So, I’ve decided that every Friday, I’m going to blog about a fabulous woman who I think is basically brilliant.
At the end of last year, Franny Moyle’s biography of Constance Wilde came out and I was excited to read it, so I ordered it from the library (FYI, if you don’t fancy waiting/paying quite a lot of money, the book is out in paperback tomorrow apparently.) Thing is, Franny Moyle wrote one of my favourite biographies about the Pre-Raphelites and I’m a big Wilde fan, so I knew it would be a pretty good book.
What I didn’t expect was to be drawn into Constance’s world.
Thanks largely to the efforts of Bosie (Lord Alfred Douglas, Oscar’s lover and the reason for his later downfall), Constance is seen as an ineffective, cold and distant wife and, whilst I know that biographers have a vested interest in promoting their subjects, it’s just not the case with Constance.
Born into a wealthy Anglo-Irish family that had connections to the Lloyds banking group, Constance had longed for an escape from a stifling family background. When she met Wilde, the son of a family known to her own, she fell in love with his whole personality. What’s maybe startling is that the feeling appeared to be mutual.
Constance was said to be bright, funny and extraordinarily good looking, although she often lamented that photographs of her made her look timid and uninteresting. She was a champion for ‘normal’, less restrictive dress for women and was a writer in her own right, publishing children’s stories and articles for women’s magazines. (It has been said that some of Oscar’s own stories for children bear her trademarks- it could be that they collaborated.) She was also a keen supporter of a woman’s right to participate in politics and worked to help the poor.
It is often wondered how she could not have known about her husband’s double life, but their lives were not as enjoined as is expected from middle-class Victorian couples. There was the fact that Oscar would often be away for work and, later, she suffered health problems, often visiting friends as a way to relax away from London. But, of course, when the scandal hit London, there were those who blamed Constance for her husband’s behaviour, which lead to her life in exile on the Continent.
It is so easy to just not see that Constance Wilde was a remarkable woman in her own right, but it seems that there is finally a book that helps redress the balance- and not a moment too soon!