Wednesday, December 25, 2013

100 Random Things about Oscar Wilde

In honour of this being my 100th post, I’m sharing 100 things you probably didn’t know about Oscar Wilde. If you knew any of this stuff keep track of how many points you get. Your score should be out of 100. Leave your result as a comment. If you have more Wildean wits about you than I did when I started this list, I’ll have your email address and can contact you in the future, if I have any questions! (Just kidding, sort of.)

1. “The optimist sees the donut, the pessimist sees the hole.” At different points in his life, Wilde comes across as pessimistic and optimistic. His writing style, his critique of his contemporaries, and his ability to laugh at the world around him combine to indicate that he was a realist.

2. One of his greatest gifts was the ability to smile at his own misfortune.

3. Wilde was raised Anglican and Catholic. In college, he became infatuated with the Catholic Church, but did not become a convert until the end of his life. I found an interesting Catholic interpretation of his life on

4. “I never change, except in my affections.” Wilde only dreamt of being able to live this way. His writing sympathized with a common longing for eternal youth and the ability to always remain the same. In practice, once you had Wilde's affection, you always had his sympathy. He had many life-long friendships.

5. Wilde lacked musical talent and never appreciated music, even during his Aesthetic period.

6. Wilde once claimed to never travel anywhere without his copy of Studies in the History of the Renaissance by Walter Pater.

7. Wilde visited Egypt, as a child, and was always fascinated by sphinxes.

8. Although the New York Tribune claimed Wilde’s teeth were “superlatively white,” he was embarrassed by his teeth, often spoke with his hand in front of his mouth to cover them, and eventually got dentures.

9. Wilde disliked idle conversation. “Conversation about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative.”

10. Wilde was a tremendously sensitive man, quite capable of indulging in self-pity, but usually only when he had genuine reasons to feel bad for himself. Moreover, he was just as affected by the hardships of others.

11. Wilde was clearly outgoing, but enjoyed privacy and was most productive as a writer when he was alone. Wilde got restless quickly, but always seemed to find himself quite entertaining.

12. Wilde’s ability to speed read and remember long passages has been attributed to an eidetic memory.

13. Wilde’s brother was a newspaper writer, so he often pokes fun at them.

14. Wilde was a very superstitious child, whose mother told him stories about macabre beasts. In the children’s books he wrote, as a father, his antagonists were generally friendly.

15. Wilde met Pope Piux IX, as an undergraduate in 1877.

16. Wilde became famous for his personality. After meeting Wilde at the Royal Court Theatre, Helena Modjeska once said, “What has he done, this young man, that one meets him everywhere? Oh yes he talks well, but what has he done? He has written nothing, he does not sing or paint or act - he does nothing but talk. I do not understand.”

17. In an unguarded moment, Wilde once told the 15 year-old daughter of a friend that if she were a boy, he would adore her. Her name was Aimée Lowther.

18. Wilde travelled extensively throughout Africa, Europe, and the United States.

19. Sex tourism was the most likely reason for Wilde's travel to Africa in adulthood.

20. Wilde's plays got mixed reviews from London theatre critics. One of his worst most vocal critics was his own brother.

21. Wilde feared nothing more than he feared God. The thought of eternal punishment was the one thing that prevented him from committing suicide, during his darkest moments, he told Vincent O’Sullivan.

22. The last gift Wilde gave to his two sons was a copy of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.

23. Biographer, Neil McKenna says that Wilde wasn’t good at making a first impression and quotes Bosie, in The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde:
There is no charm in his elephantine body, tightly stuffed into his clothes - no charm in his great face and head of unselect Bohemian cast - save the urbanity he can adopt or the intelligence with which he can vitalise his ponderousness.
24. On holiday, Wilde enjoyed days spent paddling about in a “Canadian canoe.”

25. Wilde wasn’t good at horseback riding.

26. Wilde loved dirty French novels. His love of them almost ruined a British publication.

27. Some say Wilde is the most quotable author of all time, but he once drew a blank when someone asked him what his motto was.

28. Wilde kept a vase of flowers on his writing desk to neutralize the smell of his ashtray.

29. The only time Wilde wasn’t self-conscious about his appearance was when he was playing with his children.

30. Wilde was born at 21 Westland Row, Dublin, which is now the home of the Oscar Wilde Centre, Trinity College.

31. When Wilde published the Happy Prince and Other Tales in May 1888, the Anthaeum compared him to Hans Christian Anderson, which was a far cry from the reputation he had carefully crafted for himself.

