Written June 2011
Oscar Wilde is quite possibly the wittiest writer to ever have lived, a marvellously sharp and revolutionary man who led a typically poetic life of tragedy. He was born in 1854, in Dublin (and died in Paris in 1900) but despite being immersed in English culture later on, never lost his classically cynical Irish humour. With the amazingly peculiar full name of Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, he went plundering around the world, and has left a permanent indent on literature as we know it, and in particular, comedy.
He’d always been keen on writing, and was nurtured well from his childhood. Oscar eventually managed to get into the prestigious Magdalen College at Oxford University. There, the other boys picked on him, because he was terribly fussy about the interior décor. He wrote furiously, and quite quickly became known as the best dinner table talker in London. Eventually marrying a repressed woman named Constance Lloyd, he juggled a family life that he didn’t really want, blackmail from people that knew he was gay and offensive remarks from critics. Despite all this, he strove to keep his creative life blooming.
A horrible scandal regarding his relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas, nicknamed Bosie, eventually broke out, and he lost his reputation as a legendary writer. He served two years in gaol for this supposed crime, and his marvellous works were looked down upon. He died within a couple of years of being released from prison, showing the crippling effect the incarceration had on him.
When you think about his life, it’s actually quite stunning that he could even write comedy. The guy endured a horrific life, which was the cause of his early death at the age of 46. The premature deaths of his beloved parents, the numerous social and romantic dilemmas, and the court case and eventual gaol time all crushed him throughout life, but as he himself has said, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
The greatest thing about Oscar Wilde is that his works are still relevant to today’s society due to their hilarity, and his scathing yet comical commentary on culture still appeals to modern life. In one of his most famous works, a play titled The Importance of Being Earnest, a character mirrors Oscar Wilde’s humour by saying, “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”
Other quotes that reveal Wilde’s comedic brilliance are:
“He is really not so ugly after all, provided, of course, that one shuts one’s eyes, and does not look at him.”
“The Birthday of the Infanta”, The House of Pomegranates (1892)
“Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.”
Literary and Other Notes I, Woman’s World (November 1887)
“We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language.”
The Canterville Ghost (1887)
“I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.”
“I never play cricket. It requires one to assume such indecent postures.”