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5 Must-Read Oscar Wilde Books: Where to Start Reading

We recommend starting with one of these five excellent books.

Last Updated on April 19, 2024 by BiblioLifestyle

Oscar Wilde Books - Where To Start Reading

Oscar Wilde, a name synonymous with wit, flamboyance, and literary brilliance, has left an indelible mark on the world of literature.  A playwright, novelist, and poet, Wilde’s works explore themes of societal norms, personal freedom, and the enduring struggle between art and morality.  Whether you’re a seasoned literature enthusiast or a novice reader taking your first plunge into classic literature, delving into Oscar Wilde books is an enriching experience.  This guide aims to help beginners navigate the literary landscape of Oscar Wilde books, highlighting where to start your journey and offering a curated list of his must-read works.

About Oscar Wilde

Who was Oscar Wilde?

Oscar Wilde, in full Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1854, to a prominent family.  He attended Trinity College, Dublin, and later moved to London to study at Oxford.  Wilde was known for his flamboyant style, dandy dress, and sharp wit.  He wrote several plays, a novel, and countless poems.  He was married to Constance Wilde and had two children.  However, his life took a tragic turn when he was imprisoned for homosexuality, which was a crime in England at the time.  Unfortunately, he contracted meningitis while in prison and passed away on November 30, 1900, at the age of 46.

What is Oscar Wilde most famous for?

Oscar Wilde is most famous for his wit and mastery of the English language, which he adeptly translated into his works.  He’s particularly acclaimed for his novel, ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray,’ a haunting exploration of aestheticism and morality, and his plays, such as ‘The Importance of Being Earnest,’ which are filled with his signature humor and social commentary.  However, his fame is not limited to his literary contributions.  Wilde’s life, marked by flamboyance, controversy, and ultimately, tragedy, added to his iconic status.  His imprisonment for homosexuality, considered a crime during his time, and his death in destitution have further emphasized his enduring influence as a symbol for the defiance of societal norms.

About Oscar Wilde Books

What is Oscar Wilde’s most famous writing?

Oscar Wilde’s most famous writing is arguably his novel ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray.’  This work, published in 1890, is a philosophical novel that explores themes of aesthetics, morality, and self-indulgence.  It tells the tale of a young man, Dorian Gray, who retains his youthful beauty while a portrait of him ages and shows the damage caused by his immoral actions.  The novel is acclaimed for its witty dialogue and Wilde’s profound observations about art and morality.  It continues to be widely read and studied, and its cultural impact is evident in its numerous adaptations in films, television, and literature.

Where should I start reading Oscar Wilde’s books?

If you’re just getting started with Oscar Wilde’s work, it can be intimidating to decide where to begin.  I recommend starting with his most famous novel, ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray.’  This is his only novel and a masterpiece of gothic horror.  It is a classic that explores morality, vanity, and art in an intriguing way.  Another recommended starting point is his play, ‘The Importance of Being Earnest.’  The play is a witty and humorous satire on high society norms and the necessity of leading a double life.  The play is widely regarded as his best work and a classic of the English stage.

The Ultimate Oscar Wilde Book List

5 Must-Read Oscar Wilde Books

For readers looking to explore Oscar Wilde books, here is a list of five must-read books:

  • The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • The Importance of Being Earnest
  • Lady Windermere’s Fan
  • An Ideal Husband
  • De Profundis
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

“The Picture of Dorian Gray” is a captivating novel penned by Oscar Wilde that dives deep into themes of aesthetics, morality, and hedonism.  The story revolves around the life of Dorian Gray, an attractive young man who becomes the subject of a portrait by artist Basil Hallward.  After becoming aware of his beauty through the painting and a realization that it will fade, Dorian expresses a wish, which mysteriously gets granted, that the portrait ages while he retains his youth and beauty.  Emboldened by his perpetual youth, Dorian embarks on a life of debauchery and immoral acts, all of which leave their marks on the portrait rather than on him.  The novel is a stark examination of vanity, the pursuit of pleasure, and the consequences faced when one abandons ethical living.

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The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

“The Importance of Being Earnest” is a celebrated play by Oscar Wilde, often regarded as his magnum opus.  The play is a comedic tour de force revolving around two friends, Jack Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff, who lead double lives to escape their societal obligations.  They both adopt the pseudonym ‘Ernest’ in their alternate identities, courting their respective love interests, Gwendolen Fairfax and Cecily Cardew.  The story unfolds into a hilarious and satirical commentary on Victorian social mores, love, and the importance of being ‘earnest.’  Wilde’s razor-sharp wit and clever wordplay are on full display in this play, making it a timeless classic of the English stage.

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Lady Windermere's Fan by Oscar Wilde

Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde

“Lady Windermere’s Fan” is another notable play by Oscar Wilde that subtly critiques the Victorian morals and social hypocrisies of the era.  The story revolves around a woman named Lady Windermere who suspects her husband is having an affair with a mysterious older woman, Mrs. Erlynne.  In a surprising turn of events, it is revealed that Mrs. Erlynne is actually Lady Windermere’s long-lost mother, who had been ousted from society due to her own scandalous affair.  The play masterfully explores themes of reputation, perception, and female morality within the constraints of societal norms, all infused with Wilde’s characteristic wit and humor.

