Many today know Oscar Wilde as controversial, flamboyant, and a debonair Victorian dramatist through his works “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and "The Importance of Being Earnest” and today, Oct 15, marks the great man's birthday.
Larger than life, Wilde was a poet, dramatist, author, and celebrity, donning many quite fashionable hats.
His work and spirit are as relevant, witty, and alive as ever over a century after his death.
Here are ten interesting facts about Oscar Wilde:
1. Wilde was born in Dublin on October 16, 1854, and had three middle names. His full name is Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde!
2. His mother, Jane Wilde, was a successful poet and Irish nationalist whose pen name was "Speranza." Wilde's father Sir William Wilde was also an author but was more well known for his work as an auto-ophthalmologic surgeon. William Wilde was knighted for his work as an assistant commissioner to the censuses of Ireland.
3. Wilde was an impressive linguist. Home-schooled, he was taught French and German and also had a working knowledge of Italian and Ancient Greek.
4. Adding “lecturer” to his array of talents, Wilde embarked on a tour of America in 1882 and held talks on a wide variety of subjects from “The English Renaissance” to “Decorative Art.”
5. On May 29, 1884, Wilde married Constance Lloyd. Together they had two sons, Cyril and Vyvyan. Lloyd and Wilde later became estranged, and she and her sons later changed their last name to Holland. Cyril went on to fight and die in World War I. Vyvyan became a translator for the BBC and authored an autobiography 'Son of Oscar Wilde' in 1954. In 2008, Vyvyan's son published 'A Portrait of Oscar Wilde' about his famous grandfather.
6. Though remembered mostly as an author, Wilde only published one novel, "The Portrait of Dorian Gray" in 1891.
7. Wilde was an advocate of socialism and in his only political essay "The Soul of Man under Socialism" (1891) Wilde expounds an anarchist philosophy.
8. Before dying on November 30, 1900, from cerebral meningitis, Wilde was conditionally baptized in the Catholic Church.
9. Oscar Wilde’s last words were “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or other of us has got to go.”
10. His famous tomb was designed by Sir Jacob Epstein, whose ashes were placed alongside Wilde in the structure in 1950 per his request. The Angel statue adorning the tomb was originally installed with male genitalia which has since been vandalized.
What's your favorite piece of work by Oscar Wilde? Share in the comments!
* Originally published in Aug 2016, updated Oct 2023.