Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900) was an Irish playwright, poet and author of numerous short stories and one novel. Known for his biting wit, he became one of the most successful playwrights of the late Victorian era in London, and one of the greatest celebrities of his day. Several of his plays continue to be widely performed, especially The Importance of Being Earnest. As the result of a widely covered series of trials, Wilde suffered a dramatic downfall and was imprisoned for two years' hard labour after being convicted of homosexual relationships, described as "gross indecency" with other men. After Wilde was released from prison he set sail for Dieppe by the night ferry. He never returned to Ireland or Britain.
Oscar Wilde was born at 21 Westland Row, Dublin. He was the second son of Sir William Wilde and his wife Jane Francesca Wilde. Jane Wilde, under the pseudonym "Speranza" (Italian word for 'hope'), wrote poetry for the revolutionary Young Irelanders in 1848 and was a life-long Irish nationalist. William Wilde was Ireland's leading oto-ophthalmologic (ear and eye) surgeon and was knighted in 1864 for his services to medicine. He also wrote books about archaeology and folklore. A renowned philanthropist, his dispensary for the care of the city's poor at the rear of Trinity College, Dublin, was the forerunner of the Dublin Eye and Ear Hospital, now located at Adelaide Road.
In 1855, the family moved to 1 Merrion Square, where Wilde's sister, Isola, was born the following year. Lady Wilde held a regular Saturday afternoon salon with guests that included Sheridan le Fanu, Charles Lever, George Petrie, Isaac Butt and Samuel Ferguson.
Oscar Wilde was educated at home until he was nine. He then attended Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, Fermanagh, spending the summer months with his family in rural Waterford, Wexford and at his father's family home in Mayo. There Wilde played with the older George Moore.
Leaving Portora, Wilde studied classics at Trinity College, Dublin, from 1871 to 1874, sharing rooms with his older brother Willie Wilde. His tutor, John Pentland Mahaffy, the leading Greek scholar at Trinity, interested him in Greek literature. Wilde was an outstanding student and won the Berkeley Gold Medal, the highest award available to classics students at Trinity. He was awarded a scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he studied from 1874 to 1878 and became a part of the Aesthetic movement; one of its tenets was to make an art of life.
Wilde had a disappointing relationship with the prestigious Oxford Union. On matriculating in 1874, he had applied to join the Union, but failed to be elected. Nevertheless, when the Union's librarian requested a presentation copy of Poems (1881), Wilde complied. After a debate called by Oliver Elton, the book was condemned for alleged plagiarism and returned to Wilde. 
While at Magdalen, Wilde won the 1878 Newdigate Prize for his poem Ravenna, which he read at Encaenia; he failed to win the Chancellor's English Essay Prize with an essay that would be published posthumously as The Rise of Historical Criticism (1909). In November 1878, he graduated with a double first in classical moderations and Literae Humaniores, or "Greats".
At Oxford University, Wilde petitioned a Masonic Lodge and was later raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason retaining his membership in the Craft until his death.Wilde was greatly disliked by some of his fellow students, who threw his china out of his room.
While at Magdalen College, Wilde became particularly well known for his role in the aesthetic and decadent movements. He began wearing his hair long and openly scorning so-called "manly" sports, and began decorating his rooms with peacock feathers, lilies, sunflowers, blue china and other objets d'art.
Legends persist that his behaviour cost him a dunking in the River Cherwell in addition to having his rooms (which still survive as student accommodation at his old college) trashed, but the cult spread among certain segments of society to such an extent that languishing attitudes, "too-too" costumes and aestheticism generally became a recognised pose. Publications such as the Springfield Republican commented on Wilde's behaviour during his visit to Boston in order to give lectures on aestheticism, suggesting that Wilde's conduct was more of a bid for notoriety rather than a devotion to beauty and the aesthetic. Wilde's mode of dress also came under attack by critics such as Higginson, who wrote in his paper Unmanly Manhood, of his general concern that Wilde's effeminacy would influence the behaviour of men and women, arguing that his poetry "eclipses masculine ideals [..that..] under such influence men would become effeminate dandies". He also scrutinised the links between Oscar Wilde's writing, personal image and homosexuality, calling his work and lifestyle "immoral".
Wilde was deeply impressed by the English writers John Ruskin and Walter Pater, who argued for the central importance of art in life. Wilde later commented ironically when he wrote in The Picture of Dorian Gray "All art is quite useless". The statement was meant to be read literally, as it was in keeping with the doctrine of art for art's sake, coined by the philosopher Victor Cousin, promoted by Théophile Gautier and brought into prominence by James McNeill Whistler. In 1879 Wilde started to teach aesthetic values in London.
The aesthetic movement, represented by the school of William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, had a permanent influence on English decorative art. As the leading aesthete in Britain, Wilde became one of the most prominent personalities of his day. Though he was sometimes ridiculed for them, his paradoxes and witty sayings were quoted on all sides.