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An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde

An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde

“An Ideal Husband” is a comedic play by Oscar Wilde that explores the themes of love, marriage, politics, and morality within the high society of Victorian England.  The story revolves around Sir Robert Chiltern, a respected politician with a seemingly perfect life, who is blackmailed by the cunning Mrs. Cheveley over a past indiscretion.  Sir Robert had sold a Cabinet secret which made him wealthy.  Mrs. Cheveley wishes to gain personal profit from a shady business deal and threatens to expose Sir Robert unless he supports her scheme.  The plot thickens when Sir Robert’s wife, Lady Chiltern, who idolizes him for his sterling character, learns about his past.  The story unfolds with clever twists, exploring the idea that nobody is truly an ‘ideal husband’ or ‘perfect wife.’  Wilde’s signature wit is showcased throughout the play, making it a humorous and insightful commentary on the standards and hypocrisies of Victorian society.

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De Profundis by Oscar Wilde

De Profundis by Oscar Wilde

“De Profundis” is a poignant and introspective letter written by Oscar Wilde during his incarceration in Reading Gaol.  Directed towards his former lover Lord Alfred Douglas (“Bosie”), the epistle delves into Wilde’s spiritual journey during his imprisonment.  It reflects on his past lifestyle, the nature of suffering, and the transformative power of hardship.  Wilde contemplates the vanity and superficiality that marked his life before prison and how his experiences behind bars have led him to a profound self-realization and spiritual rebirth.  Remarkably introspective, “De Profundis” is a touching exploration of remorse, love, and the human capacity for growth and redemption.

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Oscar Wilde Books - Where To Start Reading

Frequently Asked Questions about Oscar Wilde

Why should we read Oscar Wilde?

Reading Oscar Wilde’s works offers an opportunity to delve into the mind of one of literature’s most intriguing figures.  Wilde’s sharp wit and profound insights into human nature make his works enjoyable and deeply thought-provoking.  His exploration of themes like aesthetics, morality, societal expectations, and the complexities of human relationships are timeless, providing readers with a chance to reflect on their own behaviors and the norms of society.  Moreover, Wilde’s unique narrative style, characterized by elegant prose and clever dialogue, is a masterclass in the art of writing.  Reading his works not only entertains but also offers a better understanding of the societal issues of his time, many of which remain pertinent today.

Why was Oscar Wilde unique?

Oscar Wilde was unique in many respects.  His style of writing, filled with wit, satire, and humor, was unlike any other author of his time.  He had an uncanny ability to weave complex themes of morality, vanity, and societal norms into engaging and often humorous narratives.  Wilde’s flamboyant personality and outspokenness, both in his works and his personal life, were also notable in an era marked by convention and restraint.  His willingness to challenge societal norms and his fearless exploration of controversial topics, such as homosexuality, at a time when these were largely taboo, sets him apart.  His ability to find beauty even in his own trials and tribulations, as evident in ‘De Profundis,’ also speaks to his unique spirit.  Ultimately, Oscar Wilde was a singular figure in literature, one whose influence continues to be felt today.

Is Oscar Wilde respected?

Absolutely, Oscar Wilde is widely respected not only for his literary contributions but also for his unique personality and the way he lived his life.  He is considered one of the greatest playwrights in the history of the English language, and his works, particularly ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ and ‘The Importance of Being Earnest,’ are celebrated for their wit, satire, and insightful social commentary.  His courage in expressing his identity and challenging the norms of his time, though it led to his fall, has been recognized and appreciated in the years following his death.  Many also admire his resilience and his ability to produce profound and moving work such as ‘De Profundis’ even in adversity.  Today, Wilde’s quotes are widely shared for their wit and wisdom, attesting to his enduring influence and the respect he continues to command.

What caused Oscar Wilde’s death?

Oscar Wilde’s death was caused by meningitis, a severe infection that causes inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.  He contracted this illness during his imprisonment.  After his release, his health continued to decline, and he passed away in a hotel in Paris on November 30, 1900.  It’s worth noting that during Wilde’s time, medical understanding and treatments were not as advanced as they are today, thus the disease, which might be more effectively managed or treated in the current era, led to his untimely death at the age of 46.

Oscar Wilde’s life and work have left an indelible mark on literature and society.  He was a writer who used his wit and charm to impact the world, and his works remain relevant today.  Whether you’re new to his work or a long-time fan, we hope this guide helps you appreciate the life and legacy of Oscar Wilde.  From The Picture of Dorian Gray to De Profundis, there is no shortage of Wilde’s work to explore, and we highly recommend that you dive in and get lost in his wit and wisdom.

What do you think about these Oscar Wilde books?

Have you read any Oscar Wilde books?  Are any of these books or his other works on your TBR?   What Oscar Wilde books are your favorite?  What other Oscar Wilde books would you add to this list?  Let us talk all about Oscar Wilde in the comments below.

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The Ultimate Oscar Wilde Book List

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