Oscar Wilde was an Anglo-Irish playwright, novelist, poet, and critic. He is regarded as one of the great playwrights of the Victorian Era. In his lifetime he wrote nine plays, one novel, numerous poems, short stories and essays. Wilde was a proponent of the Aesthetic movement, which emphasised aesthetic values more than moral or social themes. Besides literary accomplishments, he is also famous, or perhaps infamous, for his wit, flamboyance, and affairs with men. He was tried and imprisoned for his homosexual relationship (then considered a crime) with the son of an aristocrat.
Wilde was born in Dublin on 16 October 1854 to Sir William Wilde and his wife Jane. Oscar's mother, Lady Jane Francesca Wilde (1820-1896), was a successful poet and journalist. She wrote patriotic Irish verse under the pseudonym 'Speranza'. Oscar's father, Sir William Wilde (1815-1876), was a leading ear and eye surgeon, a renowned philanthropist and gifted writer, who wrote books on archaeology and folklore. Oscar had an elder brother, Willie, and a much-loved younger sister, Isola Francesca, who died at the early age of 10.
He was educated at Portora Royal School (1864-71), Trinity College, Dublin (1871-74), and Magdalen College, Oxford (1874-78). While at Oxford, he became involved in the aesthetic movement and became an advocate for 'Art for Art's Sake' (L'art pour l'art). Whilst at Magdalen, he won the 1878 Newdigate Prize for his poem Ravenna.
After he graduated, Oscar moved to Chelsea in London (1879) to establish a literary career. In 1881, he published his first collection of poetry - Poems, which received mixed reviews by critics. He worked as an art reviewer (1881), lectured in the United States and Canada (1882), and lived in Paris (1883). He also lectured in Britain and Ireland (1883-1884).
On May 29, 1884, Oscar married Constance Lloyd (died 1898), daughter of wealthy Queen's Counsel Horace Lloyd. They had two sons, Cyril (1885) and Vyvyan (1886). To support his family, Oscar accepted a job as the editor of Woman's World magazine, where he worked from 1887-1889.
In 1888, he published The Happy Prince and Other Tales, fairy-stories written for his two sons. His first and only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, was published in 1891 and received quite a negative response. This had much to do with the novel's homoerotic overtones, which caused something of a sensation amongst Victorian critics. In 1891, Wilde began an affair with Lord Alfred Douglas, nicknamed 'Bosie', who became both the love of his life and his downfall. Wilde's marriage ended in 1893.
Wilde's greatest talent was for writing plays. His first successful play, Lady Windermere's Fan, opened in February 1892. He produced a string of extremely popular comedies including A Woman of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband (1895), and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). These plays were all highly acclaimed and firmly established Oscar as a playwright.
In April 1895 and at the height of his theatrical success, Oscar sued Bosie's father for libel as the Marquis of Queensberry had accused him of homosexuality. Oscar's case was unsuccessful and he was himself arrested and tried for gross indecency. He was sentenced to two years of hard labor for the crime of sodomy. During his time in prison he wrote De Profundis, a dramatic monologue and autobiography, which was addressed to Bosie.
Upon his release in 1897, he wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol, revealing his concern for inhumane prison conditions. He spent the next few years wandering Europe, staying with friends and living in cheap hotels. He died of cerebral meningitis in Paris on November 30, 1900.
Many items in this digitised collection of Oscar Wilde material were acquired by Trinity College Library in 2011 from Julia Rosenthal, a rare book dealer and avid collector of Wildeana. A collector's collection rather than an organic archival collection, it consists of manuscript and print materials; autographed first editions; letters (a small number of which are unpublished); photographs and portraits; theatre programmes and music; and some unique items of memorabilia.
Digitised material may be accessed below.
For more information on manuscript material in the Julia Rosenthal Oscar Wilde collection held in the Manuscripts & Archives Research Library please see here .
To browse a list of printed material in the Julia Rosenthal Oscar Wilde collection held in the Library’s Early Printed Books department please see here.
See also the Library's online exhibition featuring images from the collection.