There is perhaps no Irish author as witty and flamboyant as Oscar Wilde. Read on for our top ten facts about Oscar Wilde.
Oscar Wilde is regarded as one of the greatest playwrights of the 19th-century. Coming to fame in the Victorian era, Wilde’s work – and his way of living – contrasted sharply with the Victorian morals both existed in.
Wilde favoured indulgence, and, in his writing, explored the darkness of the psyche and desire.
The Anglo-Irish writer led a colourful life. Read on to learn ten facts about Oscar Wilde.
10. He was baptised three times – died a Roman Catholic
Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin on 16 October 1854. He was the second of three children to Anglo-Irish intellectuals Jane and Sir William Wilde.
His mother was a writer, focusing on poetry and folk stories. His father was the leading eye doctor in Ireland.
Wilde’s father was staunchly Protestant. He was first baptised in the Church of Ireland. Yet his mother took him and his brother, Willie, to be baptised at a Catholic church in Wicklow.
He was also baptised again as a Roman Catholic on his deathbed. He was strongly drawn to the Catholic faith, but his father threatened to cut off his funds as an adult if he made a full conversion.
9. He attended school in Co. Fermanagh – the same school as Samuel Beckett
Oscar Wilde was homeschooled to age nine. Aged ten, he joined his older brother at Portora Royal School, Enniskillen, County Fermanagh.
The school was private for most of its history and took boarders until the 1990s. It merged with another school in 2016.
After Wilde was imprisoned for homosexuality, his name was painted over on the school’s honours board. Decades later, his name was reinstated.
Other famous Portora alums include fellow playwright Samuel Beckett and hymn writer Henry Francis Lyte.
8. An Oxford scholar – he excelled academically
Wilde won scholarships for both his university degrees. The first was a Royal School scholarship to study classics at Trinity College Dublin between 1871 and 1874. He shared accommodation with his brother.
At Trinity, his academic greatness never wavered. His achievements included coming top of his class in his first year and winning a competitive scholarship in his second.
He was also awarded the highest academic award given by the university in his final year, the Berkley Gold award.
This record of excellence led him to easily win a scholarship to Oxford. He was awarded half the cost of his fees to attend Magdalen College and studied Classics there for four years. He graduated with a double first.
7. A member of the Freemasons – attended meetings at Oxford
Next in our list of top ten facts about Oscar Wilde is his membership of Apollo Masonic Lodge. At Oxford, Wilde first tried to join the Oxford Union, a debating society. He had been a keen member of Trinity’s University Philosophical Society. However, he was not elected.
Wilde was a man of contrasts. He was strongly drawn to the Roman Catholic faith during his Oxford years, yet he joined the Freemasons in his third year.
He was attracted to both perhaps for similar reasons: he enjoyed the dress, secrecy, and ritual of Freemasonry.
In a biography by Richard Ellmann, Wilde is quoted saying that he “would be awfully sorry to give it up if I secede from the Protestant Heresy.” His membership lapsed after leaving Oxford.
6. His youthful sweetheart became Bram Stoker’s wife – they met at Trinity
It has been debated if Wilde was gay or bisexual. He married Constance Lloyd, and they had two sons. However, their marriage struggled after the birth of their second son, with Wilde becoming physically repulsed by his wife.
He had many male lovers before and during his marriage, and the love of his life was Lord Alfred Douglas. It was for this affair that he ended up in court, then prison. Homosexuality was illegal at this time.
Whether his feelings were romantic or platonic, Wilde had a very strong attachment to Florence Balcombe, who he met when studying in Dublin.
He was disappointed when he learned that she was to marry Dracula author Bram Stoker. Writing to her, he described “the two sweet years – the sweetest years of all my life.”
5. Editor of The Woman’s World – his first job
Although Wilde had lectured on and off after Oxford, he did not take to it. He had a much stronger flair and aptitude for journalism, a kind of writing that suited his lively mind and quick-witted personality.
In 1887, he became editor of The Lady’s World magazine. This was a British based magazine launched the previous year.
Wilde changed the name to The Woman’s World, as well as the content. The magazine became more serious and intellectual. Articles about education and politics appeared alongside fiction and fashion. Guest writers included foreign royals and actresses.
Wilde was very successful as an editor but grew bored with his role. After more and more instances of failing to turn up to work, he was dropped. Not long after, the magazine went out of print.
4. He had a bold and charming lesbian niece – takes after her uncle
Dorothy “Dolly” Wilde was born to the writer’s brother and his second wife three months after her uncle was arrested for homosexual activities.
She never met him but idolised him far more than her own father, an alcoholic who died when she was a few years old.
Made popular by her connection to Oscar – yet also her own charm and wit – Dolly, like her uncle, spent a lot of time among society in Paris. In World War One, she drove an ambulance in France as part of the war effort.
She had many lovers and lived a life of hedonism. Drinking heavily and developing an addiction to heroin, she died at age 45. At this time, she had been a partner of American writer Natalie Clifford Barney since 1927.
3. He had three step-siblings – born before his parents’ marriage
Before Wilde’s father married, he had become a father to one son and two daughters. Henry was born to a different mother than Emily and Mary.
However, his father took responsibility. He acknowledged himself as their father, paid for their education, and arranged for them to be cared for by relatives.
Henry grew up to become a skilled doctor like his father. Tragically, both sisters died in a freak accident when both of their dresses caught fire during a Halloween party in 1871.
2. One of his plays was banned in Britain – banned for blasphemy
We’re almost at the end of our list of top ten facts about Oscar Wilde. At this point, it may not be surprising that one of Wilde’s plays was banned in Britain. As a person and a writer, he constantly challenged the moral norms of his time.
Most of Wilde’s plays were comedies, but Salomé was much darker. It portrays a lustful woman who seduces her stepfather, King Herod. She then demands the head of John the Baptist.
In Victorian Britain, Lord Chamberlain (the most senior officer of the Royal Household) had to approve all plays.
Salomé was banned because it portrayed Biblical characters. This had been forbidden since the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s. The first performance of the play took place in Britain in the 20th-century!
1. Fans used to leave kisses on his burial tomb – buried in Paris
After Wilde got out of prison in England, he left for good. He spent the last number of years of his life in France.
Buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, sculptor Jacob Epstein designed the grand tomb depicting an Egyptian style naked angel.
In the 1990s, a trend started of leaving lipstick kisses on his tomb. Although an act of admiration, this led to the stone eroding.
In 2011, the French and Irish governments unveiled a protective barrier. Another curious incident was the theft of the angel’s testicles! They have been missing since 1961.
That’s the end of our list of top ten facts about Oscar Wilde. Have you ever been to a performance of one of Wilde’s plays?