“It was really Oscar Wilde who awoke language in my head in a way like nobody else, and I think also discovering the kind of man Oscar Wilde was, was an enormous influence as well. The fact that you could be such a towering intellect, such a lord of language and be charming and graceful, kind, good natured, but also unhappy and unlucky was a great discovery for an adolescent — because one of the traps of adolescence is the sort of paranoid resentment that somehow you’re never going to match up and that everybody else’s life is going to be better and finer and fuller. That everyone else attended some secret lesson in which how to live was taught and you had a dental appointment that day or you were somehow not invited.
And the point of great writers like Wilde is that they make that invitation to you. They welcome it. Perhaps the greatest definition I think of character and quality is people who when they’re truly great rather than making you feel they’re tall, they make you feel you’re tall, that they’re greatness as it were improves you. They used to say of Oscar Wilde that when you got done from a dinner table you felt funnier and wittier and cleverer. Now a lot of brilliant people make you feel less funny, less clever, less witty because they’re so clever, witty and funny, but he had the opposite effect. A bit like what Shakespeare said about Falstaff, not just a wit, but a cause of wit in others.”
Stephen Fry, speaking with Big Think about the influence of Oscar Wilde.
As with Fry, Oscar Wilde — specifically in his lone novel The Picture of Dorian Gray — was for me among the first writers who stirred that epiphany, “This is someone whose voice I understand.” Reading that book as a teenager, I found an author who simultaneously connected with, and transcended, my conception of the world.
Wilde’s seminal comedy The Importance of Being Earnest was first performed this week in 1895 at St James’s Theatre in London.