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Books by Oscar Wilde: Discover Classics of Victorian Literature

Explore the books by Oscar Wilde and understand what it was like to live as a gay man in Victorian England.
by Chris Allmer | Feb 1 2024
Books by Oscar Wilde: Discover Classics of Victorian Literature

Get ready for an exciting trip back in time with the books by Oscar Wilde. We’re heading to old Victorian England, a place full of color and mystery.

And who’s our guide? None other than Oscar Wilde himself, a writer who knew how to tell a story like no other.

And our main star today is The Picture of Dorian Gray, a book that’s as fascinating as its author. A man ahead of his time, a soul both celebrated and misunderstood.

Wilde was a bright star in the literary sky, but his light was shadowed by the challenges he faced because of his homosexuality. His story, much like his literary creations, is a fascinating blend of triumph and struggle.

Oscar Wilde’s Life

Picture a world of grand balls, corseted gowns, and horse-drawn carriages. This was Victorian England, a time of strict social rules and glittering high society – the backdrop to the life of one of literature’s brightest stars, Oscar Wilde.

Born in 1854 in Dublin, Ireland, Wilde’s story begins in a world where the written word was mightier than the sword, and social appearances were everything. A world where the books by Oscar Wilde were met with both celebration and controversy.

Oscar Wilde in Victorian England

From his early days, Wilde showed a flair for the dramatic and the intellectual. His mother, a poet and a staunch supporter of Irish nationalism, and his father, a respected surgeon, ensured that young Oscar was steeped in a world of literature, culture, and conversation.

Educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and later at Oxford University, Wilde was already a stand-out. At Oxford, he also first encountered the ideas of aestheticism – the belief that art exists for beauty’s sake, which would greatly influence his later works.

In the late 19th century, the Industrial Revolution was transforming society, and the Victorian era was grappling with its own contradictions – moral strictness shadowed by hypocrisy, and a rigid class system at odds with progressive ideas.

Wilde, with his razor-sharp wit and love for beauty, both embraced and challenged the norms of his time. He was a mirror reflecting its complexities, a voice that continues to resonate through the ages.

Oscar Wilde’s Homosexuality and its Impact

Victorian England, with its emphasis on moral rectitude and social propriety, was a challenging landscape for anyone who differed from the heterosexual norm. Homosexuality was not just looked down on; it was illegal.

This societal backdrop cast a shadow over Wilde’s life, influencing both his personal journey and his professional one.

Wilde’s relationships, particularly with Lord Alfred Douglas, brought his sexuality into the public eye. This personal aspect of his life became a point of scandal, especially during his trials for gross indecency. His conviction and subsequent imprisonment marked a turning point, not just in his life, but in how his work was received and interpreted.

Oscar Wilde’s famous book, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and his plays, which everyone used to love for their humor, were now looked at with suspicion. People began to see the writings by Oscar Wilde not just as great literature, but also as documents challenging the strict rules of society.

Wilde’s struggle and fall from grace became a powerful story for future movements that fought for the rights and acceptance of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Speaking of understanding and exploring the LGBTQIA+ experience, if you’re looking to delve deeper into this topic, check out Allies Assemble: 11 Books on the LGBTQIA+ Experience in our Blinkist Magazine. This selection of books is a great resource for anyone wanting to learn more about the community’s diverse experiences.

Books by Oscar Wilde

Let’s now take a moment to explore some of Wilde’s most famous works, each a testament to his unparalleled genius.

The Importance of Being Earnest

At the forefront of Wilde’s comedic arsenal is The Importance of Being Earnest. This play by Oscar Wilde is famous for its sharp satire and humorously dissects the peculiarities of Victorian society. It’s a world of mistaken identities, secret engagements, and ludicrous situations, all delivered with Wilde’s characteristic cleverness. This work is not merely a comedy; it’s a critique of social norms, wrapped in laughter and timeless wit.

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
Oscar Wilde

Lady Windermere’s Fan

Another jewel in Wilde’s collection is Lady Windermere’s Fan, a play that melds social commentary with drama. It explores themes of marriage, trust, and societal perceptions, showcasing Wilde’s ability to dive into serious subjects while maintaining his trademark humor and sharp dialogue.

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
Oscar Wilde

The Happy Prince

In contrast to his plays, Wilde’s stories like The Happy Prince offer a glimpse into his capacity for deep empathy and poignant storytelling. This particular tale, alongside others like The Nightingale and the Rose and The Selfish Giant, reveals Wilde’s talent for crafting narratives that speak to the heart and highlight the virtues of compassion and selflessness.

“I am so happy that I have brought tears into someone’s eyes.”
Oscar Wilde

“De Profundis”

In De Profundis, an extended letter written during his imprisonment, Wilde opens up about his personal struggles, reflections, and transformations. This work is a stark departure from his comedic and fictional writings, offering a raw and intimate look into his life and thoughts during one of his most challenging periods.

“The most terrible thing about it is not that it breaks one’s heart—hearts are made to be broken—but that it turns one’s heart to stone.”
Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray

And now it’s time to meet Dorian Gray: a young, incredibly handsome guy stepping into the busy, exciting world of Victorian London. His life flips upside down when he meets Lord Henry Wotton, a man who loves beauty and pleasure more than anything. Lord Henry talks to Dorian about living a life where looking good and having fun are what matter most. 

Dorian loves this idea and wishes something wild: he wants his portrait to age while he stays young forever.

And as Dorian starts living a life full of parties and not caring about rules, the portrait begins to change. It becomes uglier and scarier, showing the bad things Dorian is doing, even though he still looks perfect.

Now, think about our world today, where everyone’s trying to look perfect on Instagram and in real life. The Picture of Dorian Gray is like a spooky echo from the past, telling us, “Hey, there’s more to life than just looking good.”

This Wilde novel also makes us think about the choices we make and how they shape us. It’s a strong reminder that the way we live our lives affects who we really are inside.

To get more inspiration from this Oscar Wilde book, don’t miss The Portrait of Dorian Gray Quotes in our Blinkist Magazine. This collection of quotes really highlights the big ideas about beauty and right and wrong that Wilde skillfully puts into his story.

And when you are ready to get the whole story of Dorian Gray and his extra life, check out our Blinkist summary and learn more about one man’s obsession with beauty and youth, and his downfall:

Concluding Our Journey Through Oscar Wilde’s World

As we close the curtains on our exploration of Oscar Wilde’s world, we’ve experienced the splendor of Victorian society from his unique perspective. We’ve walked alongside characters like Dorian Gray, who chased eternal youth and beauty, only to learn that every choice has its consequences.

And Wilde himself—what a story he had! His life was a rollercoaster of highs and lows, marked by his courage to be true to himself during challenging times. If you are feeling intrigued enough to dive deeper into the depths of Wilde’s fascinating world, Blinkist is your gateway. With a collection of over 6,500 book summaries, Blinkist brings you the essence of literature and non-fiction at your fingertips.

Ready for the best part? You can kick-start your literary adventure with a 7-day free trial on Blinkist. It’s your ticket to a world of knowledge and discovery, where books by Oscar Wilde and many others await.

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