On October 16, 1854, the eccentric and fervently revered Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland. Wilde’s work as a dramatist, novelist, and poet was marked by controversial wit, and was often the subject of moral outrage in Europe. Much of his writing reflected his own life and his protest against societal norms happening during the nineteenth century. His only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, was greatly attacked for having themes of homoeroticism, and was part of the history that actualized his notoriety. However, the questions posed by his work and his life, are still relevant now as they were a hundred years ago (Ellmann, xvii).
Wilde’s interests were greatly influenced by the work of his parents during his upbringing. His father, Sir William Wilde, worked as Ireland’s leading ear and eye surgeon, and published multiple books on archaeology and folklore (“Oscar Wilde,” Encyclopedia Britannica). Wilde’s mother, Jane Francesca Agnes, was a gifted poet who wrote mostly myth and folklore. Her work was often published under the pseudonym, Speranza (“Oscar Wilde,” Encyclopedia Britannica). With two strong literary and professional role models, Wilde went on to study at Trinity College in Dublin (1871-74), and Magdalen College in Oxford (1874-78). He received a degree with honors, and established himself as a brilliant scholar, a poet, and a wit after receiving the Newdigate Prize (1878) for his long poem, Ravenna (“Oscar Wilde,” Encyclopedia Britannica). It was also during this time that Wilde began exploring his feelings of homosexuality.
Wilde had several relationships with men that turned him into a target for blackmail. Unfortunately for Wilde, the Victorian Era was polluted with ideas of homosexuality being immoral and an act against God. Yet, he chose to live bravely and continue his relationships with younger men. This was exceedingly dangerous considering sodomy was against the law under the Criminal Law Amendment Act during this time (Fuller, 174). The Labouchère Amendment, also known as the “Blackmailer’s Charter,” made sexual relations between men punishable by two years in prison, with or without hard labor (McKenna 81). This amendment trapped Oscar Wilde in his own trial and imprisonment, and led to the fall of his reputation and his career.
In writing The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde used much inspiration from aspects of his own life. Dorian Gray was originally published in 1890 in Lippincott’s Magazine (Gifford). This original version was extremely revealing, and critics at the time responded harshly to the practically blatant themes of homoeroticism. In order to quell the rising suspicions that the character Lord Henry Wotton was merely a picture Wilde drew of himself, he made many edits to the original and added several chapters, including most of the subplot concerning Sibyl Vane and her brother, James (Gifford). By publishing this second edition in 1891, Wilde obfuscated the earnestness of the first...