With the Saint Patrick's Day celebrations coming, who could be our author of the month but a beloved Irishman? Oscar Wilde is a name well known, not just in the world of classic literature but in general history, for many reasons; his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, his plays and poems, his unjust imprisonment, and his untimely death to name just a few. But here at the Country House Library, we simply wish to show this legendary writer the praise he deserves for his contributions to the literary world. And that's exactly what we're going to do.
While you're here, be sure to check out our selection of vintage, classic, and antique Oscar Wilde books, and discover for yourself why his name is one that lives on long after his time has passed!
The Importance of Being Earnest
Arguably his most widely known classic play, and a consistently popular choice for secondary schools and drama classes, The Importance of Being Earnest (A Trivial Comedy for Serious People) undoubtedly shows the magnificent wit of Oscar Wilde at its strongest. When it comes to his impressive ability to write humorous and entertaining material for the stage, there can be no finer example than this. The silly and stupendous story of two gentlemen finding themselves entwined in a web of false identities can be appreciated and adored even today, 125 years after its premiere.
Much of the play's enduring popularity comes down to its continuously witty dialogue, mostly between the two central characters of John Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff. And, as the bizarre scenario plays out on the stage, the humour is that which (despite being presented in an upper-class and "intellectual" household by well-spoken characters) anyone can enjoy. Though much of Wilde's sorrows and troubles in his later life revolved around this play's first run, including events which led to his sexuality being made public and his imprisonment, The Importance of Being Earnest has stood the test of time as nothing but a joy to experience.
Writing and publishing poems long before many of his more popular and commonly read works, Oscar Wilde's love for poetry was influenced by his own mother; a lifelong Irish nationalist who wrote poetry for a revolutionary movement, Young Islanders, in 1848. He began publishing his own poems in magazines during his college studies, and released his first book (simply titled Poems) in 1881 at 27 years old.
While his first poetry book was generally well received, one particular review from Punch magazine stated the following; "The poet is Wilde, but his poetry's tame." Following this, Oxford Union even condemned the book for plagiarism which, of course, was not a strong start for this budding young writer. And yet, despite these setbacks, this proved to only be the beginning of Wilde's career, and his poems are still widely available and adored in many formats today.
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Last, but certainly not least, is the infamous The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde's one and only novel. But it's about quality, not quantity, and in that regard Wilde absolutely hit the nail on the head with a tale about a young man who preserves his youth in a painting which ages for him and retains all of his sins. The premise itself is to be admired, simple yet highly effective, and the novel has enjoyed a lasting legacy, remaining a highly notable piece of work in philosophical fiction.
As time has gone by, not only has The Picture of Dorian Gray been adapted countless times in a wide variety of different formats (including film, television, stage, and literature) but it has also evolved. The most common example of this is the use of the character within the horror genre, and the often highly macabre and gruesome depiction of the ending, in which - SPOILERS - the titular character looks upon his own portrait only to age and wither or decompose in some unsightly manner, while his youth and beauty is then returned to the painting.
A fantastic tale about the price of perseverance, this book is a highly apt note to end this article on. Oscar Wilde, you may be gone, but may your legacy forever live on in the beautiful work you created!