Famous Authors Who Died Poor II

The following post is dedicated to two world famous and iconic authors, who died poverty stricken.

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde

(October 16th 1854 – November 30th 1900)

Notable works: The Importance of Being Earnest, The Picture of Dorian  Gray.

The flamboyant Oscar Wilde was a writer, poet and playwright, acclaimed for his enduring wit and writing abilities.  At the height of his fame in the early 1890s’ Wilde was a successful playwright and a mainstay of the London social scene.

However his world was to come crashing down with his arrest for gross indecency with other men in 1895.  A guilty verdict and the resulting legal fees forced the author into bankruptcy.   Sentenced to two years of hard labour, the intellectual Wilde, who was used to a life of relative luxury, suffered terribly, his health going into marked decline.  Many of his friends deserted him, his name was removed from marquees where his plays were showing and the sale of his tragedy Salome fell through.

The Irish playwright was to never recover and at the age of forty-six Oscar Wilde died virtually destitute of cerebral meningitis in Paris.  His final address was made from the squalid Hotel d’Alsace where he had taken up residence.  He wrote:

‘This poverty really breaks one’s heart, it is so sale, so utterly depressing, so hopeless.’

O.Henry

O.Henry

(September 11th 1862 – June 5th 1910)

Notable works: The Gift of the Magi, The Ransom of Red Chief, A Retrieved Reformation. 

Born William Sidney Porter, O.Henry is remembered as a renowned and prolific short-story writer.  The author published hundreds of short-stories during his lifetime, many of which contained his trademark surprise ending.

O.Henry’s early writing career included founding Rolling Stone, an unsuccessful humour weekly and writing a column for The Houston Daily Post.  In 1898 Henry was sentenced to five years in prison for embezzling funds whilst employed at First International Bank.

On being released early in 1891 for good behaviour Henry moved to New York City where he made a comeback.  In the ten years prior to his demise  he published over three hundred stories and became America’s favourite short-story writer.  However when he died in 1910 Henry was virtually penniless.  This was no doubt due in part to the alcoholism that afflicted him in later years and the fact he was carefree with money, on several occasions spending his advances, but not delivering the promised story or script.

Click here to read Part One.

6 Comments

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  • Another interesting post Guy. I gather that you are a fan of Oscar Wilde – I’ve noticed that you sometimes tweet quotes of his. I went to see ‘The Importance of Being Ernest’ at the theatre a few years ago and really enjoyed it. I believe that ‘Picture of Dorian Grey’ is very good and it’s another book that I’ve been intending to read for a long time – so many good books, so little time!
    I am not really familiar with the other author so it was interesting to find out something about him.

    • I am also intending to read The Picture of Dorian Gray but have a lot of books to read first. Before writing this blog post I was not aware of how famous O.Henry is. Thank you for the comment.

  • A friend recently recommended an eponymous biography of Oscar Wilde by a guy named Richard Ellman. Apparently a very good portrait of the man, his wit, talent, character and lesser known traits such as kindness and compassion.

    • It sounds like an interesting book. Oscar Wilde was quite a character, who didn’t deserve such an unfortunate and premature demise. Thank you for the comment. Let me know what you think of the Ellman book, if you get round to reading it.

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