The Chapter Oscars Parents English Literature Essay

"The more one analyses people, the more reasons for analysis disappear. Sooner or later one comes to that dreadful universal thing called human nature."

--Oscar Wilde

The quote may have faint resemblance to a disclaimer, but holds strong relevance to our attempt to learn about one of the great lives that has contributed to humanity. Coming back to the quote, well those were the words of Oscar Wilde; we chose to open with this quote with the purpose to abide by its words. We are not here to analyse anyone, and we believe in the universality of human nature. After all, we are all the ‘SAME’ but yet ‘DIFFERENT’.

To begin with let’s travel back in time: Ireland mid - 1845

In Ireland, between 1845 and 1852 there was a period of mass starvation, disease and emigration. It was called Gorta Mór the Irish name for the ‘Great Famine’. It was the time when many Irish nationals emigrated to USA and parts of Europe. This period was also called ‘an Drochshaol’, the Irish word for bad times. But as they say, like good times, bad times don’t last forever and there is sunshine after the rain.

Come 16th October 1854, and sunshine named Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born to Jane Francesca Elgee and William Robert Wills Wilde, at Westland Row. The second offspring of the Wildes - Oscar Wilde. Apparently, today all the houses alongside of Westland Row are owned by Trinity College. Although the buildings are currently undergoing restoration, the Provost and the Board of Trinity College have agreed to preserve and refurbish them in the 1850s period style to commemorate the achievements of Oscar Wilde who was one of the university’s most famous students.

Did you notice it takes six seconds to say the complete name of Oscar Wilde? Well, until the mid-17th century, there was no practice of having a middle name. Gradually with the passage of time the mid-18th century saw this trend among the aristocrat and the wealthy. The English-speaking upper class families began giving middle name to their new born and over a period of time, some families fancied having more than one. The advantages of having a middle name were to make your lineage known and to distinguish people with similar names.

Oscar Wilde was christened by his uncle, his father’s brother Reverend Ralph Wilde on 26th April 1855 in St. Mark’s Church. In accordance with the words of the character Lord Henry Wotton in Oscar’s novel ‘The Pictures of Dorian Gray’, "names are everything," the poet mother and doctor father of Oscar Wilde made sure that the names of their children were given utmost substance of reason. In case of Oscar Wilde, he had three middle names – Fingal O’Flahertie Wills.

His mother called him Oscár while the three middle names had a good reason to follow the first name – Oscar and to stop before his last name – Wilde. Fingal was an Irish legend. Whereas O’Flahertie was added out of respect to his father William Wilde’s genealogical connections to the Galwegian family, it goes something like this; apparently, O Flaithbherartaigh was the most popular name among Galway families and was also the name of the pre-Norman kings of West Connacht. The Galway burgesses had a famous prayer that went, "From the wild O’Flaherties good Lord deliver us!" Wills, the third middle name was taken from the family name of the playwright W.G. Wills.

The interesting part is the way he signed his name. One of Oscar’s fellow students at Oxford recalls Oscar’s signature to be O.O’F. Wills Wilde. While in Trinity College, he initialled himself O.F.O.F.W.W.

Chapter Oscar’s parents

The poet mama of Oscar Wilde – Jane Francesca Wilde was generally known as Lady Wilde. Born on 27th December 1821, Jane grew up to be a poet and a supporter of Irish nationalist movement. She was the youngest of the four children of Charles Elgee and Sarah Elgee. Her father was a solicitor from Wexford and her great-grandfather was an Italian who immigrated to Wexford in the 18th century.

Young Jane was brought up in a strictly Protestant and Conservative setting. Her parents had no interest in national aspirations. It was only until Miss Jane Elgee was 18 that she read ‘The Nation’ and got absorbed by the spirit of nationalism. Under the pen name "Speranza" which means Hope, she wrote some inflammatory political poems and letters that were published in The Nation. She was an active member of Young Ireland movement and so her works were pro-Irish and anti-British. She not only wrote some of the rousing patriotic verse, but also revolutionary prose. "Jacta Alea Est" (The Die is Cast) is a fine example of such prose. Its printing on the 29th July 1848 was suppressed and it was said to have provoked an armed revolt.

Apart from verse and prose in English, Lady Wilde also had a line of published translations from French, German, Spanish, Danish, Russian, Portuguese, Turkish and Swedish writers both in prose and poetry. In November 1851, she married Sir William Wilde and made a family giving birth to three kids, first a son, William Robert Kingsbury Wills Wilde, second, another son Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde and third, a daughter, Isola Francesca Emily Wilde.

After her first born baby boy, she would have preferred a baby girl to Oscar. Taking this preference seriously she raised him as a girl until the age of seven. You can see pictures of little Oscar dressed as girl. As a couple, the nearly six feet tall Lady Wilde and the average heighted Sir William Wilde made quite an uncommon pair in those times. She would hold a Literary Salon on Saturdays at her homes and had all social, literary and artistic celebrities visit her. Some of the visitors included Sheridan le Fanu (an Irish writer of Gothic tales and mystery novels), George Petrie (Irish artist, archaeologist and antiquarian), Samuel Lever, Isaac Butt (regarded as the founder of the Home Rule Movement in Ireland) and Samuel Ferguson (an Irish poet, barrister, antiquarian, artist and public servant). Lady Wilde regularly wrote to her friends about her family and work, about which we will learn during the course of Oscar’s biography.

