English Literature

Oscar Wilde

"The one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it..." Just one of Oscar Wilde's endlessly entertaining and often hard-hitting quotations. He is a man who inspired - and continues to inspire - both admiration and argument. The roller-coaster story of his life is testimony to his eccentric genius.

He was born Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde in Dublin, 1854, and was educated at Trinity College, Dublin and Magdalen College, Oxford. His genius for writing was instantly recognised and in 1878 he was awarded the Newdigate Prize for his poem 'Ravenna', an initial confirmation of his prodigious talent.

A first volume of poetry Patience was published in 1881, three years after he had received his degree. This was followed by The Duchess of Padua, a play published in 1883.

His literary career was diverse: as well as composing verse, he lectured in America; contributed to publications like the Pall Mall Gazette; wrote fairy stories (collected in The Happy Prince and Other Tales); wrote the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray; and published non-fiction works. But his greatest talent was for playwriting and he produced a string of extremely popular comedies such as Lady Windemere's Fan, An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest.

Drama and tragedy marred his private life. Although he married Lady Constantine Lloyd in 1884 and had two sons by her, he was an active homosexual. He separated from Constantine and continued his affair with Alfred Douglas, nicknamed 'Bosie'. His sexuality became a public concern when he attempted to sue the Marquis of Queensberry, father of Alfred Douglas, for slander after the Marquis announced in public that Wilde was a 'ponce and a sodomite'. Wilde's case was unsuccessful and to the nation's surprise he was arrested and tried for sodomy made illegal under the Criminal Law Amendment Act. He was sent to Reading Prison, where his health was irrevocably damaged and he died destitute in a hotel in France, three years after his release. The case has become famous because of Wilde's performance on the stand which provided an insight into the prejudice faced by openly homosexual men in Victorian Britain.



Self-denial is the shining sore on the leprous body of Christianity.

I love acting. It is so much more real than life.

The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself.

No woman should ever be quite accurate about her age. It looks so calculating.

 All art is quite useless.

The basis of optimism is sheer terror.


There is luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves, we feel no one else has a right to blame us.

 It is very vulgar to talk about one's business. Only people like stockbrokers do that, and then merely at dinner parties.

 It is only the superficial qualities that last. Man's deeper nature is soon found out.

Few parents nowadays pay any regard to what their children say to them. The old-fashioned respect for the young is fast dying out.

A man's very highest moment is, I have no doubt at all, when he kneels in the dust, and beats his breast, and tells all the sins of his life.

The well-bred contradict other people. The wise contradict themselves.

Crying is the refuge of plain women but the ruin of pretty ones.

On an occasion of this kind it becomes more than a moral duty to speak one's mind. It becomes a pleasure.

Alas, I am dying beyond my means.

Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.

She is absolutely inadmissible into society. Many a woman has a past, but I am told that she has at least a dozen, and that they all fit.

One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art.

Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.

Pardon me, you are not engaged to any one. When you do become engaged to some one, I, or your father, should his health permit him, will inform you of the fact. An engagement should come on a young girl as a surprise, pleasant or unpleasant, as the case may be. It is hardly a matter that she could be allowed to arrange for herself.

An ordinary man away from home giving advice.

I can believe anything provided it is incredible.

One's real life is so often the life that one does not lead.

An acquaintance that begins with a compliment is sure to develop into a real friendship.

The public is wonderfully tolerant. It forgives everything except genius.

If you pretend to be good, the world takes you very seriously. If you pretend to be bad, it doesn't. Such is the astounding stupidity of optimism.

To give an accurate description of what has never occurred is not merely the proper occupation of the historian, but the inalienable privilege of any man of parts and culture.

I sometimes think that God in creating man somewhat overestimated his ability.

The husbands of very beautiful women belong to the criminal classes.

A tpcn_map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing.

Imagination is a quality given a man to compensate him for what he is not, and a sense of humor was provided to console him for what he is.

Those who are faithful know only the trivial side of love: it is the faithless who know love's tragedies.

The intellect is not a serious thing, and never has been. It is an instrument on which one plays, that is all.

Plain women are always jealous of their husbands. Beautiful women never are. They are always so occupied with being jealous of other women's husbands.

A kiss may ruin a human life.

The mind of the thoroughly well-informed man is a dreadful thing. It is like a bric-à-brac shop, all monsters and dust, with everything priced above its proper value.

The liar at any rate recognizes that recreation, not instruction, is the aim of conversation, and is a far more civilized being than the blockhead who loudly expresses his disbelief in a story which is told simply for the amusement of the company.

The man who says he has exhausted life generally means that life has exhausted him.

Literature always anticipates life. It does not copy it, but moulds it to its purpose. The nineteenth century, as we know it, is largely an invention of Balzac.

Yet each man kills the thing he loves from all let this be heard some does it with a bitter look some with a flattering word the coward does it with a kiss the brave man with the sword.

If you are not too long, I will wait here for you all my life.

