My husband, Oscar Wilde.

con1Whenever I think about Constance Lloyd  Wilde, and what she had to endure, all alone in an age when  it was important to be “earnest”, respectable and have the sense of decorum, I cannot help but wonder: what was her marriage like? When did she understand about her husband’s sexual behaviour? How did she feel? Let’s start from the beginning.

con4As far as we know, Constance first met Wilde at a party given by Lady Wilde for her two sons at Merrion Square in Dublin on 6 June 1881. Constance was a passionate reader of poetry and discovered soon that Wilde shared with her a deep admiration for Keats. On the following day, she wrote to her brother Otho:
“O. W. came yesterday at about 5.30 (by which time I was shaking with fright!) and stayed for half an hour, begged me to come and see his mother again soon…. I can’t help liking him, because when he’s talking to me alone he’s never a bit affected, and speaks naturally, excepting that he uses better language than most people.

The following months, she slowly grew attached to him, but her parents were not that impressed by Wilde’s extravagance and furthermore, the eccentricities of his parents were notorious.  Somebody asserts that Wilde was more interested in her family ‘s wealth than Constance herself, but some others, like Ann Clark Amor, believe that he just fell in love with her because:
“... she shared with Oscar a love of beauty and simplicity of form. Her high intelligence and deep knowledge of art and literature made her an ideal companion at theatres, art galleries and social gatherings, yet she combined this with a clinging trust in Oscar which was very endearing.”
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Certainly, she had her firm points of view. For example she disagreed with Wilde’s aesthetic view on the relationship between art and morality, in fact, she clearly explained in a letter to him that “... that there is no perfect art without perfect morality, whilst you say that they are distinct and separate things...”. On 26 November, Constance wrote to her brother, Otho, that she was engaged to Wilde “and perfectly and insanely happy”, and Wilde wrote to Lillie Langtry in December: “…I am going to be married to a beautiful girl called Constance Lloyd, a grave, slight, violet-eyed little Artemis “. On 29 May 1884, at 2:30 p.m., Wilde and Constance were married in St. James’s Church, Sussex Gardens, the witnesses including Lady Wilde and Oscar’s brother, Willie. Shortly after their marriage Wilde will write to her : “I feel incomplete without you” .
In the years before 1895, their relationship was based on their admiration of each other’s unique qualities, as Amor writes:
“He adored his shy young bride with her radiant beauty and slim form; he was proud of her, took infinite interest in her clothes (a rare quality in a husband) and loved going with her to choose more. He was her ideal mentor in matters of culture and taste, her professor in the art of love. He was the center of her universe, till death and no doubt beyond.
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The dinner parties at their Tite Street home attracted all the most important figures of the time. As a hostess, Constance was a success, though inevitably she was overshadowed by Oscar, as, indeed, almost everyone else was in his company. Constance’s pregnancies and births of Cyril and Vyvyan had an adverse effect on Wilde, for Constance was often unwell during this time, so they slowly become sexually estranged. His social relationships now tended to exclude Constance, who turned to her writing and participated actively in the Liberal politics of the day. It was about this time that the Wildes welcomed young Robbie Ross into their home. Robbie, a loyal friend to both throughout the rest of their lives, became Oscar’s lover. The situation had changed, and it didn’t go unnoticed  Oscar started to drop hints to various young men that his sexual preferences had changed, while Constance, with seeming innocence, welcomed them all as family friends. After all, she was just following the Victorian motto :”public virtues and hidden vices” .
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By 1892, a new lover was about to come on stage. Spoilt, selfish and immensely in love with what he believed was his own genius, Lord Alfred Douglas, better known as Bosie (the name derived from Lady Queensberry’s pet-name of “Boysie” for her third son) upset the Wildes’ life. Astonishingly, following Wilde’s break with his expensive, untalented young lover (Bosie’s translation from the French of Wilde’s Salome was so poor that it had to be rewritten by the embarrassed author), it was Constance who succumbed to Lord Alfred’s pleas. In February 1894, she invited him to return. Douglas incredibly wrote about her:
I was always on the best of terms with Mrs. Wilde. I liked her and she liked me. She told me, about a year after I first met her, that she liked me better than any of Oscar’s other friends“.
Wilde seems to contradict these words as he wrote to Douglas that their friendship had always distressed Constance. Still, whatever confusion existed in Constance’s mind before the trials concerning Douglas and Wilde, she was “wonderfully loyal,” Wilde told Robert Ross, adding: “She could not understand me, and I was bored to death with the married life”.
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Bosie was the cause of Wilde’s vertiginous downfall, in 1895, at the top of his fame:
It was Bosie who urged Wilde to prosecute Lord Queensberry for the infamous “posing Sodomite” card left, without an envelope, at Wilde’s club. It was Bosie’s careless gifts of suits, their pockets still filled with incriminating letters, that linked Wilde to the world of rent-boys into which his young lover had led him. It was Bosie who hurt Constance’s reputation most, by declaring her responsible for the failure of Wilde’s marriage.”
Harsh new rulings on homosexuality were introduced to England and Wilde was sentenced to two years of hard labours. After Wilde’s imprisonment, Constance changed her and her sons’ last name to Holland to estrange themselves from Wilde’s scandal and forced him to give up his parental rights. The couple never divorced. Constance visited Wilde in prison and paid his expenses when he left it. She planned, as he did, for a reunion, but when Bosie resurfaced, Constance accused Wilde only of being “weak as water” and refused to sent him money.

