Oscar Wilde led an interesting life, and that’s putting it mildly. Then again, in order to be a successful writer after you die, you had to have lived in the most tragic of circumstances. Wilde would go down in history as a great writer of fiction and poetry and screenplays, and for a number of more professional essays. He also went down in history for other reasons.
In case you wondered, society has always sucked. In the midst of a feud with his (male) lover’s father, the Marquess of Queensbury, he was accused of sodomy. As we all know, when you’re accused of sodomy you most definitely committed sodomy. Or at least the very possibility was enough to send you off to the bowels of prison, where ironically you’re even more likely to commit this most heinous (still being sarcastic) of crimes. After this accusation was made in public by the Marquess, Wilde accused him of libel. Because libel itself was a crime that carried a prison sentence, the Marquess set out to prove that Wilde had been involved in homosexual love affairs.
Naturally, Wilde had indeed been in a relationship with the man’s son, and so the investigations inevitably bore fruit (pardon the pun). When he was found out, Wilde dropped the libel accusation and was subsequently arrested for sodomy and put on trial in New York City for gross indecency with men. He was convicted. His resulting sentence put him in prison for two years, during which time he was forced to perform hard labor. Wilde continued to write during his sentence.
After this unfortunate occurrence and his release, he went into exile to France–where he would stay until his death.
Meningitis has always been an ailment that left society rattled, and it was no different during Wilde’s life. He developed the ailment and died on November 30, 1900 at the fairly young age of 46. No one is really certain about how he contracted meningitis, although theories range from the interestingly far-fetched–syphilis–to the more pragmatic, yet still uncertain–it came about from the formation of pus after an injury to his right ear that he suffered while in prison. One bad thing in Wilde’s life apparently led to another, through little fault of his own.
Wilde died as any great writer would–that is, without a penny to his name. His apparent sexual orientation and society’s response to it utterly destroyed any chance he had at prosperity, but (sort of) mercifully helped propel him into the annals of history. His “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” was the last thing he ever wrote, and remains a chilling reminder of his time in prison. His most popular literary work while he yet lived was “The Importance of Being Earnest” and was performed in London during his feud with the Marquess. Even though he died a slave to society’s whims, the man was at least allowed to know a shadow of his eventual fame while he had the chance.