Oscar Wilde

In the 1891 novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, which author wrote that “all art is quite useless?”
And the answer: Oscar Wilde.    
Photo credit: public domain. 

The often-quoted Oscar Wilde wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray in 1891. This would be his first and only novel before writing his plays. His most famous play is The Importance of Being Earnest in 1899.

The great literary mind of Oscar Wilde is one that forever shaped the English canon. Born in 1864, Wilde grew up under the supervision of a mother who avidly encouraged a life lived for the sake of excitement and beauty. Taking those ideals to heart, Wilde began his literary career in a small boarding school in Northern Ireland. There, Wilde quickly rose to the top of his class, and was considered a prodigy for his quick reading and analytical skills. In 1871, Wilde won a scholarship to Trinity College in Dublin, and three years later, won another scholarship to prestigious Oxford University. It was during his time at Oxford that Wilde cultivated his aesthetic sensibilities, famously saying:

"I find it harder and harder everyday to live up to my blue china."

Wilde developed a reputation for his wit, and no-nonsense attitude. Upon graduating from Oxford, Wilde reported:

"God knows, I won't be a dried up Oxford don, anyhow. I can not live without desire, fear and pain... self-poised, self centered and self comforted. I'll be a poet, a writer, a dramatist. Somehow, or other, I'll be famous, and if not famous, notorious."

In 1861, Wilde released his first literary work: a collection of 61 pieces of writing under the simple title "Poems." An initial run of 750 copies sold out, requiring 2 additional printing runs to meet the demand for his work. Meanwhile, a play by renowned writers Gilbert and Sullivan was, indirectly, making Wilde famous. The play was titled Patience, and centered around the aesthetic culture that Wilde epitomized. The main character was clearly modeled on Wilde himself, and thus Wilde accompanied the North American tour of Patience as a lecturer. The tour was a hit, and ultimately spanned an entire year.

During the 1880s, while bringing in money with occasional book reviews, Wilde began work on his first novel: The Picture of Dorian Grey. When the book was published in 1890, it was met with immediate outrage for its subtle love triangle between three men, and was condemned by many for being immoral. Yet, Wilde predicted this outcome, with a preface to the book reading:

"There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all."

Learn more about the scandal, legacy and outcome of Wilde's literary career here.

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