Portrait of Oscar Wilde, ca. 1882, by Napoleon Sarony (Library of Congress)
In many ways, Oscar Wilde is a modern celebrity, one famous for being famous, with a witty public persona and a tragic private life that left him to die a broken man.
He was applauded for at least two hit plays in the West End, feted for his quips and his dandyish style, but endured three humiliating trials for “gross indecency” that led to two years in jail. Yet Wilde’s literary legacy—reflected in plays from The Important of Being Earnest to novels like The Picture of Doran Gray—has outlasted his life by more than a century.
On the anniversary of Wilde’s birthday, Christopher Griffin explores the complex man who declared that he put his talent into his writings and his genius into his life. Using text and film clips, he highlights plays including An Ideal Husband, Lady Windermere’s Fan, and Salome; his prison memoir and love letter full of recriminations, “De Profundis”; poems such as “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”; and beloved children’s stories including “The Selfish Giant” and “The Happy Prince.”
Afterward, enjoy a slice of birthday cake and a glass of sherry and raise a toast to the man who wrote, “I think that God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability.”
Griffin—who like Wilde attended Trinity—is a study leader for Smithsonian Journeys, has taught Irish literature at George Washington University, and is an instructor at Politics and Prose.
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