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Oscar Wilde Bookmark Oscar Wilde (1854–1900)

“There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are well written or badly written.”

Within a year of arriving at Oxford from his native Dublin as a young man, he’d schooled away all trace of his Irish brogue. As a writer and editor in London, he socialized with England’s best families. In his play A Woman of No Importance, one character says of high society, “To be in it is merely a bore, but to be out of it simply a tragedy.”

Once the toast of the town, in the end society turned on him and prosecuted him for his sexuality. He had the chance to flee into exile; instead, he submitted to its punishment. Two years of hard labor nearly broke him, but perhaps being exiled from society would have broken him more.

For all his contradictions, Wilde lived by his beliefs: there was no truth but beauty, no sense but in satisfaction of the senses. From him, reality was word play and word play reality, and few played better than Wilde. A hundred years would pass before post-modernism and queer theory would catch up to the aestheticism embodied in such brilliant works as The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Ernest. He is remembered for the wit of his work and the tragedy of his life, but both of these belie the radical and profound moral philosophy he reckoned.
Oscar Wilde