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Oscar Wilde
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Authors like Oscar Wilde: Witty Wordplay

Jonny_Sweet_itcher_contributorIf you’re charmed by the prose and plays of Irish scribbler Oscar Wilde, check out the work of Henry James, Noël Coward and Stephen Fry.
~ Jonny Sweet

Contrary to popular belief, Oscar Wilde was not much of a novelist.

Indeed, he only wrote one novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray; and though it remains incredibly successful, his true strengths lay in writing plays to be performed on stage.

Therefore, if you’re looking for authors like Oscar Wilde, you might be looking in several different places.

You might want to find like-minded authors of novels; you might be looking for similar playwrights; or perhaps, you simply wish to seek out writers similar to Oscar Wilde in their use of flowery language, clever quips and witty dialogue.

Because of the diversity of similar authors to Oscar Wilde, I have split up my recommendations into three different categories: novelists, playwrights and finally, those writers who devote themselves entirely to making the reader laugh.

Hopefully you’ll find what you’re looking for!


Novelists Similar to Wilde

Henry James, (1843-1916)

The Portrait of a LadyJames once described Wilde as nothing more than “a fatuous cad” and was vocal about his opprobrium for the Irishman’s writing.

Nevertheless, the pair shared similar styles and subject matters, often writing about the everyday lives of the upper classes – who seem to do little more than attend each other’s house for endless cups of tea and flirt surreptitiously with the latest debutante in society.

Specifically, you can check out The Portrait of a Lady or What Maisie Knew, or, for a shorter read, see Daisy Miller.

Image source: barnesandnoble

James and Wilde both wrote the majority of their work about the upper-classes of America and England respectively, but while Wilde was playful and comedic in his writing, James was far more serious and dry.

Charles Dickens, (1812-1870)

Charles_DickensThe most famous and successful Victorian novelist of them all, Dickens enjoys such regard for good reason.

His books are at once engaging, revealing and often hilarious, with much attention devoted to description of minor details, especially when it comes to food.

For the funniest and wittiest Dickens’ novels, see the opening chapters describing David’s youth in David Copperfield, select characters in Bleak House and Great Expectations and pretty much the entirety of The Pickwick Papers.

Image source: wikimedia

Both Dickens and Wilde were Victorian writers who liked to incorporate wit and humour into their stories, though whereas Wilde writes mostly about upper-class society, Dickens took it upon himself to bring the plight of the common man to the forefront of public consciousness.

Thomas Hardy, (1840-1928)

Tess of the d'UrbervillesAnother novelist who wrote about traditional Victorian themes, such as blossoming romances and the daily foibles of upper-class (and lower-class) life, Hardy’s prose is harder and less playful than Wilde’s, but discusses similar themes.

Tess of the d’Urbervilles is a typical romance story, as is Far from the Madding Crowd.

If you enjoy the romantic themes in Wilde, you’ll probably like Hardy as well.

Image source: waterstones

Hardy and Wilde both wrote romances about members of Victorian society, but Hardy’s books are all more plot-driven and sentimental than Wilde’s witty writings.


Playwrights Similar to Wilde

George Bernard Shaw, (1856-1950)

George Bernard Shaw, 1856 Wilde’s countryman Shaw had a knack of highlighting social injustice through satirical comedy, in a similar vein to Wilde.

Indeed, not long before he died, Shaw was asked if there was anybody he should wish to meet before passing away. His response:

I do not want to talk to anybody, alive or dead, but if I craved for entertaining conversation by a first-class raconteur, I should choose Oscar Wilde.

He is unique in that he is the only person to date to have been awarded an Academy Award as well as the Nobel Prize for literature. He received the latter for his great contribution to the body of English literature; the former for his work on the film adaptation of his play Pygmalion.

Image source: wikipedia

Both Shaw and Wilde wrote social commentaries into their theatrical plays, using humour to both lighten the mood and underline the injustices, though Shaw’s work comes across as more biting than Wilde’s.

Noël Coward, (1899-1973)

Noël Coward, 1899Like Wilde, Coward was something of a closet homosexual in his own time and never publicly “came out”, as it were; however, following his death, his biographers have been quite open about his sexual preferences.