Aestheticism in general was caricatured in Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera Patience (1881). While Patience was a success in New York, it was not known how much the aesthetic movement had penetrated the rest of America. So producer Richard D'Oyly Carte invited Wilde for a lecture tour of North America. D'Oyly Carte felt this tour would "prime the pump" for the U.S. tour of Patience, making the ticket-buying public aware of one of the aesthetic movement's charming personalities. Duly arranged, Wilde arrived on 3 January 1882 aboard the SS Arizona. Wilde reputedly told a customs officer that "I have nothing to declare except my genius", although there is no contemporary evidence for the remark.
During his tour of the United States and Canada, Wilde was torn apart by no small number of critics—The Wasp, a San Francisco newspaper, published a cartoon ridiculing Wilde and aestheticism—but he was also surprisingly well received in such rough-and-tumble settings as the mining town of Leadville, Colorado. On his return to the United Kingdom, Wilde worked as a reviewer for the Pall Mall Gazette in the years 1887-1889. Afterwards he became the editor of The Woman's World.
For much of his life, Wilde advocated socialism, which he argued "will be of value simply because it will lead to individualism". He also had a strong libertarian streak as shown in his poem Sonnet to Liberty and, subsequent to reading the works of Peter Kropotkin (whom he described as "a man with a soul of that beautiful white Christ which seems coming out of Russia");he declared himself an anarchist. Other political influences on Wilde may have been William Morris and John Ruskin. Wilde was also a pacifist and quipped that "When liberty comes with hands dabbled in blood it is hard to shake hands with her". In addition to his primary political text, the essay The Soul of Man under Socialism, Wilde wrote several letters to the Daily Chronicle advocating prison reform and was the sole signatory of George Bernard Shaw's petition for a pardon of the anarchists arrested (and later executed) after the Haymarket massacre in Chicago in 1886.In Lady Florence Dixie's 1890 novel "Gloriana, or the Revolution of 1900" women win the right to vote after the protagonist, Gloriana, poses as a man to get elected to the House of Commons. The male character she impersonates is clearly based on that of Wilde. Dixie was an aunt of Lord Alfred Douglas.
After graduation from Oxford, Wilde returned to Dublin, where he met and courted Florence Balcombe. She, however, became engaged to the writer Bram Stoker. On hearing of her engagement, Wilde wrote to her stating his intention to leave Ireland permanently. He left in 1878, and returned to his native country only twice, for brief visits. He spent the next six years in London and Paris, and in the United States, where he travelled to deliver lectures. Wilde's address in the 1881 British Census is given as 1 Tite Street, London. The head of the household is listed as Frank Miles, with whom Wilde shared rooms at this address.
In London, he met Constance Lloyd, daughter of wealthy Queen's Counsel Horace Lloyd. She was visiting Dublin in 1884, when Wilde was in the city to give lectures at the Gaiety Theatre. He proposed to her, and they married on 29 May 1884 in Paddington, London. Constance's allowance of £250 allowed the Wildes to live in relative luxury. The couple had two sons, Cyril (1885) and Vyvyan (1886).
After Wilde's downfall, Constance took the surname Holland for herself and the boys. She died in 1898 following spinal surgery and was buried in Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno in Genoa, Italy. Cyril was killed in France in World War I. Vyvyan also served in the war and later became an author and translator. In 1954, he published his memoirs, entitled Son of Oscar Wilde, which relate the difficulties he and his family faced in the wake of his father's imprisonment. Vyvyan's son, Merlin Holland, has edited and published several works about his grandfather. Wilde's niece, Dolly Wilde, had a lengthy lesbian relationship with writer Natalie Clifford Barney, which is documented in Joan Schenkar's book, Truly Wilde: The Story of Dolly Wilde, Oscar's Unusual Niece.
Wilde's sexual orientation has variously been considered bisexual or gay. He had significant sexual relationships with (in chronological order) Frank Miles (probable), Constance Lloyd (Wilde's wife), Robbie Ross, and Lord Alfred Douglas (known as "Bosie"). Wilde also had numerous sexual encounters with young working-class men, who were often male prostitutes.Some biographers believe Wilde was made fully aware of his own and others' homosexuality in 1885 (the year after his wedding) by the 17-year-old Robbie Ross. Neil McKenna's biography The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde (2003) theorises that Wilde was aware of his homosexuality much earlier, from the moment of his first kiss with another boy at the age of 16. According to McKenna, after arriving at Oxford in 1874, Wilde tentatively explored his sexuality, discovering that he could feel passionate romantic love for "fair, slim" choirboys, but was more sexually drawn towards the swarthy young rough trade. By the late 1870s, Wilde was already preoccupied with the philosophy of same-sex love, and had befriended a group of Uranian poets and homosexual law reformers, becoming acquainted with the work of gay-rights pioneer Karl Heinrich Ulrichs. Wilde also met Walt Whitman in America in 1882, boasting to a friend that "I have the kiss of Walt Whitman still on my lips". He even lived with the society painter Frank Miles, who was a few years his senior and may have been his lover. However, writes McKenna, Wilde was at one time unhappy with the direction of his sexual and romantic desires and, hoping that marriage would "cure" him, he married Constance in 1884. McKenna's account has been criticised by some reviewers who find it too speculative, although not necessarily implausible.
