Quotes

The most beautiful quotes by Oscar Wilde, a poet with a tragic destiny!

Fame and celebrity followed by a scandal, downfall and destitution, until his tragic end. He died too young, a ruined man completely alone. This is the Romanesque, almost classical destiny of a provocative artist who left a mark on the society of his day. This is the destiny in a few lines, of Oscar Wilde, a major figure in Anglo-Irish literature of the 19th century. Would you like to find out more? In this article, I invite you to discover the life of the writer, and also a number of Oscar Wilde quotes. They are in keeping with his image as an insolent dandy: scathing words, controversial, yet brilliant!

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde, an impertinent and talented poet

An extravagant dandy with a brilliant mind

Back in 1854, Oscar Wilde (his full name was Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde) was born in Dublin, in Ireland, to a bourgeois Protestant family. His father was a renowned surgeon who was honoured by Queen Victoria. His mother was a poet and militant for the Irish nationalist cause.

Fascinated by classical culture and literature, the young Oscar Wilde was a brilliant student at the prestigious university of Trinity College, in the Irish capital. At the age of 20, he entered Magdalen College, one of the most reputed colleges of the University of Oxford. He studied there for 4 years, earning a degree in Classics, Art History and Philosophy.

Oscar Wilde was a brilliant and insolent student. He had already earned a reputation for his writing talent and his ease with speaking publicly. His sartorial extravagance and his precious behaviour earned him some criticism and a reputation as a dandy.

Marriage and first literary successes

In 1879, Oscar Wilde moved to London after a disappointment of the heart (Florence Balcombe rejected him and married Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula).

In the English capital, Oscar Wilde was a regular feature of cultural and aristocratic circles. The young artist became rapidly famous, and also controversial.  He shocked polite London society with his antics, and had a reputation for being cynical and an extravagant dandy.

During this period, he published his first poems (Ravenna and Poems) and wrote his first play (Vera). He also held a number of conferences about art. They were so successful that an impresario contacted him about organising a one-year conference tour on the subject of aestheticism in the United States and Canada.

When he returned from his North American tour, Oscar Wilde married a childhood friend, Constance Lloyd, in 1884, and they had two sons: Cyril, in 1885, and Vyvyan, in 1886. The family settled in Chelsea, in a sumptuously decorated house. But Oscar Wilde would often leave the family home to meet up with young people in hotels…

Literary success and homosexuality

Oscar Wilde continued to publish stories and essays. His first big success came in 1891 with the publication of his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Oscar Wilde became a staple feature of the London literary set. He also gained notoriety in the United States and in France, in Paris, a city he visited regularly. The literati of Paris welcomed him with open arms. He rubbed shoulders with all the great writers and painters of the time: Hugo, Daudet, Pissarro, Degas, Zola, Verlaine, Mallarmé…

During this period, the author of The Picture of Dorian Gray had two important encounters: two admiring students with whom he fell in love. Firstly, Robert Ross, known as “Robbie”. He became his lover, his guardian angel and would finally be the executor of his estate. One year later, he openly flaunted his homosexual relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas, known as “Bosie”, the son of the Marquess of Queensberry.

However, in the very puritan establishment of Victorian England, in the strict codes of the time, his behaviour was not to everyone’s liking. Homosexuality was punishable by a prison sentence. In fact, the death penalty for sodomy had only been abolished in 1861. The relationship between Oscar Wilde and Alfred Douglas, 16 years his junior, became a scandal and would lead to his downfall…

In 1895, even as his play The Importance of being Earnest was a huge success in London and he seemed untouchable, Oscar Wilde’s life took a tragic turn. Glory turned to infamy.

A love affair leads to prison…

In that same year, 1895, the Marquess of Queensberry, Alfred Douglas’s father, could not accept the immoral relationship between his son and the provocative writer. He took steps to make a scandal out of Oscar Wilde’s homosexuality, while he was at the height of his success.

Poorly advised, not doubt pushed by Douglas who hated his father, and overly confident in his talent as an orator, Oscar Wilde decided to take the Marquess of Queensberry to court for slander. However, Oscar Wilde lost his case. The case turned against him. His lover’s father attacked him in turn, taking him to court for being a “sodomite” and for “moral outrage”. The trial was more than just about Oscar Wilde was; the world was watching a trial about homosexuality itself.

The worldwide scandal would topple the writer: In the end, Oscar Wilde received in 1895 the stiffest sentence for “grave immorality”: two years of hard labour. He served his time in the prison of Reading in England, famous for being very repressive. The poet suffered tremendously from the conditions of his prison life. Many European intellectuals supported a petition campaigning for his release, but to no avail. His goods were sold. His family moved to Switzerland, and the names of his sons changed to Holland. Robert Ross, however, never stopped visiting him.

