On October 16 in 1864, Sir William Wilde and his wife Jane became the parents of Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, their second son. He would be a middle child.
Oscar’s mother was a published poet and an Irish nationalist. Sir William was Dublin’s premier ear and eye surgeon, knighted for his work, who published works on Irish archeology. Sir William also had three illegitimate children born before his marriage, whose paternity he acknowledged, but who were raised by relatives.
Clearly, Wilde’s family was intellectual, unorthodox and the perfect environment for a genius who would impress, delight and shock the wider world.
That wider world would also treat him very badly – he would die at 46 in poverty and despair. It is some small comfort to know that he has flourished in memory, that his work is more popular and appreciated with each passing day and that his enemies are forgotten, except insofar as they touched his life.
You can find the facts at the Wik, read and download most of his works at readprint.com, find a recently discovered Wilde work here and an amazing collection of photographs here, You can also find a detailed history of his trials here.
The photographs, btw, are at one of Los Angeles’s little-known treasures, the Clark Library of Rare Books and Manuscripts. It was built by William Clark Jr., son of billionaire Senator William Clark, one of the giants of the Gilded Age. William Jr., instrumental in the creation of the LA Phil and the Hollywood Bowl, had a particularly fine collection of Wildeiana, which he left to UCLA.
[A bit off-topic, but terrifically interesting – the senior Clark started out as a miner in Montana, but soon found there was more money to be made hauling in eggs for miners than panning for gold. He went from trade to banking, railroads and so on until he was ready to buy himself a seat in the Senate. He was so famously corrupt that Mark Twain called him “the most disgusting creature that the republic has produced since Tweed’s time.” One of Clark’s children was Huguette, half-sister to William Jr. Huguette Clark, not seen in public since 1930, just died last May at the age of 104. Quite a scandal about her later years and where the Stradivarius went.]
But I digress. For a great depiction of Wilde’s life see the movie with Stephen Fry – Netflix has it.
In the meantime, we’ll always have this – eight minutes of some of the most brilliant dialogue ever written in English: