October 16th 2012 marked the 158th anniversary of the birth of one of my favorite writers – Oscar Wilde. Oscar Wilde was certainly one of the wittiest men who ever lived. He is remembered for many things. He enjoyed great fame and success as a writer of short stories, plays, poems, prose and essays. Of his short stories he is best remembered for “The Picture of Dorian Gray” which is one of my favorites. If you take the time to read “The Picture of Dorian Gray” you owe it to yourself to read the annotated , uncensored edition of the work which was recently published by The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press and edited by Nicholas Frankel. (ISBN 978-0-674-05792) . I started reading the popular press version of “The Picture of Dorian Gray” last year and immediately upon publication of the uncensored version I bought a copy and read both versions at the same time. The original work was first published in the July 1890 edition of Lippincott’s magazine. It had a stormy beginning. It was condemned as being “unclean and vulgar”. Most of the versions of the work that were published omitted much of what Oscar actually wrote. The Belknap Press edition provides an accurate rendering of the story as it was actually written. We are greatly indebted to the editors for restoring this version to the popular press.
Beyond Dorian , Oscar is certainly remembered for his nine plays which included – “A Woman of No Importance”, “The Importance of Being Earnest” , “An Ideal Husband: , “Salome” , “The Duchess of Padua” , “Vera , Or the Nihilists” , “A Florentine Tragedy” , “Lady Windermere’s Fan” and “La Sainte Courtisane” .
I personally enjoy his shorter stories such as “The Star Child” .
I also enjoy his sayings and have a book devoted to the topic on my shelf.
There is no doubt that Oscar Wilde was one of the most talented and wittiest writers of the 19th century. He also seems to me to have been one of the most flamboyant and one who was much ahead of his time. When I read his biography I so much wish that he never sued John Douglas (the 9th Marquess of Queensberry) for libel. I would gladly have “The Balled of Reading Gaol” never see the light of day !
He enjoyed celebrity status during his lifetime as a result of the success of his plays. He traveled across the continent and to America where he became acquainted with the leading literary figures of the day such as Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Walt Whitman. In 1882 he delivered 140 lectures during his American tour.
As a lover of poetry I am somewhat satisfied that his first generally acknowledged writings were poems.
I couldn’t begin to scratch at the surface of the legend that is Oscar Wilde. I can only remember him on his birthday.
Oscar was one of the most unique and authentic people who lived during the 19th century. The tragedy which ensued his life after his trial was a great travesty. A great literary figure was reduced to being a criminal and was placed into prison. His fall was much faster than his rise. He never really recovered from his life in prison and he died broken and penniless. It is a great vindication of the man that twenty some years after his death he was one of the most popular writers in the world and that his popularity continues to this day. With a greater appreciation for diversity his life is now viewed in a different light. He was a very interesting person and a talented and witty writer.
If I could have dinner with any writer across space and time Oscar Wilde would be at the top of my list though I might be tempted to spend the night drinking with Hemingway or the evening with Shakespeare to see if he really was Bacon – Roger or Francis !
Happy Birthday Oscar Wilde!
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