Wilde was born on October 16, 1854 in Dublin to unconventional parents. His mother, Lady Jane Francesca Wilde, was a poet and journalist. His father was Sir William Wilde, an Irish antiquarian, gifted writer, and specialist in diseases of the eye and ear. Wilde studied at many different schools including Portora Royal School, Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, Trinity College, Dublin, and Magdalen College, Oxford.
In 1878, Wilde received his B.A. and in the same year he moved to London, England. His lifestyle and humorous wit soon made him the spokesman for Aestheticism, the late 19th century movement in England that advocated art for art's sake. He found work as an art reviewer, lectured in the United States and Canada, and Britain. He was a regular contributor for Pall Mall Gazette and Dramatic View.
In 1884, Wilde married Constance Lloyd. In 1888 he published The Happy Prince and Other Tales, fairy-stories written for his two sons. Wilde's marriage ended in 1893. A few years earlier he had met one Lord Alfred Douglas, an athlete and a poet, who became both the love of the author's life and his downfall.
Wilde made his reputation in the theatre world between the years 1892 and 1895 with a series of highly popular plays all of which dealt with the darker sides of human nature. Lady Windermere's Fan dealt with a blackmailing divorcée driven to self-sacrifice by maternal love. In A Woman of No Importance, an illegitimate son is torn between his father and mother. An Ideal Husband dealt with blackmail, political corruption and public and private honor. The Importance of Being Earnest was about two fashionable young gentlemen and their eventually successful courtship. Before his theatrical success, Wilde produced several essays many of which were widely read. His two most popular literary-theoretical works were the dialogues "The Decay of Lying" and "The Critic as Artist."
Although married and the father of two children, Wilde's personal life was open to many rumors. His years of triumph ended dramatically when his intimate association with Alfred Douglas led to his trial on charges of homosexuality which was then illegal in Britain. He was found guilty and sentenced to two years hard labor for the crime of sodomy. Wilde was first in Wandsworth prison in London and then in Reading Gaol. During this time he wrote De Profundis, a dramatic monologue and autobiography, which was addressed to his lover, Alfred Douglas.
After his release in 1897, Wilde wrote "The Ballad of Reading Gaol", revealing his concern for inhumane prison conditions. Wilde died of cerebral meningitis on November 30, 1900, penniless, in a cheap Paris hotel at the age of 46.