Towards the end of his sentence, Oscar Wilde was allowed to write. He wrote a long letter to Alfred Douglas, De Profundis, a text that is strikingly grim. It is also a stinging criticism of Victorian society.

A ruined man, a devastated artist

1897: Oscar Wilde was a free man, but a broken man. He went bankrupt, ruined by the different court cases. Afflicted and alone, he exiled himself in France, in Normandy, and later lived between Paris and Naples, in Italy, with Alfred Douglas. In an attempt to remain anonymous, he went under the pseudonym of Sebastian Melmoth. Oscar Wilde, the destitute dandy, went into decline, abusing drugs and absinthe and leading a depraved life.

He wrote his final work in 1898, The Ballad of Reading Gaol, a long poem on theme of the gruelling experience of a man sentenced to death. He signed it with his prison number C.3.3.

Oscar Wilde died in Paris on 30 November 1900, at the age of just 46, as a result of meningitis (this diagnosis is somewhat controversial). Faithful “Robbie” organised his pauper’s funeral. No more than ten people came to the burial, at Bagneux cemetery.

In 1909, the remains of the renowned dandy were transferred to the famous cemetery of Père-Lachaise. Visitors regularly leave the imprints of red-lipstick kisses on his tomb, and today its glass protective barriers. They symbolise a quote from the writer, who said, in a poignant echo with his own experience in A Woman of No Importance “A kiss may ruin a human life…”. His tomb became a historic monument in 1997.

In 2017, the author of  The Picture of Dorian Gray received an official  pardon from British state.

The tomb of Oscar Wilde in Père-Lachaise

The tomb of Oscar Wilde in Père-Lachaise

Oscar Wilde’s body of work

Critically acclaimed around the world, Oscar Wilde was one of the most talented poets of the 19th century. He left a major body of work behind him. Among his most famous works are the novel The picture of Dorian Gray and his plays An ideal husband, The importance of being Earnest and Lady Windermere’s fan.

Novels and short stories:

Poetry:

  • Ravenna (1878)
  • Poems (1881)
  • Prose poems (1894)
  • The Sphinx (1894)
  • The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1897)

Plays:

  • Vera or The Nihilists (1880)
  • The Duchess of Padua (1883)
  • Salomé (written in French, 1893)
  • The importance of being Earnest (1895)
  • The Holy Courtesane (1893/1908)
  • A Florentine tragedy (1908)
  • An ideal husband (1895)
  • A woman of no importance (1894)
  • Lady Windermere’s fan (1892/1893)

Essays:

  • The truth of masks on Shakespeare (1886)
  • Essays on literature and aesthetics (1886-1890)
  • New essays on literature and aesthetics (1886-1887)
  • Final essays on literature and aesthetics (1887-1890)
  • Intentions (1891)
  • The soul of man under Socialism (1891)

Others:

  • De Profundis, written in prison (1897)
  • The Letters of Oscar Wilde (1960)
  • Epistola in Carcere et Vinculis – De Profundis (1905)
  • Teleny or The Reverse of the Medal (1893)

Oscar Wilde quotes about life

  • “One’s real life is so often the life that one does not lead.”
  • “All ways end at the same point. […] Disillusion.”
  • There are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.”
  • “A well-tied tie is the first serious step in life.”
  • “I put all my genius into my life; I put only my talent into my works.”
  • “To become a work of art is the object of living.”
  • “I love acting.  It is so much more real than life.”
  • “The aim of life is self-development. To realise one’s nature perfectly-that is what each of us is here for.”
  • “To live is the rarest thing in the world.  Most people exist, that is all.”

Oscar Wilde quotes about love and passion

  • “The very essence of romance is uncertainty.”
  • “Those who are faithful know only the trivial side of love: it is the faithless who know love’s tragedies.”
  • “Only love can keep anyone alive.”
  • “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”
  • “What a silly thing love is!  It is not half as useful as logic, for it does not prove anything and it is always telling one things that are not going to happen, and making one believe things that are not true.”
  • “For each man kills the thing he loves,
  • Yet each man does not die.”
  • “It was the passions about whose origin we deceived ourselves that tyrannised most strongly over us.”
  • “The only difference between a caprice and a lifelong passion is that the caprice lasts a little longer.”
  • “Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic.”

