Oscar Wilde is easily one of the most recognizable names in literature, just as he would have wanted. While his work was met with general acclaim during his lifetime, today Wilde is considered one of the most famous writers in the British literary canon. Besides his plays, short fiction, and novel, he is also known for his epigrams. Today, we take a closer look at Wilde's career and present to you fifteen of his best and funniest phrases.
Wilde was born in Dublin in 1854 to two successful writers. His mother, lady Jane Wilde wrote popular Nationalist poetry while his father, Lord William Wilde was a practicing oto-ophthalmologist who wrote books on archaeology and folklore.
Wilde received an excellent education from a young age and eventually went on to study first at Trinity College, and then at Oxford where he had earned a competitive fellowship. While the focus of his study was Greek, Wilde would instead make his mark on the literary world.
After graduation he embarked on a series of lectures, having failed to secure a position in the classics department at Oxford, and eventually published his first book, which collected and expanded upon the work he had been publishing in journals since he was in Trinity College. The work was mostly well-received, though some critics called it tame (an accusation that seems unlikely considering Wilde's later reputation) and accused Wilde of plagiarism.
Wilde went on to work as editor of The Women's World magazine and found considerable successes as an editor. He was eventually drawn away from the journal by the increasing success of his own plays and short fiction, as well as his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, one of his most well-known and enduring works.
A social and critical success, Wilde's work was exceedingly popular during his time, particularly his social comedy plays, though his novel was notably darker yet well-received. However, it was at one of his comedies, The Importance of Being Earnest, that Wilde's luck began to turn. Wilde had been engaged in an affair with Lord Alfred Douglas, which prompted a feud with his father, Lord Queensberry. Wilde banned Queensberry from seeing the play and Queensberry retaliated with a formal accusation of sodomy. The resulting court cases, as well as others stemming from these events, eventually landed Wilde in Newgate Prison, and later, Reading Gaol.
While in prison, he wrote letters to Douglas he was not allowed to send, but later compiled them into what would become his last work: The Ballad of Reading Gaol. He was in prison for two years and died just three years later. Finally, in 2017, Wilde was officially posthumously pardoned under the Policing and Crimes Act of 2017, colloquially known as the Alan Turing Law, which decriminalized homosexual acts that had previously been illegal.
Wilde was one of 50,000 men pardoned. Though the end of his career was marked with tragedy, one the best ways to remember Wilde is by honoring what he was most proud of: his wit. Here are some of his funniest epigrams:
"I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.”
“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.”
“Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much.”
"I have nothing to declare except my genius.”
“It is better to be beautiful than to be good. But… it is better to be good than to be ugly.”
“Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about.”
“There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”
“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”
"Whenever people agree with me I always feel I must be wrong.”
"I can resist everything except temptation.”
“True friends stab you in the front.”
“I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.”
“There is nothing so difficult to marry as a large nose.”
"Everything in moderation, including moderation."
"To get back my youth, I would do anything in the world except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable."