‘Wilde’s Women’: the surprising force behind Oscar’s fame and success

Michael Dirda in The Washington Post:

WildeWhile Oscar Wilde may have been drawn to beautiful young men and the love that dare not speak its name — a phrase coined by the pretty and ruinous “Bosie,” Lord Alfred Douglas — he gained his fame and success largely through the help of powerful women. In “Wilde’s Women,” Eleanor Fitzsimons reminds us of the many writers, actresses, political activists, professional beauties and aristocratic ladies who helped shape the life and legend of the era’s greatest wit, esthete and sexual martyr. To begin with, there was Wilde’s formidable mother, Lady Jane Wilde. A hot-blooded, Irish nationalist and proto-feminist during her youth, she raged that women were forced into lives of “vacuity, inanity, vanity, absurdity and idleness.” She contended, quite accurately, that “all avenues to wealth and rank are closed to them. The state takes no notice of their existence except to injure them by its laws.” But Speranza — as Lady Wilde was commonly called — also translated poetry from Russian, Turkish, Spanish, German, Italian and Portuguese. Her collections of Irish folk tales were much admired by W.B. Yeats and she produced the first English version of Wilhelm Meinhold’s great German witchcraft novel, “Sidonia the Sorceress.

Like her husband, the eminent physician Sir William Wilde, Speranza belonged to Ireland’s intellectual, as well as social, aristocracy. Sir William had been a friend of the novelist Maria Edgeworth, Speranza was the niece of Charles Robert Maturin, author of the Gothic classic, “Melmoth the Wanderer,” and their house was located just down the street from that of Sheridan Le Fanu, editor of the Dublin University Magazine (and author of the best ghost stories of the mid-19th century). Born in 1854, Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde grew up surrounded by many of the most interesting people of his time.

More here.