Oscar Wilde quotes about women

  • “Women fall into two categories: the ugly and the made-up, mothers being apart.”
  • “Looking for a beautiful, good, intelligent, woman is not looking for one, but three.”
  • “Women are made to be loved, not understood.”
  • “Women defend themselves by attacking, just as they attack by sudden and strange surrenders.”
  • “Woman begins by resisting a man’s advances and ends by blocking his retreat.”
  • “Women have a wonderful instinct about things. They can discover everything except the obvious.”
  • “Women are never disarmed by compliments. Men always are.  That is the difference between the sexes.”
  • “London society is full of women of the very highest birth who have, of their own free choice, remained thirty-five for years.”
  • “A man can be happy with any woman, as long as he doesn’t love her.”
  • “One should never trust a woman who tells her real age. A woman who would tell that would tell anything.”
  • “Women spoil every romance by trying to make it last forever.”
  • “I like men who have a future and women who have a past.”
  • “Smart woman, it lacks the indefinable charm of fragility.”
  • All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That is his.”
  • “London is full of women who trust their husbands. One can always recognise them. They look so thoroughly unhappy.”
  • “Women have a much better time than men in this world; there are far more things forbidden to them.”
  • “Men always want to be a woman’s first love – women like to be a man’s last romance.”
  • “Women are charmingly artificial, but they have no sense of art.”

Oscar Wilde quotes about marriage and family

  • “Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.”
  • “After a good dinner, one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relatives.”
  • “Niagara … is the first disappointment in the married life of many Americans who spend their honeymoon there.”
  • “One should always be in love.  That is the reason one should never marry.”
  • “There is nothing in the world like the devotion of a married woman. It is a thing no married man knows anything about.”
  • “Marriage is the triumph of imagination over intelligence. Second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience.”
  • “Never marry at all…. Men marry because they are tired, women, because they are curious: both are disappointed.”
  • “The proper basis for marriage is mutual misunderstanding.”
  • “The husband is always the last to suspect infidelity of his wife.”

Oscar Wilde quotes about friendship

  • “I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their good characters, and my enemies for their intellects. A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies.”
  • “A true friend stabs you in the front, not the back.”
  • Anybody can sympathize with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathize with a friend’s success.
  • “We have the right to judge a man to the influence he has on his friends.”

Oscar Wilde quotes about time, youth, ageing and death

  • “The one charm about the past is that it is the past.”
  • “No man is rich enough to buy back his past.”
  • “There is a fatality about good resolutions – that they are always made too late.”
  • “The new generation is appalling. I wish to be a part!”
  • “In America the young are always ready to give to those who are older than themselves the full benefits of their inexperience.”
  • “Alas, I am dying beyond my means.”
  • “Never put off till tomorrow, what you can do the day after tomorrow.”
  • “The old believe everything; the middle-aged suspect everything; the young know everything.”
  • “The tragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one is young.”
  • “Young men want to be faithful, and are not. Old men want to be faithless, and cannot.”
  • “When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life. Now that I am old, I know that it is.”
  • “Ah! Realize your youth while you have it. “
  • “Biography lends to death a new terror.”
  • “One can survive everything, nowadays, except death.”
  • “To get back one’s youth one has merely to repeat one’s follies.”

Oscar Wilde quotes about beauty and fashion

  • “Beauty cannot be questioned. It has divine right of sovereignty. It makes princes of those who have it.”
  • “But beauty, real beauty, ends where an intellectual expression begins. Intellect is in itself a mode of exaggeration, and destroys the harmony of any face.”
  • “The beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.”
  • “These are two of the most moving things in life: the ugliness that knows it, and the beauty that ignores it.”
  • “It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.” “The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.”
  • “Nothing is so dangerous as being too modern; one is apt to grow old fashioned quite suddenly.”
  • “Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.”
  • “Fashion is what one wears oneself.  What is unfashionable is what other people wear.”

Oscar Wilde about oneself and others

  • “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”
  • “As for believing things, I can believe anything, provided that it is quite incredible.”
  • “Simple pleasures are the last refuge of the complex.”
  • “I’m a man of simple tastes. I’m always satisfied with the best.”
  • “Whenever people agree with me I always feel I must be wrong.”
  • “I live in terror of not being misunderstood.”
  • “I dislike arguments of any kind. They are always vulgar and often convincing.”
  • “Misfortunes one can endure–they come from outside, they are accidents. But to suffer for one’s own faults–ah!– there is the sting of life.”
  • “Perhaps one never seems so much at one’s ease as when one has to play a part.”
  • “One should always be a little improbable.”
  • “Other’s drama is always unbearably banal.”
  • “I like persons better than principles, and I like persons with no principles better than anything else in the world.”
  • “The wicked are not always punished, nor the good rewarded.”
  • “There are many things that we would throw away if we were not afraid that others might pick them up.”
  • “It is perfectly monstrous the way people go about nowadays saying things against one, behind one’s back, that are absolutely and entirely true.”
  • “A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone’s feelings unintentionally.”
  • “I never forget a face, but I’ll make an exception in your case.”
  • “To speak ill of others is a dishonest way of praising ourselves.”
  • “I always pass on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it. It is never of any use to oneself.”