In the meantime Constance had started to feel unwell. In 1894, she wrote: ‘I am alright when I don’t walk.’ A year later, her walking had deteriorated. Constance sought help from two doctors. One of them was a “nerve doctor” from Heidelberg, Germany who believed in treating patients with baths and electricity. The second doctor was an Italian, Luigi Maria Bossi, who somehow thought that neurological and mental illness could be cured with gynecological operations. She was therefore operated for uterine fibroid in 1895 and 1898, the latter of which ultimately led to her death.It seems that Constance was wrongly diagnosed, as the symptoms nowadays would be associated to multiple sclerosis. A tragic end to a tragic life.

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My father, Oscar Wilde.

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Vyvyan Holland Wilde

Unconventional, scandalous, witty, generous, brilliant, these are just a few adjectives that may suit a man of such genius and personality like Oscar Wilde, a man who knew both the triumph and adoration of people and the brutal disaster at the end of his life. Whenever I think about the swirl of events that characterized his life of man and artist, I can’t help but think about his children. What kind of father was Oscar Wilde? What did it mean growing under the shadow of such a giant of his times?

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Constance Wilde and Cyril

Oscar Wilde had two sons: Cyril (1885-1915) and Vyvyan (1886-1967). Many of my curiosities were satisfied by Vyvyan, who wrote : “Son of Oscar Wilde”. As far as we know, the boys had a marvelous early childhood. They grew up at the Wildes’ fashionable home in Tite Street, Chelsea. As their father was a popular playwright and their mother an attractive and cultured hostess, the litterati of London were often present in their home. People like John Singer Sargent, John Ruskin, Mark Twain, Robert Browning, Algernon Swinburne, and Ellen Terry were often seen at their house.  Wilde by all accounts was a wonderful father and he delighted in playing with the boys. The boys in turn absolutely adored him, “… he was a hero to us both. He was so tall and distinguished and, to our uncritical eyes, so handsome …. He was a real companion to us, and we always looked forward eagerly to his frequent visits to our nursery…. He would go down on all fours on the nursery floor, being in turn a lion, a wolf, a horse, caring nothing for his usually immaculate appearance.

os1The sense of style was not only their father’s issue. They seem to have been dressed very fashionably, apparently in matching outfits.We are not sure to what extent their father was involved in choosing their clothing, however, they wore Little Lord Fauntleroy suits, sailor suits and other outfits. The boys also wore berets and blouses with large collars and despite their father love for velvet suits, it seems that the boys were much less enamored of them. They much preferred their sailor suits.

os2Wilde’s legal problems shattered the boys’ pampered life. When Constance, their mother decided that the boys could no longer stay at their school, they had not a clue of what had happened. She decided to send them to Switzerland with a French governess, where they stayed for 3 years. Once in Switzerland they were instructed that they had to forget their name Wilde and that they would now be called Holland. This was the name of their mother’s relations. Vyvyan was told that his name was now Vivian and the Oscar Beresford dropped. The boys were not told what had happened, but they were told in no uncertain terms that there would be serious repercussions if their old identity slipped out. Vivian recalls that even 2 years after their father’s disgrace that he still did not know just what his father had done. Somehow Cyril found out,  but he did not tell it to his little brother. Constance Wilde’s family wanted to eradicate all memory of his father and insisted that he was dead and that his literary work was not important. Vivian recalls that he was so miserable that he once lay down in the snow wanting to die. Constance did not hate her disgraced husband, but she needed to defend her children from the consequences of the public scandal. She wrote to Vivian shortly before her death, “Try not to feel harshly about your father; remember that he is your father and that he loves you. All his troubles arose from the hatred of a son for his father, and whatever he has done he has suffered bitterly for“.

