Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Wilde, Oscar [1854-1900]
Author:
Raleigh, Richard
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Born Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde in Dublin, Wilde is most famous for his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), his dramatic comedy The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), and the poem "The Ballad of Reading Gaol" (1898), written after his release from jail where he served two years after being found guilty of homosexual offenses under the Criminal Law Amendment. 

On 18 January 1882 Wilde visited Walt Whitman in Camden, where the poet was then living with his brother and sister-in-law. Wilde told Whitman that his mother had purchased a copy of Leaves of Grass when it was first published, that Lady Wilde had read the poems to her son, and that later, at Oxford, he and his friends carried Leaves to read on their walks. Flattered, Whitman offered Wilde, whom he later described as "a fine large handsome youngster" (Whitman 264), some of his sister-in-law's homemade elderberry wine, and they conversed for two hours. Asked later by a friend how he managed to get the elderberry wine down, Wilde replied: "If it had been vinegar I would have drunk it all the same, for I have an admiration for that man which I can hardly express" (qtd. in Allen 502). In a letter to Whitman postmarked 1 March, Wilde writes: "Before I leave America I must see you again. There is no one in this wide great world of America whom I love and honour so much" (100). Wilde was true to his word, making a second visit to Whitman the following May. 

The chief proponent of the aesthetic movement, Wilde was notorious for his eccentricity in appearance and manner, and his court trial in London in 1895, when he was at the peak of his career, became a public sensation. 

Bankrupt and in ill-health, he lived the last three years of his life in France under the pseudonym Sebastian Melmoth, dying in Paris after converting to Roman Catholicism. 

Bibliography 

Allen, Gay Wilson. The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman. 1955. Rev. ed. 1967. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1985. 

Ellman, Richard. "Oscar Meets Walt." New York Review of Books 3 December 1987: 43-44. 

____. Oscar Wilde. New York: Knopf, 1988. 

Whitman, Walt. The Correspondence. Ed. Edwin Haviland Miller. Vol. 3. New York: New York UP, 1964. 

Wilde, Oscar. The Letters of Oscar Wilde. Ed. Rupert Hart-Davis. London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1962. 


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