Oscar Wilde quotes about society

  • “Society often forgives the criminal; it never forgives the dreamer.”
  • “I think God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability.”
  • “Those who try to lead the people can only do so by following the mob.”
  • “As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular.”
  • “There are only two kinds of people who are really fascinating – people who know absolutely everything, and people who know absolutely nothing.”
  • “A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies.”
  • “It is always nice to be expected, and not to arrive.”
  • “Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.”

Oscar Wilde quotes about art, literature and poetry

  • “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all.”
  • “The difference between literature and journalism is that journalism is unreadable and literature is not read.”
  • “It is absurd to have a hard and fast rule on what we should read or not. More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn’t read.”
  • “All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling.”
  • “No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist.”
  • “The English public, as a mass, takes no interest in a work of art until it is told that the work in question is immoral.”
  • “When critics disagree, the artist is in accord with himself.”
  • “Of course the music is a great difficulty. You see, if one plays good music, people don’t listen, and if one plays bad music people don’t talk.”

Oscar Wilde quotes about idealism and truth

  • “A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.”
  • “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
  • “Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and through rebellion.”
  • “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”
  • “Religion does not help me. The faith that others give to what is unseen, I give to what one can touch, and look at.”
  • “The worst vice of a fanatic is his sincerity.”
  • “The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
  • “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”
  • “Even things that are can be proved.”
  • “Like all people who try to exhaust a subject, he exhausted his listeners.”
  • “To define is to limit.”
  • “Scepticism is the beginning of faith.”

Oscar Wilde quotes about money, worth, popularity and success

  • “People know the price of everything and the value of nothing”.
  • “The true perfection of man lies, not in what man has, but in what man is.”
  • “The value of an idea has nothing whatever to do with the sincerity of the man who expresses it.”
  • “There is only one class in the community that thinks more about money than the rich, and that is the poor.”
  • ‘Unless one is wealthy there is no use in being a charming fellow.”
  • “Every effect that one produces gives one an enemy. To be popular one must be a mediocrity.”
  • “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”
  • “The public is wonderfully tolerant.  It forgives everything except genius.”
  • Success is a science. If you have the conditions, you get the result.”
  • “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”

Oscar Wilde quotes about temptation, sinning, morality and immorality

  • “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself…”
  • “I can resist everything except temptation.”
  • “The only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.”
  • “Any fool can make history, but it takes a genius to write it.”
  • “There’s just one horrible thing in the world, only one unforgivable sin: the boredom.”
  • “Duty is what one expects from others, it is not what one does oneself.”
  • “Sin is the only real colour-element left in modern life.”
  • “Humanity takes itself too seriously. It is the world’s original sin.”
  • “Absinthe brings oblivion, but gets paid in migraines. After the first glass you see things as you wish they were. After the second you see them as they are not. Finally you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.”
  • “The commonest thing is delightful if only one hides it.”
  • “I am not at all cynical, I have merely got experience, which, however, is very much the same thing.” “
  • “When the gods choose to punish us, they merely answer our prayers.”
  • “There is a luxury in self-reproach.  When we blame ourselves, we feel that no one else has a right to blame us.”
  • “But then one regrets the loss even of one’s worst habits. Perhaps one regrets them the most.”
  • “Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.”

Oscar Wilde quotes about emotions, scruples and mistakes

  • “It is only shallow people who require years to get rid of an emotion. A man who is master of himself can end a sorrow as easily as he can invent a pleasure.”
  • “Pessimist: One who, when he has the choice of two evils, chooses both.”
  • “I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.”
  • “The advantage of the emotions is that they lead us astray, and the advantage of science is that it is not emotional.”
  • “It is the uncertainty that charms one.  A mist makes things wonderful.”
  • “Pain, unlike Pleasure, wears no mask.”
  • “I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.”
  • “The imagination imitates. It is the critical spirit that creates.”
  • “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.”
  • “Conscience makes egotists of us all.”
  • “Ambition is the last refuge of the failure.”
  • “Being natural is simply a pose, and the most irritating pose I know.”
  • “A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.”

Oscar Wilde quotes about America

  • “America had often been discovered before Columbus, but it had always been hushed up.”
  • “America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilisation in between.”
  • “The youth of America is their oldest tradition. It has been going on now for three hundred years.”
  • “We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language.”

What about you, do you know any other quotes by Oscar Wilde? Why not share them in the comments and tell us what they inspire for you!

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