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Biography

Oscar Wilde cut a flamboyant figure at Oxford. He took to wearing his hair long and dressing dramatically (photographs taken during this period show him wearing things like capes). He disdained sports and decorated his room with flowers and feathers. This behavior raised eyebrows at college, a reaction that did not bother Wilde one bit. Artists throughout Europe were adopting a similar style, in a period now known as the Decadent, or Aesthetic, Movement. It was a rebellion against the sparse, natural quality of Romanticism, which was on its way out in Europe. Wilde would later come to be regarded as the leading English figure of the Aesthetic Movement; at college, he was just the artsy guy.

Wilde excelled academically at Oxford. He won the university's Newdigate Prize for his poem "Ravenna." In 1878, he graduated with the equivalent of top honors in two classical majors. He moved to London to establish himself as a figure in the city's literary, artistic and social scenes. It worked. By 1881, the year that he published his first book, Poems, he was well enough known that he was parodied by a dandy-ish character in the Gilbert and Sullivan opera Patience.

In 1882, Wilde embarked on a lecture tour through the United States. He met the poet Walt Whitman, whom he greatly admired. "There is no one in this wide great world of America whom I love and honor so much,"5 he wrote to the poet, who by that time was in his sixties and ailing from a stroke. While he was in New York, Wilde produced the first play he had written, Vera. While it had touches of Wilde's signature flippant wit - "Life is much too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it,"6 one character said - it was not a commercial success.

Wilde returned to England and embarked on another lecture tour that lasted until 1884. On 19 May 1884, Wilde married Constance Lloyd, the wealthy daughter of an English barrister whom he had met six months earlier. The couple settled in the Chelsea neighborhood of London. They had their first son, Cyril, a year later, and a second son, Vyvyan, the year after that.

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