His writing employs similarly witty stylings set against the backdrop of high society – Time magazine called his approach to the theatre “a combination of cheek and chic, of poise and pose”.

Much of his work is still being shown in theatres around the UK to this day; if you get a chance to see such classics as Present Laughter or Hay Fever, don’t pass it up.

Image source: wikipedia

Coward and Wilde both wrote about upper class society and its foibles in their plays, often using flamboyance and intellect to communicate their points humorously; but while Coward’s is more playful, Wilde’s has an undercurrent of scorn against society.

Tom Stoppard, (1937- ) 

The Real Inspector HoundStoppard’s plays combine a delicious mix of the sublime and the ridiculous; of meta-theatre, absurd characters and high-minded philosophical debates.

His style mimics Wilde’s in its use of wit and elegance, though it is still very much his own, unique and distinctive.

The Real Inspect or Hound is a fantastic piece of theatre revolving around a murder mystery which slowly encroaches on the play itself, whilst Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead focuses on two minor characters from Shakespeare and plays out a philosophical intrigue amongst them.

Image source: crimespace

Stoppard and Wilde share similarly clever techniques in constructing plot and dialogue, though whereas Wilde’s work is more socially condemning, Stoppard’s is an exercise in the boundaries of theatre and thought.


Humorous Writers Similar to Wilde

Stephen Fry, (1957- )

Stephen Fry, 1957- PaperweightPerhaps most famously known as the face of trivia-based comedy quiz QI, Stephen Fry is widely respected as an intelligent and thoughtful personality, not averse to a joke.

The controversy and debate surrounding his sexuality recalls the trials Wilde went through (obviously, on a far-reduced scale) and his writing is filled with similarly clever insights into modern-day life.

Like Wilde, Fry is less famous as a writer and more as an outspoken and entertaining celebrity; though if you’re looking for some prose to start on, try Paperweight.

Image source: randomhouse

Fry and Wilde both employ a sharp wit and clinical insight in their writings, but both are influenced by the very different times and backgrounds from which they come.

Will Self, (1961- ) 

Will Self, 1961Like Fry, Will Self is also perhaps more famous from his numerous TV appearances on panel shows and the suchlike, though he is primarily a writer, having penned 10 novels, three novellas and contributed regularly to a wide range of newspapers and magazines over his lengthy career.

His style is more flowery than Wilde’s, often resorting to all sorts of complicated lyrical gymnastics to get his point across, but the dry tone and cynical eye he employs is similar to the Irishman.

Image source: wikipedia

Self and Wilde’s writings are both littered with snatches of clever dialogue and situational critiques, though Self’s is more inflated in its style of prose.

Woody Allen, (1935- ) 

Without FeathersIt might surprise you to know that in addition to being a world-famous director and actor, Woody Allen has also written 11 plays, four collections of short stories and two anthologies.

Unlike Wilde, his writing is frantic and disjointed, sacrificing a linear plot for as many jokes as he can squeeze onto the page.

In this sense, it’s perhaps more akin to watching a stand-up routine than reading a book; but the desired result is achieved.

To get to grips with his wacky writing style, dip in and out of Without Feathers. The absence of a traditional narrative makes this ideal for reading at intervals for a quick laughter fix.

Image source: woodyallenpages

Allen and Wilde both strive to make the reader laugh, but whereas Allen is more concerned with gaining as many guffaws as possible in a short period of time, Wilde attempts to use that laughter to force the reader to think about complex issues and ask uncomfortable questions.


More of the Same?

Wilde once said, “The critic has to educate the public; the artist has to educate the critic.”

How about the public educating the critic?

If you have any other author and writers similar to Wilde you’d like to share with me and with the world at large, feel free to do so below.


I′m Jonny, an English Literature graduate who decided careers and mortgages were too mundane, and travelling, film, music and books were much more enticing. I have recently made a very comfortable nest for myself in Santiago de Chile, and on itcher Mag where I regularly contribute eloquent waffle on all manner of media.
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