Thursday, December 17, 2009

Playwright: Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde, famous Victorian-era author and playwright, wrote many works beloved by generations. He was writing during the 19th century in an era when literature and education finally began to be available to the poorer classes. He was writing short stories, plays, and poems that all of the people could enjoy, instead of just the rich and educated.
Wilde came from a line of men who traditionally held the plight of the poor in mind. His father, for instance, was a renowned doctor who specialized in ear and eye diseases and felt that some sort of provision should be made for free treatment of Dublin's poor population. He also opened St. Mark's Ophthalmic Hospital at his own expense. His mother was a gifted linguist who wrote revolutionary poems for the Irish newspaper The Nation.
In school at the Portora Royal School, Oscar excelled. He moved on to Trinity College, where he earned the highest honor the college could bestow on an undergraduate. He received a scholarship and attended Oxford, where he received a Newdigate prize for his poem, “Ravenna." In 1881, after Oxford, he had his first book, a collection of poems simply called "Poems," published. It was received with mixed reviews from critics, but helped to advance Oscar's writing career. He then engaged in several lecture tours, traveling the United States, Britain, and Ireland. He continued writing during this time as well.
On May 29, 1884, Oscar Wilde married Constance Lloyd. The couple then had two sons, one in 1885 and one in 1886. In order to pay the bills, Wilde had to take a job managing the Women's World Magazine until 1889. After his stint with Women's World, Oscar experienced wild success in his writing career. Starting in 1888, he began publishing a series of stories, books, and plays that would solidify his place as a great writer. "The Happy Prince and Othher Tales," published in 1888, and "The House of Pomegranates," published in 1892, were collections of children's stories. His only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, was published in 1890 in America to a tremendous uproar. The implied homoerotic theme of the book offended and was considered immoral by the Victorian sensibility. His first play opened in February of 1892 to wild financial and critical success. It was called "Lady Windermere's Fan," and its success prompted him to keep writing plays. He published "A Woman of No Importance" in 1893, "An Ideal Husband" in 1895, and his best known work "The Importance of Being Earnest" in 1895.
Each of these plays were wildly successful and cemented Oscar Wilde in his position as a great playwright.
In 1891, Oscar took a lover- a young man by the name of
Lord Alfred 'Bosie' Douglas. For four years, the two men were inseperable. In 1895 he was arrested and convinced of gross indecency. He was sentenced to two years hard labor. After his prison term, he wrote “The Ballad of Reading Gaol,” a response to the agony he experienced while in prison. It was published in 1889, shortly before Constance, who had taken the children to Switzerland, died. He spent the next years traveling rather aimlessly around Europe, never really writing again. He developed meningitis and died on November 30, 1900.
The work of Oscar Wilde appeals to me because of the context in which it was written. He was writing plays and stories with the knowledge that they would be read by common people, with common ways of thinking. I think he played on that context, using his wider, poorer audience to enhance his success. He appealed to the senses of humor of the common people. For instance, "The Importance of Being Earnest" offers people in lower classes the opportunity to laugh at those in the higher class and the utter frivolity of their lives. I feel connected to the story of Oscar Wilde and his work because I admire his respect for the working and poorer classes. I believe that he wrote with the plight of the poor in mind, as his father worked with the plight of the poor in mind. I admire Oscar Wilde because of his refusal to pretend to be something other than what he was. He chose to be unapologetic for who he was, even in the face of danger. He had something to say about the time in which he was living, and I think all could benefit from listening to what it was. His work continues to speak to us through the ages, and his story continues to inspire.

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