When a woman marries again it is because she detested her first husband. When a man marries again it is because he adored his first wife. Women try their luck; men risk theirs.

My experience is that as soon as people are old enough to know better, they don't know anything at all.

The Ideal Man should talk to us as if we were goddesses, and treat us as if we were children. He should refuse all our serious requests, and gratify every one of our whims. He should encourage us to have caprices, and forbid us to have missions. He should always say much more than he means, and always mean much more than he says.

Women love us for our defects. If we have enough of them, they will forgive us everything, even our gigantic intellects.

Life would be dull without them.

It is only the modern that ever becomes old-fashioned.

I never approve, or disapprove, of anything now. It is an absurd attitude to take towards life. We are not sent into the world to air our moral prejudices. I never take any notice of what common people say, and I never interfere with what charming people do.

Lord Illingworth: All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. Mrs. Allonby: No man does. That is his.

Of course the music is a great difficulty. You see, if one plays good music, people don't listen, and if one plays bad music people don't talk.

No work of art ever puts forward views. Views belong to people who are not artists.

To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune... to lose both seems like carelessness.

The condition of perfection is idleness: the aim of perfection is youth.

Popularity is the crown of laurel which the world puts on bad art. Whatever is popular is wrong.

As for the virtuous poor, one can pity them, of course, but one cannot possibly admire them. They have made private terms with the enemy, and sold their birthright for very bad pottage. They must also be extraordinarily stupid.

There is something tragic about the enormous number of young men there are in England at the present moment who start life with perfect profiles, and end by adopting some useful profession.

The sick do not ask if the hand that smoothes their pillow is pure, nor the dying care if the lips that touch their brow have known the kiss of sin.


Men always want to be a woman's first love. Women have a more subtle instinct: What they like is to be a man's last romance.

It is well for his peace that the saint goes to his martyrdom. He is spared the sight of the horror of his harvest.

Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul.

He knew the precise psychological moment when to say nothing.

The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.

Skepticism is the beginning of Faith.

Never speak disrespectfully of Society. Only people who can't get into it do that.

Lots of people act well, but few people talk well. This shows that talking is the more difficult of the two.

While one should always study the method of a great artist, one should never imitate his manner. The manner of an artist is essentially individual, the method of an artist is absolutely universal. The first is personality, which no one should copy; the second is perfection, which all should aim at.

To have the reputation of possessing the most perfect social tact, talk to every woman as if you loved her, and to every man as if he bored you.

Rich bachelors should be heavily taxed. It is not fair that some men should be happier than others.

Man is a rational animal who always loses his temper when called upon to act according with the dictates of reason.

The stage is not merely the meeting place of all the arts, but is also the return of art to life.

It often happens that the real tragedies of life occur in such an inartistic manner that they hurt us by their crude violence, their absolute incoherence, their absurd want of meaning, their entire lack of style.

One should never trust a woman who tells her real age. If she tells that, she'll tell anything.

The worst form of tyranny the world has ever known the tyranny of the weak over the strong. It is the only tyranny that lasts.

Vulgarity is simply the conduct of other people.

Every man of ambition has to fight his century with its own weapons. What this century worships is wealth. The God of this century is wealth. To succeed one must have wealth. At all costs one must have wealth.

Wickedness is a myth invented by good people to account for the curious attraction of others.

The strength of women comes from the fact that psychology cannot explain us. Men can be analyzed, women merely adored.

From the point of view of literature Mr. Kipling is a genius who drops his aspirates. From the point of view of life, he is a reporter who knows vulgarity better than any one has ever known it.

Those whom the gods love grow young.



1854: Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde born in Dublin.
1871: began studying classics at Trinity College Dublin
1874: began studies at Magdalen College, Oxford (UK)
1878: won Newdigate Prize for his poem Ravenna; takes degree
1879: settled in London
1881: Poems published
1882: began one year lecture tour of North America
1883: Duchess of Padua (play) written
1884: married Constance Lloyd and lived in Chelsea (London)
1885: elder son, Cyril, born; writes reviews for Pall Mall Gazette
1886: younger son, Vyvyan, born
1887: became editor of Woman's World; The Canterville Ghost written
1888: The Happy Prince and Other Tales
1889: The Portrait of Mr. W. H.
1891: A House of Pomegranates, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Lord Arthur Savile's Crime, Intentions (essays); meets Lord Alfred Douglas ("Bosie")
1892: Lady Windermere's Fan produced; Salomé (written in French) banned
1893: A Woman of No Importance produced; The Sphinx written
1894: Salomé published
1895: An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest produced
1895: sued Marquess of Queensbury for libel; sued by Marquess of Queensbury; found guilty of "unnatural practices"; sent to Reading Gaol (Berkshire)
1897: De Profundis written; released from prison; lived in France, Italy and Switzerland; adopted name of Sebastian Melmoth
1898: Ballad of Reading Gaol published; death of wife, Constance
1900 November 30: died in France; buried at Père Lachaise cemetery, Paris