Irish literature has been blessed with many great writers. From James Joyce to Roddy Doyle, Irish talent has stretched over generations. One Irish writer in particular is popular the world over. What he has done not only for literature but for society won’t be forgotten any time soon.
Oscar Wilde was born into a family of Anglo-Irish Dublin intellectuals in 1854. How he was raised had a profound effect upon both Oscar’s character and his writing. His mother, Jane Wilde, wrote poetry for the revolutionary Young Irelanders in 1848 and she would read these poems to Oscar and his brother, Willie. The poems ignited his interest in politics and as he grew older, Wilde became quite outspoken, as is evident in his work.
Those who haven’t even read Wilde’s work may know that he was not particularly fond of women. This may be because his childhood sweetheart, Florence Balcombe, married Bram Stoker. This disappointed Wilde, but he remained stoic; he wrote to her, commenting on “the two sweet years – the sweetest years of all my youth” that they had spent together.
Another influence on his writing was Wilde’s forward thinking ways. He would comment quite often on sexuality not only in his work, but in public. Thankfully in modern society, this way of thinking is far more acceptable. However Wilde’s contemporaries were not so progressive, and during his life time anyone found to be gay was taken away and sent to prison for two years.
In a trial against Sir John Sholto Douglas in 1895, Wilde was accused of having committed “gross indecencies” with a man. Major scandal ensued, as Wilde had gained quite a bit attention for his work, especially Dorain Gray and The Importance of being Earnest. Those who were close to Wilde advised him to flee to France, but he decided to remain and stand trial. He was found guilty. The judge remarked at his sentencing, “It is the worst case I have ever tried. I shall pass the severest sentence that the law allows. In my judgment it is totally inadequate for such a case as this. The sentence of the Court is that you be imprisoned and kept to hard labour for two years.” Thus, Wilde spent two years in prison, being released in 1897, and lived the last three years of his life in exile. On the 30th of November, 1900, Wilde passed away from cerebral meningitis in Paris.
Modern audiences of Wilde’s work show, perhaps, greater appreciation towards him and his legacy lives on in Ireland, with memorials bearing his sharply observed wit decorating our streets and parks, and his plays often gracing our theatres.
Words by Emma Costello, Arts Editor