William Blake is born in 1757. He was a self-taught engraver and poet who wrote and illustrated his own poems. His art exhibits a very personal and original vision of the material world as inherently corrupt, even before Adam and Eve committed the original sin. He was a quintessential Romantic who believed in inborn genius and inspiration. Blake can also be considered a committed artist for his denunciation of slavery and child labour in "The Chimney Sweeper."
Oscar Wilde is born in 1854. Considered to be a decadent genius, he claimed that no work of art should be ascribed a didactic or moral dimensions. He wrote fiction, poems and drama. His most famous work is The Picture of Dorian Gray, published in 1892. It tells the controversial story of a cruel and murderous narcissist who traded his soul for everlasting youth and beauty. Wilde's homosexual relationship with a young aristocrat caused his scandalous downfall.
Joseph Conrad is born in 1857. He was a Polish-born writer whose English prose is considered to be one of the finest among British novelists. Conrad travelled the world on ships, discovering some of its wildest and remotest parts. Heart of Darkness (1902), regarded by quite a few critics and scholars as racist because of its disturbing word choices and descriptions, was inspired by his journey to Congo.
Ayn Rand is born in Russia in 1905. She emigrated to the US with her family shortly after the Soviet Revolution. A relentless individualist, Rand stated that people shouldn't need others, but know to rely on themselves instead of others' solidarity. Her path-breaking novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead aim to show that individualism and total independence are the way forward.