editorship of “The Woman’s World” in 1887. The magazine, initially titled “The Lady’s World,” was rebranded under Wilde’s leadership to better reflect his vision for the publication.

Wilde sought to transform the magazine into a more intellectually engaging publication. He changed its focus from purely fashion and lifestyle to include broader, more serious topics such as literature, arts, and women’s issues. Wilde’s vision was to elevate the content to appeal to the educated woman of the time.

Wilde left the magazine in 1889, after which he focused more on writing plays.

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