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The Best 18 Books by Oscar Wilde [PDF]

In this opportunity we have prepared a selection of the best books by Oscar Wilde in PDF format. But before we continue, we will tell you a little about his life and work so that you become familiar with this phenomenal writer.

Oscar Wilde was born on October 16, 1854 in Dublin – Ireland. He died on November 30, 1900 in Paris – France.

Wilde was born to professional and literary parents. His father, Sir William Wilde, was Ireland’s leading oto-ophthalmologic surgeon, who also published books on archaeology, folklore and the satirist writer Jonathan Swift. His mother, who wrote under the name Speranza, was a revolutionary poet and an authority on Celtic myths and folklore.

After attending the Portora Royal School, Enniskillen (1864-1871), Wilde was awarded successive scholarships to Trinity College, Dublin (1871-1874) and Magdalen College, Oxford (1874-1878), which awarded him a degree with honors. During these four years, he distinguished himself not only as a clever classical scholar and poseur but also as a poet by winning the coveted Newdigate Prize in 1878 with a long poem, Ravenna.

In 1884 Wilde married Constance Lloyd, daughter of a prominent Irish lawyer; in 1885 and 1886 two sons, Cyril and Vyvyan, were born. Meanwhile, Wilde was a critic for the Pall Mall Gazette and later became editor of Woman’s World (1887-1889). During this period of apprenticeship as a writer, he published «The Happy Prince and Other Tales», which revealed his gift for romantic allegory in fairy tale form.

In the last decade of his life, Wilde wrote and published almost all of his major works. In his only novel, «The Picture of Dorian Gray», Wilde combined the supernatural elements of the Gothic novel with the unspeakable sins of French decadent fiction. But Wilde’s greatest successes were his comedies of society.

Accused of being a sodomite, Wilde filed a libel suit. However, Wilde’s case collapsed when the evidence went against him and he withdrew the suit. His friends urged him to flee to France, but Wilde refused, unable to believe that his world was ending. He was arrested and ordered to stand trial.

Wilde testified brilliantly, but the jury was unable to reach a verdict. On retrial he was convicted and sentenced, in May 1895, to two years’ hard labor. He served most of his sentence in Reading Gaol, where he wrote a long letter to Douglas (his couple) full of recriminations against the young man for encouraging him to dissipation and distracting him from his work.

In May 1897, Wilde was released from prison, bankrupt, and immediately left for France, hoping to regenerate as a writer. However, his only remaining work was «The Ballad of Reading Gaol», which reveals his preoccupation with inhumane prison conditions. Despite constant money problems, he maintained an unwavering joy of soul that sustained him, and was visited by such faithful friends as Max Beerbohm and Robert Ross, later his literary executor.

He also met with Douglas. He died suddenly of acute meningitis brought on by an ear infection. In his last moments of semi-consciousness, he was received in the Roman Catholic Church, which he had always admired.

1) Ravenna

Ravenna author Oscar Wilde

Ravenna is a poem written in March 1877 and published a year later. Wilde used this composition to enter the English poetry competition Newdigate, winning the prize. In addition, it was recited at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford on June 26, 1878.

In the spring of 1877 Wilde spent a vacation in Mediterranean Europe, a trip that enriched his worldview and provided him with themes for other writings. He visited places such as Greece and Italy, and during his stay in the latter country he visited the city of Ravenna, which inspired the poem.

This poem narrates a person’s encounter with the city, expressing his impressions of what he learns about it in the course of the trip. Ravenna was one of the main works of the writer who won the recognition of the people.

2) Poems

Poems author Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde was a controversial figure for his time, he was involved in controversies and even spent some time in jail due to his sentimental and sexual preferences. But he is not only remembered as a social icon, he is also recognized for his wit and narrative, aspects that made him stand out in literary society.

He achieved recognition for his outstanding facet as a playwright although he was also a great poet, receiving prestigious awards thanks to compositions such as Ravenna. In his poems he emphasized beauty, a theme that always captivated him.

This collection of more than 200 pages invites us to know and enjoy the prose of this writer. It includes short poems such as A Fragment, A Lament or A Villanelle and other long poems such as Ave Imperatrix or Charmides.

3) The Canterville Ghost

The Canterville Ghost author Oscar Wilde

The house where The Canterville Ghost inhabits was the old Canterville Chase, which has all the trappings of a traditional haunted house. Descriptions of the wood paneling, the black oak-paneled library, and the hallway armor characterize the setting.

Wilde mixes the macabre with comedy, juxtaposing the traditional devices of English ghost stories, such as creaking floorboards, sound chains, and ancient prophecies.

The story begins when American minister Mr. Otis and his family move into Canterville Chase, despite Lord Canterville’s warnings that the house is haunted.

4) The Selfish Giant

The Selfish Giant author Oscar Wilde

The Selfish Giant is a short story about a giant who went on vacation for seven years. He has a garden and a castle. While he was away, the children in his neighborhood visited his flowers and trees and played in his garden.

