Loved for his flamboyant personality, sparkling wit and brilliant epigrams, Oscar Wilde was a comic genius and a literary icon.
This collection reflects the many facets of his dazzling talent. Here are dramatisations of his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, a Gothic tale of a gilded aristocrat who makes a dangerous pact, as well as four scintillating social comedies – Lady Windermere’s Fan, A Woman of No Importance, The Importance of Being Earnest and An Ideal Husband. Among the distinguished casts are Ian MacDiarmid, Joely Richardson, Edward Fox, Diana Rigg, Martin Clunes, Michael Hordern and Judi Dench.
Moving examples of his correspondence are revealed in The Letters of Oscar Wilde and De Profundis, read by Simon Callow and Simon Russell Beale respectively, and his most famous poem, The Ballad of Reading Gaol, is performed live by stars including Ian McKellen, Neil Tennant and Stephen Fry.
In addition, a bonus drama, In Extremis by Neil Bartlett, starring Corin Redgrave and Sheila Hancock, reimagines Oscar Wilde’s hastily arranged sitting with a society palm reader, a week before the trial that would cost him so dearly.
It was at Oxford that he first cultivated his flamboyant aestheticism, proclaiming himself a disciple of the Renaissance scholar Walter Pater whom he described as ‘the holy writ of beauty’. He disdained athletics, spending his time, instead, writing poetry and collecting blue china and peacock’s feathers. In 1878, he won the Newdigate Prize for his poem ‘Ravenna’.
On the strength of his extravagant image and publication of his first volume of poetry (Poems, 1882), he went on a lecture tour of the United States. When asked if he had anything to declare by a US Customs officer, he is reported to have said ‘Only my genius’. In 1883, he attended the first night of his play Vera in New York City. It was unsuccessful.
Wilde married Constance Lloyd in 1884 and tried to establish himself as a writer, as he had not managed to gain an Oxford fellowship. He had little initial success, but gradually with the publication of three volumes of short fiction, The Happy Prince (1888), Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime (1891) and A House of Pomegranates (1891) as well as his only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, his reputation grew.
He reached the apex of popular success with his society comedies Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892), A Woman of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband (1895) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) which were all performed on the West End stage. Salomé (1894) was written in French and translated into English by Lord Alfred Douglas but was denied a license and was first performed in Paris in 1896.
Wilde met Lord Douglas in 1891 and fell passionately in love with him. In 1895, he filed a lawsuit against Douglas’ father, the Marquess of Queensberry, for publicly insulting him and accusing him of ‘posing as a Somdomite’ (sic). Despite his eloquent testimony, Wilde could not deny his homosexuality and was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for acts of gross indecency. He was declared bankrupt and, feeling abandoned by Douglas, wrote him a letter of bitter reproach which was published posthumously as De Profundis (1905).
Wilde was released in 1897 and moved to France where he wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898). He died in Paris in 1900 and is buried in the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise.
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