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How Oscar Wilde evolved from poet and playwright to symbol of martyrdom and individualism

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As Sturgis reminds us, Oscar was always a golden boy. His parents, Sir William Wilde, a distinguished eye surgeon, and his mother, a noted woman of letters nicknamed Speranza, hosted Dublin’s leading artistic salon. At Oxford, where Wilde lost his Irish brogue and earned a double-first degree, he had first hearkened to the gospel of John Ruskin, prophet of art’s social and moral force, but later transferred his allegiance to Walter Pater, who extolled personal intensity, self-realization and style. Desperate to be famous, Wilde then settled in London, where the increasingly flamboyant dandy paid court to society hostesses, major “influencers” and international beauties like actress Sarah Bernhardt. Still, as Sturgis reminds us, when he wed Constance Lloyd, it was a true love match — at least until Wilde began to practice what he’d hitherto mainly read about.

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