However, the giant returned. While the children were talking, they heard a booming sound that made them jump up and leave the garden immediately. When the giant saw the children, he chased them away from his garden, built a high wall and posted a notice saying, «trespassers will be pursued». Because of the giant’s selfish act, spring disappeared and the elements of winter came in, snowflakes, hail, wind and frost.

5) The Happy Prince and Other Tales

The Happy Prince and Other Tales author Oscar Wilde

In a city where there are many suffering poor people, a swallow who stayed behind after his flock flew to Egypt for the winter, encounters the statue of the late “Happy Prince”, who has never experienced true sadness, as he lived in a palace where he was not allowed to enter sadness.

Seeing various scenes of people suffering in poverty from his high monument, the The Happy Prince asks the swallow to remove the ruby from his hilt, the sapphires from his eyes and the gold leaf covering his body to give to the poor.

6) The nightingale and the rose

The nightingale and the rose author Oscar Wilde

The nightingale and the rose tells the story of a student who falls in love with a girl to whom he must give a red rose to dance with him. Unfortunately, the student does not find it.

A nightingale hears the student’s cry and, because he loves him, immediately starts looking for a red rose. Finally, he finds a red rose bush, but it will not produce a single flower unless the nightingale sings its song all night and then pokes his heart into one of its thorns.

The death of the nightingale produces a red rose and the student is very happy. He takes it to the girl, but she sends him away because the rose does not match her dress. Moreover, she is now courted by the chamberlain’s nephew, who has sent her jewels. The student, angry, declares that love is «nonsense» and returns to his books.

7) The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray author Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray is about a full-length oil portrait of Basil Hallward, an artist impressed and in love with Dorian’s beauty; he believes that Dorian’s beauty is responsible for his new state of mind as a painter. Through Basil, Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton, and is soon captivated by the aristocrat’s hedonistic worldview: that beauty and sensual satisfaction are the only things worth pursuing in life.

Realizing that his beauty will fade, Dorian expresses the desire to sell his soul to ensure that the image, instead of him, will grow old and fade. The wish is granted, and Dorian leads a riotous life of varied amoral experiences while remaining young and beautiful; all the while, his portrait ages and records every sin.

8) The Soul of Man under Socialism

The Soul of Man under Socialism author Oscar Wilde

The Soul of Man under Socialism is an essay in which Wilde lays out a worldview of libertarian socialism and a critique of charity.

In the book, Wilde argues that, under capitalism, «most people ruin their lives with unhealthy and exaggerated altruism, are compelled, in fact, to spoil them»: instead of realizing their true talents, they waste their time solving social problems caused by capitalism, without eliminating their common cause.

Therefore, people who care «set themselves seriously and very sentimentally to the task of remedying the evils they see in poverty, but their remedies do not cure the disease: they merely prolong it».

9) A House of Pomegranates

A House of Pomegranates author Oscar Wilde

A House of Pomegranates is a collection of fairy tales that was published in 1891 as a second collection or continuation of «The Happy Prince and Other Tales».

Regarding this work, the Irish writer once said that this collection was «intended neither for the British child nor for the British public».

The tales included in this collection are as follows:

The Young King

The Birthday of the Infanta

The Fisherman and His Soul

The Star-Child

10) Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories

Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories author Oscar Wilde

Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime and Other Stories is a book of short stories first published in 1891, it includes 4 stories. The first one is «Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime» from late 1887, which has as its main character Lord Arthur Savile who is read his palm by Mr. Septimus R. Podgers and told that his destiny is to be a murderer.

The second is the well-known «The Canterville Ghost» from 1887, which was Wilde’s first published story. It tells the story of an American family that buys Canterville Chase despite knowing it is haunted.

It is followed by «The Sphinx without a Secret» from 1887, where Lord Murchison tells a friend the story of a woman he had loved. The last story, «The Model Millionaire» from 1887, features Hughie Erskine, who is in love and wants to get married, but because he has no money, his lover’s father prevents him from doing so.

11) Intentions

Intentions author Oscar Wilde

Intentions, first published in 1891, brings together a collection of Wilde’s essays on topics such as literature, art and society, revealing his characteristic witty and extravagant narrative.

In the first essay, “The Decay of Lying”, the author criticizes the so-called modern literary realists, who in the British writer’s perception did nothing but stifle the imagination, since for him art was: invention, imagination and dream.

In “Pen, Pencil and Poison”, he makes an appreciation of the life of painter and art critic Thomas Griffiths Wainewright. On the other hand, “The Critic as Artist” exposes the critic as a virtuous interpreter, becoming as much an artist as the artist himself. Finally, “The Truth of Masks” focuses on Shakespeare’s use of masks, disguises and costumes.

