Oscar Wilde, whose full name was Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, is, in my opinion, endlessly fascinating — and probably as a result of that he’s frequently misconceived. Here are three of the most famous fabulations:
3. Oscar only liked men
In actuality, women gave him a big hard-on — judging, at least, from the letters he himself wrote. He was at one time completely infatuated with a woman named Florence Balcombe, who later married Dracula author Bram Stoker. There are also records of other flirtations he carried on, notably with an Irish lady he loved.
Of course also, in 1884, he married the lovely Constance Lloyd, with whom he rapidly had two children, and with whom he was, in his own words, “blissfully happy” the first few years of marriage.
2. Oscar was a rather lazy, boozy, cigarette-smoking, hedonistic dandy who, as he himself said, pored the entirety of his genius into his life, but merely his talent into his literature
In fact, Oscar was extraordinarily intellectual and remarkably gifted, both philosophically and artistically — the son of a famous Dublin doctor named Sir William Wilde, whose medical work garnered him knighthood. Oscar’s mother Jane was a well-known political poet who, more than once, was nearly imprisoned for the caustic anti-English literature she wrote.
It’s true that while he was at Oxford, Oscar deliberately adopted the effete pose of a dandy. But he was, first off, admitted into Oxford as “a scholar to Magdalen” (no small thing) and won double first in classics and the Newdigate prize for poetry. This sort of scholarship required a great deal of discipline and study, as, indeed, his friends and contemporaries later testified, and as his extant Oxford notebooks demonstrate.
At his trial Oscar, echoing a line from The Picture of Dorian Gray, specifically said that his aim in life had been self-development “through pleasure rather than suffering.” And yet not too long afterward, in De Profundis, his long and incredible prison letter to his lover Alfred Douglas, Oscar says that “only through pain and sorrow can true nobility of soul be achieved.”
1. Oscar died of syphilis
The so-called disease of decadence. Quoting Oscar’s grandson — one Merlin Holland — who is still alive and is the sole executor of Oscar’s estate: “This is an old canard which has been doing the rounds for nearly a century, and was lately championed on the flimsiest of evidence by his best modern biographer, Richard Ellmann. Killing Oscar off with the classic ‘disease of the decadents’ has always seemed a suitably sensational way of rounding off a sensational life, but modern medical opinion agrees almost universally that it was an ear infection and meningitis which did for him in the end.”