Plays, Prose Writings and Poems
By Oscar Wilde
(Everyman's Library, Hardcover, 9780679405832, 728pp.)
Publication Date: November 26, 1991
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(Book Jacket Status: Not Jacketed)
Introduction by Terry Eagleton
Oscar Wilde has been acknowledged as the wittiest writer in the English language. This collection proves that he was also one of the most versatile. Effortlessly achieved, each revealing a different aspect of his brilliance, all of the plays, prose writings, and poems gathered here support Wilde’s belief that entertainment provides the best kind of edification. The works gathered here include Wilde’s once-controversial and now classic novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, the rioutously (sic) comic plays “The Importance of Being Earnest” and “Lady Windermere’s Fan,” and the famous poem he wrote after being released from prison, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.” This expanded new edition now includes the complete version of Wilde’s moving letter from prison, De Profundis, and his teasing parable about Shakespeare, The Portrait of Mr. W. H. Other notable included writings are the semi-comic mystery story “Lord Arthur’s Savile’s Crime” and the essay The Soul of Man Under Socialism.
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) was born in Dublin, the second son of charismatic parents, his father a surgeon, his mother a poet. Ungainly and awkward as a child, he won an open scholarship to Trinity College, Dublin, and went from there to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he took a First in Greats, won the Newdigate Prize for Poetry and announced that 'Somehow or other I'll be famous, and if not famous, notorious'. In London he set about establishing himself as a poet and wit, and when Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera Patience toured the USA in 1882 he was invited to give a speech before every performance so that American audiences could recognize the 'perfectly precious young aesthete' satirized in the character of Bunthorne. This brought him both celebrity and money, and in 1884 he married Constance Lloyd, by whom he had two sons.
He began writing fairy tales while working as editor of The Lady's World, and The Happy Prince was published in 1888. His first play, Vera, had been a failure, but in 1892 Lady Windermere's Fan was staged with great success. This was swiftly followed by three other enomously successful comedies, the most famous being The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). Wilde died in France, aged only 46. His plays remain as popular today as ever before.
Although he read his fairy stories to his two young sons, he claimed they were ' . . . not for children, but for childlike people from eighteen to eighty'.