Born in Dublin and educated at Trinity College Dublin and Magdalen College, Oxford, Wilde moved to London in 1878 and became known as a leading member, along with Walter Pater, of the Aesthetic Movement. His flamboyant personal dress and behaviour aroused comment, and he is thought to be the inspiration for the "aesthetic" character Bunthorne, in the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera, Patience (1881). In 1882 he undertook a tour of the United States, giving lectures about art, which were well received by audiences from all classes of society.
In 1884 he married Constance Lloyd. They had two sons. However in 1886 Wilde was seduced by Robert Ross.
His novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, first published in 1890, was considered immoral (although a number of passages, including several references to homosexuality, were removed before publication) and was banned by W H Smith.
In 1891 he met Lord Alfred Douglas, known as "Bosie" who was an Oxford undergraduate at the time. Wilde and Douglas began an affair, and Douglas introduced Wilde to a series of working class rent boys, whom Wilde took to hotel rooms.
From 1891 onwards Wilde wrote a number of plays, including Salomé (written in French and banned in the UK) and several very successful plays culminating in The Importance of being Earnest (1894).
In 1894 Douglas's father the Marquess of Queensberry (known for sponsoring the Queensberry rules for boxing) left a calling card for Wilde at the Albemarle Club, inscribed "For Oscar Wilde, posing somdomite". Douglas encouraged Wilde to sue for libel, which he did against the advice of his friends. At the trial, Wilde was subjected to very damaging cross-examination by Sir Edward Carson, and the case collapsed.
Immediately after the libel trial, a warrant was issued for Wilde's arrest. His friends advised him to go to France to avoid arrest, but he did not do so, and was arrested for gross indecency. The trial, in 1895, was notable for Wilde's defence of "the love that dares not speak its name" but the jury failed to reach a verdict. There was a second trial, at which Wilde was found guilty and sentenced to two years hard labour.
Wilde served his sentence in Pentonville and Wandsworth, but mainly in Reading. The very harsh prison regime and hard labour affected his health very badly. While in prison he wrote a long letter to Douglas: he was not permitted to send it, but it was later published as De profundis.
On his release in 1897, Wilde went to France, where he published the poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol. He lived with Douglas for a while in Naples, but then returned to Paris, where he lived in an hotel, suffering increasing ill-health. He died on 30 November 1900, having been received into the Catholic church the day before. He is buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, under a tomb designed by Sir Jacob Epstein.
Dolly Wilde was Oscar’s niece.
Oscar Wilde may have been one of the authors of the anonymous gay pornographic novel Teleny, or The Reverse of the Medal.