Oscar Wilde was a declared aesthete (= someone who loves and appreciates works of art and beautiful things) who professed his views both in his works and way of life. His extravagant look and public behaviour aimed at defying the self-satisfied respectability and cheap taste of the Victorian middle and upper classes, their prudery (=moralism) regarding morals, sex, art and their obsession with status and money. His views were strongly influenced by the art critic William Pater, who asserted the priority of art and beauty in individual and social life and the independence of art from any moral, political or utilitarian purpose, that is the aesthetic doctrine of "art for art's sake" (i.e., art has no aim but its own perfection).
Such devotion to the aesthetic-decadent creed was counterbalanced by the moral concern, present in all his works, exposing contemporary evils. In fact, his comedies are only apparently superficial, as they make fun of Victorian moralism (=strictness and austerity especially in matters of religion or conduct), hypocrisy and prejudices in a light, witty style. Oscar Wilde possessed a deep sense of humanity and he developed great concern for the poor and the outcast, who were secluded from the safe and optimistic world of rich Victorians; the terrible experience of imprisonment - he was arrested for “gross indecency with men,” a charge for which he was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison - made his sympathy more intense, as emerges from the long poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), which contains some very touching lines. Between January and March 1897, close to the end of his imprisonment, he wrote De Profundis, a long letter addressed to his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, published posthumously in 1905. Oscar Wilde spent the last three years of his life in exile. He died at the age of 45 and was buried in Paris.
A contradictory personality and versatile (=skillful) artist, Oscar Wilde never enjoyed much favour among contemporary critics. Only in the course of the 20th century he came to be considered an outstanding man of letters for the sharp analysis of his time, the skillful (= masterly) use of the most different genres and his brilliant style.