Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900) was an Irish writer, poet, and prominent aesthete. His parents were successful Dublin intellectuals, and from an early age he was tutored at home, where he showed his intelligence, becoming fluent in French and German. He attended boarding school for six years, then matriculated to university at seventeen years of age. Reading Greats, Wilde proved himself to be an outstanding classicist, first at Trinity College, Dublin, then at Magdalen College, Oxford. His intellectual horizons were broad and he became deeply interested in the rising philosophy of aestheticism, led by two of his tutors Walter Pater and John Ruskin, at the same time profoundly exploring Roman Catholicism.
After university, Wilde moved to London and into fashionable cultural and social circles, becoming a spokesman for aestheticism. He tried his hand at various literary activities: he published a book of poems and toured America lecturing extensively on the new "English Renaissance". He then returned to London, where he worked prolifically as a journalist for four years. Known for his biting wit, flamboyant dress, and glittering conversation, Wilde was one of the most well-known personalities of his day. He next produced a series of dialogues and essays that developed his ideas about the supremacy of art. However, it was his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray – still widely read – that brought him more lasting recognition.
Drawn by the opportunity to construct aesthetic details precisely, combined with larger social themes drew Wilde to writing drama. He wrote Salomé in French in Paris in 1891, but it was refused a licence. Unperturbed, Wilde produced four society comedies in the early 1890s, which made him one of the most successful playwrights of late Victorian London, culminating in his masterpiece The Importance of Being Earnest in 1895.
At the height of his fame and success—and two comedies on stage in London—Wilde sued his lover's father for libel, though the case was dropped at trial. After two subsequent trials, Wilde was imprisoned for two years' hard labour, having been convicted of "gross indecency" with other men. In prison he wrote De Profundis, a long letter which discusses his spiritual journey through his trials, forming a dark counterpoint to his earlier philosophy of pleasure. Upon his release he left immediately for France, never to return to Ireland or Britain. There he wrote his last work, The Ballad of Reading Gaol, a long poem commemorating the harsh rhythms of prison life. He died destitute in Paris at the age of forty-six.