32. If you met him and he liked you, Wilde would probably give you a cigarette case.

33. Growing up, Wilde had three pet names: “Ossie” with his family, “Grey Crow” at school, and “Hosky” at Oxford.

34. Wilde had a hard time saying no when asked for money.

35. Wilde’s favourite drinks were brandy and absinthe.

36. The Wildes had servants to cook and clean, but usually ate meals on credit at the hotel.

37. Wilde had five siblings: William 'Willie' Charles Kingsbury Wilde; Isola Francesca Emily Wilde, who died as a child and broke Wilde’s heart; his half-sisters - Emily and Mary Wilde; and his half-brother, Henry Wilson.

38. Early biographers look at the above childhood photo of Wilde dressed in frills and suggest that his mother wanted him to be a girl, thus arousing Wilde’s interest in men, but this was not true in anyway. In mid-nineteenth century Ireland, boys were traditionally dressed as girls to protect them from the dred due, a kind of blood-thirsty fairy, who abducted little boys, but ignored little girls. Wilde’s mother adored old Irish myths and legends, almost as much as she adored her little boys.

39. Wilde had as many female friends as he did male friends and, in fact, was an important contact for female writers in the 1880s.

40. For Christmas 1877, Wilde gave his girlfriend, Florence Balcombe, a small gold cross.

41. The executor for the estate of Oscar Wilde was a Canadian, Robert Ross.

42. Ross is also responsible for bring Wilde back into popularity with his 1908 edition of Wilde’s collected works.

43. Ross worked tirelessly to protect Wilde’s work, after Wilde was gone. This included fighting the rampant black market trade in erotica that was published falsely under Wilde’s name.

44. Wilde often claimed to be two years younger than he was and even lied about his age on his marriage certificate.

45. Wilde never enjoyed competitive sports, but he liked athletes.

46. Wilde tested out his clever maxims in conversations before putting them in his writing.

47. Wilde frequently suffered from writer’s block.

48. Wilde enjoyed sentimental friendships more than romances.

49. After he finished school, Wilde made money lecturing on aesthetics.

50. Wilde’s American tour was funded by Gilbert and Sullivan.

51. One of Wilde’s first impressions of America was that American men “seem to get a hold on life much ealier than we do.”

52. The hardest decision Wilde ever made was probably the decision not to flee to Paris before his trials were over. Even the judge expected him to do it. His family talked him out of it, specifically his mother and brother.

53. Wilde began writing the Sphinx in 1874 and spent many years working on it. He finally published it in 1894.

54. In the beginning, Wilde was uncertain how to go about publishing his poetry, so he wrote to the PM and asked for help, assuming, correctly, that an Oxford boy would not be ignored. “I am little more than a boy,” Wilde wrote and Gladstone wrote back, suggesting his send his poetry to the Spectator. Wilde followed this advice and was met with success!

55. Wilde’s father was a polymath.

56. Wilde spent money as fast as he got it.

57. Before and after they were married, Wilde borrowed money from his wife’s brother.

58. Wilde’s wife, Constance was a writer in her own right and had her own income.

59. In the 1880s, Wilde and Constance held seances at their house on Tite Street.

60. Their home on Tite Street was called “House Beautiful.”

61. After Wilde’s release from prison, when he had moved to Paris, his wife wrote to him that, if she ever saw him again, she would forgive anything.

62. In the Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde based the character, Algernon, on his brother, during a time when they were trying to get along better.

63. Wilde hated his brother, Willie, but often gave him money.

64. While he was in jail, Wilde’s brother pawned or sold most of his favourite things, including his famous fur coat.

65. His parents probably met through a book review. His mother wrote one for his father’s book, The Beauties of Boyne and Blackwater.

66. Wilde wrote reviews for books by lesser known authors. These were published in the Gazette.

67. Wilde’s favourite occupation was reading his own sonnets.

68. They say that people often criticize the character traits that they see as most problematic in themselves. Wilde despised “Vanity, self-esteem, [and] conceit,” but admired the “Power of attracting friends.”

69. Wilde enjoyed writing letters to the editor.

70. Wilde’s favourite actor was Henry Irving.

71. “Ivory” was one of Wilde’s favourite words.

72. “Quite charming” was one of his favourite phrases.

73. Bathing was Wilde’s favourite ritual.

74. If you made it this far, you probably know that Wilde’s favourite colour was green, but might not know that he hated mauve and magenta.

75.. In the Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde bases the character of Basil on his real-life artist friend and rival, James Whistler.

