Dear young ones,
For a long time my name has been entangled with scandal and intrigue, since society is now more forgiving and accepting I am recognized for what I wrote and not my gender, sexuality or personality. I was born on 16th of October 1854 in Dublin, Ireland. My parents were well known and attracted a degree of gossip for their extravagant lifestyles. In 1864, my father Wille Wilde was knighted for his services to medicine. I proved to be a student talent and was awarded a scholarship to Trinity College Dublin. Here I studied the classics, in particular developing an interest in the Greek philosophers and the Hellenistic view of life. From Trinity College, I won a scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford University. My time at Oxford was a joyous period in my life. I was able to develop my poetic sensibilities and love of literature.
I also became more conscious of my sexuality and realized I had more of a bisexual nature. For my increasingly “feminine” style of dress, I often received stick from more “traditional” Oxford students. You could say I was a brilliant scholar, but also increasingly rebellious. In one academic year, I got rusticated for turning up to College three weeks after the start of term. Thus, after a while, I lost interest in pursuing an academic career in Oxford and moved to London. It was in London that I was able to skillfully enter into high society, soon becoming well known as a playwright and noted wit. I as 'Oscar Wilde' became famous throughout London society. I was one of the early “celebrities”, in some respects, I was famous for being famous. My dress sense was a target for satire in the cartoons, but I didn’t really mind. In fact, I learnt the art of self-publicity and revelled in it, at least up until my trial in 1898.
When Life takes a turn, On 18 February 1895, the Marquess of Queensbury (who devised the Queensbury’s rules for boxing) left a calling card accusing me of sodomy. I initiated a private libel against Queensbury for defamation. Queensbury was arrested and so hired a private detective to find evidence that I was involved in homosexual behaviour with young men. At the trial, I defended myself with my usual wit and flippancy, but the counsel for the Marquees William Carson Esq. was able to provide factual evidence and testimonies of male prostitutes who were willing to testify against me. Realising I had miscalculated, I dropped the libel case but became liable for the financial cost which left me broke.
Shortly, after the case ended, a warrant was issued for my arrest under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 – which outlawed homosexuality – even between consenting adults. It was a rough time period and my trial gripped the nation, the subject matter a source of intense gossip and speculation in the press. The trial moved to a quick conclusion and I was found guilty. For my “crime” of homosexual acts, I was given the maximum jail sentence of two years hard labour in Wandsworth and then Reading Gaol. It is no understatement to say this experience deeply shocked and affected me on a deeper level. In some respects I never really recovered; on my release, I left for Paris where I lived in comparative anonymity. However, I retained my wit and continued to write, heavily influenced by the chastening experiences.
I never saw a man who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
Which prisoners call the sky,
And at every drifting cloud that went
With sails of silver by.
I walked, with other souls in pain,
Within another ring,
And was wondering if the man had done
A great or little thing,
When a voice behind me whispered low,
“That fellow’s got to swing.”
-Ballad of Reading Gaol
There will be challenges in life you won't imagine which would 'slap' you across the face. But life is such that we need to saddle up and keep riding through this. My life was turbulent and volatile – never short of incident. It reflected my own inner paradoxes and revolutionary views. In some ways, I was both a saint and sinner at the same time. Rightly or wrongly I will be remembered as much for my life as my writings.
“Beaten but not bowed, still a clown behind a mask of tragedy.”
Love, Oscar Wilde