Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Sore Trial of Being Mrs Oscar

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Sore Trial of Being Mrs Oscar

Article excerpt

Byline: CLAIRE HARMAN

CONSTANCE: THE TRAGIC AND SCANDALOUS LIFE OF MRS OSCAR WILDE by Franny Moyle (John Murray, [pounds sterling]20) IN 1963, some extra words were added to a gravestone in Genoa: "wife of Oscar Wilde". It was something Constance Lloyd had once been proud of but died trying to hide. Deserted, divorced; what was it like to be married to the world's most infamous homosexual? It had seemed a perfectly reasonable match back in 1884. Wilde was charmed by Constance's "dancing eyes and gay rippling laughter", and an "artistic marriage" (what the papers called theirs, perhaps sensing its deeper unconventionalities) suited her down to the ground.

Mr & Mrs Oscar could be seen at the theatre or in their aesthestically challenging drawing-room wearing costumes of equal eccentricity. Oscar had his dandyish fabrics, canes, cloaks and green carnations, while Constance indulged a dressing-up-box style, one time appearing in white muslin, bright yellow stockings and shoes and a huge Gainsborough hat, like a Kate Greenaway character, another time receiving guests in "turquoise blue, white frills and amber stockings". They must have been great fun to watch, though an astute observer like WB Yeats felt that more than just the decor "suggested some deliberate artistic composition".

Franny Moyle calls her subject "a fanatic who would throw herself wholeheartedly into one fad or craze before moving on to another".

In fact she was a bit of a kook, who at various times dabbled in theosophy, socialism, spiritualism, graphology, Tolstoyanism and the occult. It could have been hard to live with, even if Oscar had seriously thought of trying.

But when Oscar fell in love with Lord Alfred Douglas, his lifestyle and, according to Moyle, even his personality changed. He became keen on "renters" and hanging out at the Albemarle with bad boy Bosie and he started to be both critical and negligent of his wife. Constance was "sick at heart" at the change (by Oscar's admission), but her outward response was spirited: she decided to compile a volume of his bons mots to cash in on her husband's growing fame. …

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