Whether or not Wilde was still naïve when he first met Ross, the latter did play an important role in the development of Wilde's understanding of his own sexuality. Ross was aware of Wilde's poems before they met, and indeed had been beaten for reading them. He was also unmoved by the Victorian prohibition against homosexuality. By Richard Ellmann's account, Ross, "...so young and yet so knowing, was determined to seduce Wilde". Later, Ross boasted to Lord Alfred Douglas that he was his first homosexual experience and there seems to have been much jealousy between them. Soon, Wilde would have more homosexual encounters in local bars or brothels. In Wilde's words, the relations were akin to "feasting with panthers," and he revelled in the risk: "the danger was half the excitement." In his public writings, Wilde's first celebration of homosexual love can be found in "The Portrait of Mr. W. H." (1889), in which he propounds a theory that Shakespeare's sonnets were written out of the poet's love of young male Elizabethan actor "Willie Hughes."In the early summer of 1891 poet Lionel Johnson introduced Wilde to Lord Alfred Douglas, an undergraduate at Oxford at the time. An intimate friendship immediately sprang up between Wilde and Douglas, but it was not initially sexual, nor did the sexual activity progress far when it did eventually take place. According to Douglas, speaking in his old age, for the first six months their relations remained on a purely intellectual and emotional level. Despite the fact that "from the second time he saw me, when he gave me a copy of Dorian Gray which I took with me to Oxford, he made overtures to me. It was not till I had known him for at least six months and after I had seen him over and over again and he had twice stayed with me in Oxford, that I gave in to him. I did with him and allowed him to do just what was done among boys at Winchester and Oxford ... Sodomy never took place between us, nor was it attempted or dreamed of. Wilde treated me as an older one does a younger one at school." After Wilde realised that Douglas only consented in order to please him, Wilde permanently ceased his physical attentions.
For a few years they lived together more or less openly in a number of locations. Wilde and some within his upper-class social group also began to speak about homosexual-law reform, and their commitment to "The Cause" was formalised by the founding of a highly secretive organisation called the Order of Chaeronea, of which Wilde was a member. A homosexual novel, Teleny, or The Reverse of the Medal, written at about the same time and clandestinely published in 1893, has been attributed to Oscar Wilde, although it was probably, in fact, a combined effort by a number of Wilde's friends, with Wilde as editor. Wilde also periodically contributed to the Uranian literary journal The Chameleon.
Lord Alfred's first mentor had been his cosmopolitan grandfather Alfred Montgomery. His older brother Francis Douglas, Viscount Drumlanrig possibly had an intimate association with the Prime Minister Archibald Philip Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery, which ended on Francis' death in an unexplained shooting accident. Lord Alfred's father John Sholto Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry came to believe his sons had been corrupted by older homosexuals, or as he phrased it in a letter, "Snob Queers like Rosebery". As he had attempted to do with Rosebery, Queensberry confronted Wilde and Lord Alfred on several occasions, but each time Wilde was able to mollify him.
Divorced and spending wildly, Queensberry was known for his outspoken views and the boxing roughs who often accompanied him. He abhorred his younger son and plagued the boy with threats to cut him off if he did not stop idling his life away. Queensberry was determined to end the friendship with Wilde. Wilde was in full flow of rehearsal when Bosie returned from a diplomatic posting to Cairo, around the time Queensberry visited Wilde at his Tite Street home. He angrily pushed past Wilde's servant and entered the ground-floor study, shouting obscenities and asking Wilde about his divorce. Wilde became incensed, but it is said he calmly told his manservant that Queensberry was the most infamous brute in London, and that he was not to be shown into the house ever again. It is said that, despite the presence of a bodyguard, Wilde forced Queensberry to leave in no uncertain terms.On the opening night of The Importance of Being Earnest Queensberry further planned to insult and socially embarrass Wilde by throwing a bouquet of turnips. Wilde was tipped off, and Queensberry was barred from entering the theatre. Wilde took legal advice against him, and wished to prosecute, but his friends refused to give evidence against the Marquess and hence the case was dropped. Wilde and Bosie left London for a holiday in Monte Carlo. While they were there, on 18 February 1895, the Marquess left his calling card at Wilde's Club, with a scrawled inscription accusing Wilde of being a "posing somdomite"