76. Max Beerbohm characterized Wilde with this list of words:
Luxury - gold-tipped matches - hair curled - Assyrian-wax statue - huge rings - fat white hands - not soignée - feather bed - pointed fingers - ample scarf - Louis Quinze cane - vast Malmaison - cat-like tread - heavy shoulders - enormous dowager - or schoolboy - way of laughing with hand over mouth - stroking chin - looking up sideways - jollity overdone - But real vitality…Effeminate, but vitality of twenty men, magnetism - authority. Deeper than repute or wit, Hypnotic.
77. Wilde probably had sex with Walt Whitman once, but preferred beardless men.

78. Wilde was bisexual.

79. With men, Wilde was a top.

80. Not only did Wilde love women, he liked women too. He enjoyed them socially and found them both attractive and intelligent.

81. Wilde adopted the name Sebastion Melmoth, after prison. Sebation was a martyr. Melmoth is from Melmoth the Wanderer (1820), a novel by his great-uncle that bears some similarities to the Picture of Dorian Gray.

82. Wilde often ate seafood for breakfast, but that was a common upper-class Victorian habit. Victorians were weird.

83. Wilde was 6’3” and got his height from his mother, who was approximately six feet tall.

84. A lot of people considered him fat. Laura Troubridge wrote in her diary in 1883: “Went to a tea party at Cressie's to meet the great Oscar Wilde. He is grown enormously fat with a huge face and tight curls all over his head - not at all the aesthetic he used to look.” And Adrian Hope wrote in 1887: “O.W. was at the Lyric Club, fat and greasy as ever and looking particularly revolting in huge white kid gloves.”

85. Later in life, Wilde considered his aestheticism to have been something of a phase.

86. He spoke the way he wrote. William Butler Yeats couldn’t believe it: “My first meeting with Oscar Wilde was an astonishment. I never before heard a man talking with perfect sentences, as if he had written them all overnight with labor and yet all spontaneous.”

87. When the Savoy Hotel introduced hot and cold running water, Wilde wasn’t pleased. He was happier having someone bring him his water.

88. Wilde called white wine yellow because his friend Robert Sherard once pointed out to him that white wine really isn’t white at all.

89. Wilde was once infatuated with the actress Lillie Langtry, but denied buying a lily daily and walking it over to her home as a gift.

90. Much like the contemporary sociologist, Zygmunt Bauman, Wilde thought that jealousy in a marriage was “closely bound up with our conceptions of property” and “an extraordinary source of crime in modern life.”

91. In 1880, Wilde proposed to Charlotte Montefiore. When she refused, he wrote: “Charlotte, I am so sorry about your decision. With your money and my brain we could have gone far.”

92. Wilde slept with a female prostitute in Paris in 1883. His friend, Robert Sherard wrote about it. Afterwards, Wilde remarked: “What animals we are, Robert!”

93. Wilde almost certainly never had syphilis.

94. Wilde’s first kiss was from a boy he went to school with at Portura. They were saying good-bye at a railway station. He was sixteen years-old.

95. Wilde lied about his early school years in an interview with a journal called Biograph, when he was 26 years old. Nobody is sure why. Portura was a good school.

96. Wilde first described his future wife in a letter to Waldo Story as “quite young, very grave and mystical, with wonderful eyes, and dark brown coils of hair.... We are, of course, desperately in love.” Proof that at least one British postman was able to find Waldo!

97. Though Wilde didn’t see his wife again, after he left prison, they never got divorced.

98. Fatherhood inspired much of Wilde’s work. He took the job as editor of Woman’s World because he had a family to support. He wrote children’s stories because he had children to tell them to. Wilde loved being a father.

99. Wilde wrote in ink and edited in pencil.

100. There’s no evidence that Oscar Wilde ever said: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

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  1. Oh!
    I didn't know any of these.
    Totally love it. Thanks for sharing(:

  2. Imagine a conversion between Oscar Wilde and Orson Welles..... Thanks for the post. The second picture is one of Robert Schumann and wife Clara, btw.

  3. Imagine a conversion between Oscar Wilde and Orson Welles..... Thanks for the post. The second picture is one of Robert Schumann and wife Clara, btw.

  4. Ooo, I remember when I discovered #67. That's still one of my favorite facts.

    I'm reading the libel trial, and now all the cigarette cases make so much sense... also, He either confused his own age or straight up lied when questioned about it.
    And yeah, giving people money was another thing that was brought up quite a lot.

  5. Hello!! I know I am probably late, but I thank you for this impressive collection of facts. Could you give me the source of the 94th though please?

  6. Most of this is nonsense, and many utterly incorrect.

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