The doctor papa – William Robert Wilde born in March 1815 in a middle-class family, was the son of a physician, grandson of a farmer and great grandson of a Dublin merchant. At the time of his birth, the family lived in County Roscommon, at Kilkeevin near Castlerea. He was the youngest of the two sons and three daughters of Thomas and Amelia Wilde. Two of their three sons became priests of ‘Church of Ireland’ while William chose to follow his father’s profession. William received his initial education at the Elphin Diocesan School in Elphin. He was seventeen years old when he joined the pre-eminent Irish surgeon of the day, Dr Abraham Colles as an apprentice at Dr Steeven’s Hospital, Dublin. He studied at the private and highly respected school of anatomy, medicine, and surgery. After five years of studies in medicine, in 1837, William earned his medical degree and much after that he ran his own eye and ear hospital, the ‘St. Mark’s Opthalmic Hospital’ in Dublin.

Besides writing books on eye surgery, he is known to have written ‘The Beauties of the Boyne’ in 1849. The book received laudatory review in The Nation, any guesses as to who reviewed this book? Well, it was none other than Speranza, "Yes", by Ms Jane Elgee, it is said that probably they hit it off from here. Before his marriage to Jane Elgee, William had fathered three children, one boy and two girls, with different parentage. He was 23 when his first illegitimate child, a boy was born. William named him Henry Wilson, the boy was followed by two girls from different parentage, Emily was born in 1847 and Mary in 1849. As the girls were adopted by Sir William’s eldest brother Rev. Ralph Wilde, they bore the surname Wilde.

Later in the career of Sir Wilde, Henry Wilson his son assisted him in his practice. Henry had been trained in Dublin, Vienna, Heidelberg, Berlin, and Paris. Apparently, not much could be said about Emily and Mary. Prior to a party, in course of flaunting their ball room dresses one of the girls went too close to open fire. In the rescue process both the sisters were engulfed by the flames. The tombstone of these girls dated 18th November 1871, also bore the name of Isola the legitimate daughter of Sir Wilde engraved on it, who had died four years before them.

Some of William’s achievements include, being appointed as the Surgeon Oculist to the Queen in Ireland in 1863 and being conferred the knighthood at the Dublin Castle in the following year. He also wrote medical books such as ‘Epidemic Ophthalmia’ (1851) and ‘Aural Surgery’ (1853).

The eye and ear doctor had trained his eye on Irish archaeological remains and his ear on folklore. He catalogued the great collection of antiquities so adeptly that it found a place in the National Museum of Ireland. As far as his ear for folklore was concerned, he would collect superstitions, legends, cures and charms from his peasant patients. In fact, he would not charge them but instead, learn about a new folklore. He also amassed medical data for his books on Austria and Mediterranean coast. As the result, when the census of Ireland was to be undertaken, the census commissioner appointed William Wilde to organise the collection of medical information. William Wilde was one of the credible names in the circle of medicine. King Karl XV of Sweden conferred on him the title "Nordstjärneorden" (Order of the North Star). There are medical terms named after Sir William Wilde like: Wilde’s incision, Wilde’s cone of light and Wilde’s cords used in the world of medicine.

Did you know?

William Wilde performed an eye surgery on the father of the famous Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw.

Lady Wilde was conversant with her husband’s past. Past about William’s illegitimate children, but then who doesn’t have a past! It was said that Lady Wilde, before marriage, had a fascination for Isaac Butt. In one of her writings she called him, "the Mirabeau of Young Ireland movement." It is said that in her 60s she quoted these words to a young man, "When you are as old as I, young man, you will know there is only one thing in the world worth living for, and that is sin."

Talking about sin, a long time patient of Lady Wilde’s husband, Mary Travers had alleged that Sir William dosed her with chloroform and then raped her. Mary Travers produced the letters which Sir William had written to her and won a favourable verdict.

This was about Oscar’s papa and mama we now begin with the chapter Oscar in the biographical book of Oscar Wilde.

Chapter Oscar

After a few months of Oscar’s birth in October 1854 at 21 Westland Row, the Wildes, moved into a new house – No. 1 Merrion Square in 1855. The new home was larger and spacious enough to become a hangout for the Wilde couples’ medicine and artist friends on Saturday. Little Oscar was two years old when he and his brother were blessed with a sister. Their mother would read to them the Young Icelanders’ poetry, to inculcate in them a love ‘OF’ these poets.

Till the age of nine Oscar received the traditional education, the home schooling. He had a French bonne and a German governess who taught him their languages. The Wilde siblings were having an affluent upbringing. However, the boys would scarcely obey the governess, but would never disobey their mom. In May 1863, Willie was put in a school near Dublin, at St Columbia’s College and very soon Oscar was to join his brother.

Everything was hunky-dory until the year 1864. This year for the Wilde family turned out to be the year of high-and-low. Their father William Wilde was conferred the knighthood at the Dublin Castle and the kids out of love and respect would address their dad as Sir Wilde. The boys were approaching their adolescence and the youngest one Isola was just seven years old. All was well and then the family was hit by the Mary Traver crisis that disturbed the peace of the house. The Traver’s case kept Lady Wilde busy for most of the time so she decided to send the boys to boarding school. Another reason for doing that was: she did not want her boys to go through the unpleasant situation that the family was going through. Thus in February 1864, both the boys were sent to the Portora Royal School in Enniskillen.