(Written by the instructor.)
There is a long tradition of biographies of Wilde, starting with some by friends (and some enemies) who knew him personally and often twisted, changed, or left out facts about Wilde’s life because of personal motives. Among the first biographies of Wilde written by his contemporaries were those of Frank Harris (highly unreliable) and of André Gide (more reliable but very centered on Gide’s admiration, maybe even love, for Wilde).
The best scholarly biography of Oscar Wilde to date remains Richard Ellmann’s long and comprehensive Oscar Wilde, written in the late 1980s (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1988) and barely finished before Ellmann’s death. A German scholar, Horst Schröder, has published numerous corrections to Ellmann’s biography over the years, which should be consulted/checked by anyone trying to ascertain facts about Wilde’s life just from using Ellmann’s book. Ellmann (and the editors who put together the last materials he left them to finish up) did not get everything right, it turns out; at this point in Oscar Wilde scholarship, however, his work is still held in very high regard and is the first stop for anyone seeking to learn about Wilde.
Stanford students: Ellmann’s biography is on reserve for our course at the Course Reserves Desk at Green Library, along with about 20 other important Wilde sources (such as his letters, interviews, etc.) and many other important works of Wilde scholarship.
To introduce you to Wilde’s life in overview mode, here is a brief biography (3 pages total to click through; ignore the pesky ads …). It is short but pretty good.