12) Lady Windermere's Fan

Lady Windermere's Fan author Oscar Wilde

In Lady Windermere’s Fan Oscar Wilde shows his facet as a playwright. This play of comedy subgenre and divided into 4 acts was premiered in February 1829 at the St. James Theater. Its premiere was followed by a speech by Wilde.

The story centers on Lady Windermere, who receives information that her husband may be having an affair with another woman (Mrs. Erlynne). Outraged, Lady Windermere decides to confront him, demanding explanations and the truth, to which he rejects the accusations. Feeling betrayed, she decides to leave him to follow Lord Darlington, who has just confessed his love.

After learning what happened, Mrs. Erlynne goes in search of Lady Windermere to convince her to return to her husband. As the plot unfolds, conflicts arise between the characters and secrets involving the two women are revealed.

13) A Woman of No Importance

A Woman of No Importance author Oscar Wilde

This play in 3 acts was premiered on April 19, 1893 at the Haymarket Theatre in London. In it Wilde satirizes the English upper class and the banality of their conversations. The play is set in an English country house, so its acts unfold as follows: Act I The Terrace at Hunstanton Chase, Act II Drawing room at Hunstanton and Act III The Hall at Hunstanton Chase.

Among its characters we have Lady Caroline and her husband Sir John, Lady Hunstanton’s American guest Hester Worsley, Lord Illingworth, who has offered the position of secretary to Gerald Arbuthnot and the latter’s mother.

In A Woman of No Importance, themes such as honor and social prejudice are addressed, while dramatic events from the past of some of the characters are revealed.

14) The Sphinx

The Sphinx author Oscar Wilde

The Sphinx is a 174-line poem written over 20 years. Wilde began writing it in 1874, the year he arrived at Oxford as a student, and it was finally completed and published in 1894.

It is written from the point of view of a young man interrogating a Sphinx that stood in a “dark corner of the room”, a mythical creature of destruction that was depicted with the face of a woman, the body of a lion and the wings of a bird.

Today it is considered one of Wilde’s most haunting poems and his finest Decadent poem. Its narrative is surrounded by a magical atmosphere in which various creatures and gods of different mythological and religious beliefs are invoked. Therefore, to understand the poem in depth it is necessary to know the concepts behind these gods and creatures.

15) The Importance of Being Earnest

The Importance of Being Earnest author Oscar Wilde

The Importance of Being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People is a play divided into 3 or 4 acts written in 1895 and premiered on February 14 of the same year at St. James’ Theatre in London, three months before Wilde was sentenced to prison for indecency.

This comedy is a satire of the customs and social conventions of late Victorian London and is characterized by treating with great triviality such serious institutions as marriage.

In this play the protagonists maintain fictitious characters to avoid heavy social obligations, as is the case of Jack Worthing and Ernest, his fictitious brother. Take the opportunity to read the last comedy written by Wilde that is considered one of his best works.

16) An Ideal Husband

An Ideal Husband author Oscar Wilde

An Ideal Husband is a play in four acts that premiered in January 1895 at the Haymarket Theatre in London. The acts unfold as follows: Act I The octagon room in Sir Robert Chiltern’s house in Grosvenor Square, act II Morning room in Sir Robert Chiltern’s house, act III The library of Lord Goring’s house in Curzon Street and act IV same as act II.

The plot revolves around political corruption and blackmail. Sir Robert Chiltern, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, is a man respected by English high society and his peers in the House of Commons thanks to his integrity and honesty, but he hides a secret about the dishonest origin of his fortune.

For her part, Mrs. Cheveley, a woman whose reputation is not unimpeachable, blackmails Sir Robert Chiltern into revealing his secret unless he helps her to carry out another dishonest operation.

17) The Ballad of Reading Gaol

The Ballad of Reading Gaol author Oscar Wilde

The The Ballad of Reading Gaol is a poem written in exile at Berneval-le-Grand, following Wilde’s release from Reading Gaol. Wilde had been imprisoned in Reading after being convicted of gross indecency with other men in 1895 and sentenced to two years’ hard labor in prison.

The poem narrates Wooldridge’s execution; it moves from objective narrative to a symbolic identification with prisoners in general. No attempt is made to evaluate the justice of the laws that condemned them; rather, the poem emphasizes the brutality of the punishment shared by all the condemned.

18) De Profundis

De Profundis author Oscar Wilde

De Profundis (Latin: “from the depths”) is a letter written by Oscar Wilde during his incarceration in Reading Gaol, addressed to «Bosie» (Lord Alfred Douglas).

In its first half, Wilde recounts his previous relationship and his extravagant lifestyle, which eventually led to his conviction and imprisonment for gross indecency.

He accuses both Lord Alfred’s vanity and his own weakness in acceding to those desires. In the second part, Wilde traces his spiritual development in prison and his identification with Jesus Christ, whom he characterizes as a romantic and individualistic artist. The letter began «Dear Bosie» and ended «Your affectionate friend».