Oscar Wilde is worth reading for many reasons. He is one of the most famous names in literature, due to his immense wit, intellect, and endearing characters and plots. His works are beloved to this day, and the philosophy of aestheticism he championed still beguiles.
Who was Oscar Wilde?
Wilde was an Irish intellectual who studied classics at Trinity College Dublin, and then at Oxford.
At Oxford he encountered Aestheticism, an artistic movement which privileged the aesthetic beauty of art over its political or utilitarian functions.
He was a poet, a journalist, and most famously a novelist and playwright. He became a celebrity, and sadly was imprisoned for two years after being convicted of ‘gross indecency’ for consensual homosexuality.
He died of meningitis at the age of forty six.
What did Oscar Wilde Write?
His two most famous works are the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the play The Importance of Being Earnest.
The Picture of Dorian Gray is today regarded as a masterpiece of Victorian Gothic literature. At the time the reception was cooler probably due to the fact that it’s a bit of a scary ghost tale, and challenged much of the bigoted thinking of the time.
Dorian Gray is a man of exceptional physical beauty, who has his portrait painted: he wishes to sell his soul in order to remain young and attractive after encountering Lord Henry Wotton who convinces him life should be lived for pleasure above all else.
The wish is granted and Dorian’s likeness in the portrait ages while the man himself remains young and carefree.
The Importance of Being Earnest is about a man who invents an ailing best friend, to allow himself to escape social and professional obligations.
It is a satire of Victorian society and a farcical tale of misadventure and disguise.
Why Should We Read Oscar Wilde?
Wilde was a scholar as well as an entertainer, and his intellect can be felt in his works. He is offering satisfying commentary on the nature and meaning of life.
Aestheticism focussed on the aesthetic qualities of life and art, and as a result as Wilde’s works become more trivial, they simultaneously become a more profound philosophical statement.
He was a mega-star during his time: a true celebrity. Although critics were frequently cautious about endorsing his seeming obsessions with lightness and triviality, his works were enormously popular due in part to their loveable characters, and Wilde’s arguably unparalleled turn of phrase, biting wit, and facility with satire.
Is Oscar Wilde Hard to Read?
Wilde isn’t hard to read at all: his works are surprisingly approachable. Don’t worry about outdated language, as you might with Shakespeare.
Although Wilde was writing during the Victorian era, as with Dickens, the language he employs is nearly indistinguishable from contemporary English, and very few of the references sail over the heads of modern audiences.
In fact, he was accused of the opposite during his lifetime: of being a little too trivial, perhaps a little too accessible.