Scandal, censorship, and a detrimental downfall punctuated the life of literary figure Oscar Wilde, but his refusal to adhere to societal expectations within his lifestyle and writing has made him timeless. Wilde’s prolific writings exposed themes of hypocrisy and identity and captured the raw, realistic, and often ugly side of England during the Victorian Era. Homosexual characters, the philosophy of aestheticism, and the honest portrayal of the vices humans possess are all present in his written work. England considered these topics too immoral for public consumption and took action to censor his work.
Considered even more scandalous than the writing of Oscar Wilde was Oscar Wilde himself. Wilde engaged in relationships with men and allowed his identity as a homosexual to linger in the public eye. This openness invited condemnation from society. Astoundingly, society’s disapprobation did not make Oscar Wilde a social pariah. Until his dramatic incarceration, Wilde thrived in London with a successful career. Even incarceration could not suppress the impact of Wilde and his work.
Oscar Wilde lived in Europe during the Victorian Era. Although it was an era of prosperity and innovation, it was also an era of decline as multitudes of people fell into poverty due to rising unemployment. Living conditions decreased because of overcrowding and poor sanitation as cities suddenly rose in population. Writers expressed their dissatisfaction and pessimism towards the time period by introducing realism to literature. A strict moral code added to the overwhelming dissatisfaction citizens felt towards the world.
Although the moral code primarily affected women, they were not the only citizens to be impacted by its presence. Men were expected to maintain a certain level of purity by engaging in appropriate romantic relationships. Prior to the legalization of homosexuality in England in 1967, the topic was highly censored in published work. Victorian England was a dismal period with rigid societal expectations and censorship, making it a period not well suited to the flamboyant lifestyle and brutally honest writing of Oscar Wilde. Despite these circumstances, he flourished.
Oscar Wilde was and continues to be a literary figure of admirable respect, despite the attempts made by society to censor his writing and lifestyle choices. Victorian Era England possessed a strict moral code that the life and writing of Oscar Wilde did not neatly fit. His refusal to conform led to the repression of his literature from the public eye and judgement towards his life choices. Wilde was imprisoned for being homosexual, but his imprisonment only aided the destruction of the censorship surrounding the taboo topic.
Wilde’s written work was restricted, but its popularity persisted and continues to be read today. The numerous attempts made to delete or restrict Oscar Wilde and his work only aided his fame. His writing and story of imprisonment survived not just censorship, but Wilde’s death. His plays continue to be performed, his poems continue to be read, his novel continues to be sought. Wilde has died, but his legacy has lived.