Bookstr Trivia: The Wilde Life Of The Great Oscar

Going off our Instagram trivia for this week, here are some more eye-opening facts about the life of the great Oscar Wilde!

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On today’s debut of Bookish Trivia, here is what you don’t know about the author of The Picture of Dorian Gray: Oscar Wilde.

First of all, his full name was Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde. Can you tell he’s Irish? He was born on October 16th, 1854 and he came of age at the height of the Victorian era. He was an undergraduate at Oxford, and quickly gained popularity as a poet and scholar. Wilde was a spokesman for aestheticism; he tried almost every form of literary activity From publishing a book of poems to lecturing across the globe on the new form of “English Renaissance in Art,” he flourished in the world of the arts. He valued interior decoration and became a skilled journalist. He wide renowned for his flamboyant fashion efforts, and conversational skills. He quickly became one of the most famous personalities of his era.

The Wilde Beginning

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In 1884, he married and had two children shortly after. He married Constance Lloyd, daughter of a wealthy Queen’s councilman. They had sons Cyril and Vyvyan.

Wilde “Crimes”

Oscar Wilde was also a part of the first celebrity trial in history, getting convicted of homosexuality during the Victorian Era, which could have been punishable by death back then. Wilde prosecuted the Marquess of Queensberry for criminal libel. The Marquess was the father of Wilde’s lover, Lord Alfred Douglas. The two met through Lionel Johnson in the mid-1890s. Douglas was Lionel Johnson’s cousin and an undergraduate at Oxford at the time. He was a handsome and spoilt young man.

In 1893 was when an intimate friendship aroused between the two, and thus they agreed to proceed with this affair more romantically. Where Wilde was flamboyant in public, Douglas was as equally as reckless. Wilde indulged Douglas’s every whim, even material, artistic, or even sexual. On the 18th of February in 1895, the Marquess left his calling card at Wilde’s club called the Albemarle. It inscribed “For Oscar Wilde, posing somdomite.” Wilde, encouraged by Douglas and against his friend’s advice, initiated a private prosecution against Queensberry for libel, considering the note amounted to a public accusation that Wilde had committed a crime of sodomy.

Wilde’s Imprisonment

The libel trial unearthed evidence that caused Wilde to drop his charges and led to his own arrest and trial for gross indecency with men. He was accused initially of sodomy and gross indecency. He first entered Newgate Prison in London for processing, then was moved to Pentonville Prison where he endured hard labor. This consisted of many hours of walking a treadmill and picking oakum, which entailed separating the fibers in scraps of old navy ropes. Here, prisoners were only allowed to read the Bible and The Pilgrims Progress.

A few months later he was moved to Wandsworth Prison in London. Inmates have also followed a regimen of hard labor, hard far, and they slept on a hard bed. This wore harshly on Wilde’s health. In the first November that he was there, he collapsed during chapel from illness and starvation. His right eardrum became ruptured from the fall, and this later contributed to his death. He spent two months in the infirmary at the prison.

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The Aftermath

Following the scandal, Wilde’s wife changed her and her kids’ last names so that they would no longer be associated with him. The couple never divorced, however, his wife forced him to surrender all parental rights. She and the kids relocated to Switzerland so that they could never see their father again. Wilde was in prison for two years; he was released in 1897 and reconnected with Douglas. They spent a few years together until Douglas’s parents forced them to separate. Wilde spent the rest of his life in exile until he died on November 30, 1900. 

Another fun fact about Oscar Wilde’s life is that he actually came to the US and Canada to lecture on the topic of interior decoration! Wilde was a fanatic for all things beautiful and outrageous; everything that went against the traditional proprieties of the Victorian Era. This also contributed to him becoming an outcast in his society; however, his attitudes towards the outrageous and campy style have influenced many to this day! 

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