os7The boys were sent off to an English-language boarding school in Heidelberg, Germany–Neuenheim Collage (1896). One day, the boys found some cricket flannels packed in their trunks still had the Wilde name tags. They remember being horrified to find evidence of their former names on their clothes. Even if they had no idea of what had occurred, they, actually, felt like little criminals. Vivian later wrote: “The thought that at any moment an indiscreet remark or a chance encounter … might betray us was a sword of Damocles constantly hanging over our heads.”  It was subsequently decided to separate the boys as an added security measure. Cyril stayed at the school in Germany, while Vivian was sent to a Catholic (Jesuit) school in Monaco. Therefore the  boys had been permanently separated from their father and lived far away from their mother in a foreign country. The situation worsened when their mother died in 1898. They were left in the charge of their mother’s family, who sought legal counsel to prevent Oscar Wilde from seeing his sons again.The family did not even tell them, when their father died.

The boys eventually returned to England after their mother’s death. Vivian was brought back from Monaco by a priest and he was taken in by his mother’s aunt. Cyril who was nearly 2 years older, 13 at the time, was allowed to leave his school at Heidelberg and come home on his own. The family decided to keep the boys split apart and chose two different schools for them. Vivian was sent to Stonyhurst College, Lancashire, a Jesuit public school, while Cyril  attended Radley School. With this separation they no longer spent much time together, but they kept in touch by writing.

os8Vivian was 12-years old when he entered the school and it seems it was a gifted scholar. Oscar Wilde died when he was only 14 and when the Rector of Stonyhurst summoned the boy and to inform him of the tragic occurrence, Vivian remembers saying: “But I thought he died long ago” and began crying. Only a few years later, at age 16  he read Robert Sherard‘s Oscar Wilde: The Story of an Unhappy Friendship (1902) and finally learned what had happened. He remembers being so “depressed” that he determined to read no further books about his father. He decided then to go into mourning. When his schoolmates asked why, he came up with a cover story. He told them that his father’s body was found on a South Sea island after he had long been lost at sea. The colorful narration made him “something of a hero” for a time. He left Stonyhurst in 1904.

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Vyvyan Holland Wilde

Vivian Holland studied law at Trinity Hall in the University of Cambridge from 1905, but tired of his studies, he left Cambridge in 1907. However, he resumed his study of law at the age of 22, and was called to the Bar of England and Wales by the Inner Temple in 1912. He then began to write poems and short stories and in 1913 married Violet Craigie. Unlike his brother, Cyril did not attend university and decided to make a career in the Army. After leaving Radley, he enrolled as a Gentleman Cadet at the Royal Military College. When World War I broke out , Vivian, who had no military background, entered service as a second lieutenant.With his linguistic talents he was assigned to the Interpreters Corps, but unfortunately no more interpreters were needed. Therefore, he was transferred to the Royal Field Artillery, where his brother was serving. Looking back, Vivian wrote, “He was not popular with his brother officers, who considered him pompous and intolerant. He would not join the small talk of the mess, mostly scandal or about sport. And they could not understand anyone who spent his ordinary leave in travelling about Europe and visiting art galleries instead of hunting, shooting, yachting, or fishing”. Cyril was killed during the second battle for Neuve Chapelle (1915). A sniper shot and killed Cyril. Vivian who was only a few miles away was shattered. He wrote: “The last link with Tite Street and the spacious days had snapped“. While still in France, Vivian learned that his wife, Violet, had been terribly burned in a fire. She died before he could get home (1918). Vivian had been wounded and mentioned in several dispatches for his bravery under fire. He was awarded the Order of the British Empire and discharged (1919).

After returning to England, Vivian began a career as a translator, author, and editor. He worked on a wide variety of books in several languages and translated and edited several of his father’s works into other languages.Vivian’s son Merlin is also a writer, but the family has kept the name Holland, never reverting to Wilde.