Sunday, 14 August 2011

Constance - the tragic and scandalous life of Mrs Oscar Wilde

Constance by Franny Moyle

Bought this one after reading a post about Constance on the wonderful Virtual Victorian blog, which included a link to the book. I like a bit of biography now and again and was intrigued to find out what kind of a woman was married to Oscar Wilde.

Constance was Irish, like her husband. She and Oscar seemed, in the early days of their marraige, to be a perfect match for each other. Constance wrote children's stories and housekeeping articles, accompanied her husband on his many social engagements and joined in with the aesthetic movement starting up around that time. The couple had two sons.

And then Oscar began spending more and more time with the numerous young men who flocked to his side. One, especially - 'Bosie' Douglas - was a bad influence on him. Bosie started out as a friend of the family and Constance herself often invited him to come and stay, until she realised that he was breaking apart her marriage. Bosie's father, the Marquess of Queensberry, began to make trouble -attempting to disrupt performances of Oscar's plays when he was in attendance, etc. When he openly libelled Oscar, Oscar felt he had no option but to press charges.

When the case came to trial however, Queensberry had put together a host of witnesses who would swear to Oscar's homosexuality and the trial quickly collapsed, to be followed by Oscar's arrest on charges of indecency. He was, of course, found guilty and sent to prison.

Constance had stood by her husband throughout all this, but exiled herself to Switzerland while Oscar was in jail. She was urged by friends to divorce him, but didn't, though she took steps to ensure that on his release from prison he would not be able to fritter away her money and leave their sons penniless. On his release, she might even have taken him back, had not Bosie intervened and lured Oscar away with him.

Constance died not too long after the trial, at the age of just 48, after surgery to help with a long-standing neurological problem went wrong. Oscar died shortly after.

The book is an easy and enjoyable read - you get a good sense of this intelligent and loving woman who went so quickly from being half of England's most feted couple to being shunned by society and forced into exile. The fin-de-siecle was a fascinating time of change in society and Constance was there at the forefront.

No comments:

Post a Comment