04/07/2011

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING CONSTANT...

Constance Wilde (January 2 1859 – April 7, 1898) seen here with her son, Cyril

When the young Constance Lloyd declared herself to be insanely happy to have become engaged to Oscar Wilde, she could not have known the heartbreak and shame that would follow.

Constance was very pretty, and well educated too. She painted and studied Shelley, wrote children’s stories and loved fashion – later becoming strongly involved in the Rational Dress movement - and there is every reason to believe that Oscar was equally entranced with her at the start of their relationship. He even designed her engagement ring, and wrote these intensely romantic lines in an early letter –

‘I felt your fingers in my hair and your cheeks brushing mine. The air is full of the music of your voice, my soul and body seem no longer mine, but mingled with some exquisite ecstasy with yours.’

Constance's 'beloved Oscar'.

But time was soon to take its toll. Despite the birth of two sons, Cyril and Vyvyan, Oscar grew bored with his wife’s allure, seduced by the company of younger men – and most fatally with Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas, the dangerous young aristocrat whose testimony about their affair would lead to the older married man being socially ruined and serving a term of imprisonment on a charge of ‘gross indecency’.

Oscar with Lord Alfred Douglas

Constance and Oscar never divorced, even though she changed her name to Holland and spent a great deal of time abroad, insisting that her husband give up all of his parental rights.

But, it was Constance who visited in gaol to tell Oscar of his mother’s death, and Constance who offered financial support when her husband was released, during his Continental exile – and perhaps she might have taken him back but there was such shame and prejudice then – almost too much to be able to bear. And Oscar did not offer his wife anywhere near the same level of constancy. 


After a fall in their Chelsea home, Constance suffered a debilitating spinal injury which, in conjunction with what may have been cancer of the uterus, led to her undertaking surgery when in Genoa in Italy, which became her final resting place - much too young, at the age of 39.


Oscar did not visit his dying wife.

If you would like to read more about Constance Wilde, a new book has recently come out – Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs Oscar Wilde, written by Franny Moyle.

RELATED POST: JOHN EVERETT MILLAIS - with mentions of 'Desperate Romantics' which was also written by Franny Moyle.

5 comments:

  1. Oh that book sounds excellent! Thank you.

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  2. Thanks for noting that despite his notoriety, she seems to have stuck by him. Few others did.

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  3. I have just finished reading Ellmann's masterly biography of Oscar Wilde today. My friend Anastasia also reviewed this book on her blog here which I have also commented on.

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  4. An excellent review - thank you very much for that Rehan.

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  5. Constance arrived in the post the other day and I think is next TBR. Thanks for the recommendation.

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