Oscar Wilde's Women

by Tolovaj

First thought about Oscar Wilde is probably not related to women. Yet several ladies heavily influenced his life and career.

Oscar Wilde was a witty, provocative and creative writer who started his studies and writings thanks to his mother. His work was shaped by his intimate relationships with a sister and several young ladies who were his first muses.

His wife collaborated with him on several projects and a few established artists from his own time helped him to make decisions about projects he wrote or served as the models for his writing style.

They are not interesting only because of their relationships with him, but for their own amazing characters, including several successful literary legacies.

Here are top 10 ladies who shaped the life of Oscar Wilde:

1. Francesca Speranza

Speranza Wilde was, of course, Oscar’s mother. Her full name was Jane Francesca Agnes, Lady Wilde, but was mostly known under her pseudonym, Speranza. She was a vivid supporter of Irish nationalist movement, an advocate of women’s rights and better education for them. She wrote poems under pen name Speranza and collected old Irish myths and legends.

It was her article calling for rebel which caused The Nation in Dublin being shut down by authorities and it was her who escalated a scandal beginning with a young lady accusing Mr. Wilde of indecent behavior to the end with serious financial consequences. Speranza inspired both sons to become successful writers and she also took care of the family when her husband suddenly died leaving the family almost without any money.

It was Speranza who repeatedly insisted on both her sons to make a woman with money and good family connections, what definitely influenced Oscar’s decisions in his private life.


2. Isola Wilde

The only sister of Oscar Wilde died of fever before she turned 10 years. Her ghost hunted Oscar for the majority of his life. Parts of his old diary found in 2014 show he partly blamed himself for her death which was never explained in detail.

We know Oscar wrote several poems in her memory. He kept a flock of her hair in a special envelope until his own death. It will never be clear how close were actually brother and sister, nor how she really died, yet it’s obvious her influence on all his life decisions was immense. Unfortunately, we don’t have any picture of her.

He also had two half sisters, Emily and Mary, born out of wedlock to his father before he married Oscar's mother. They both died young (aged 24 and 22) too. In the fire accident, their crinolines caught fire from the fireplace at the dance ball and both died of burns.

3. Florence Balcombe

She met Oscar Wilde when she was 17 (he was four years older) and her beauty was so extraordinary the media often called her The Beauty. Her charm, intellect and wittiness attracted Oscar. They dated for about half a year when he gave her a symbolic present - a gold cross with his named engraved. Such gift was considered as the last step before an official engagement.

When he was awarded a scholarship in Oxford they stopped seeing each other so often and she started seeing another man. His name was Bram Stoker and we all know him as an author of Dracula. Florence, not Bram, fought for the rights of this legendary horror work which was shamelessly used for several adaptations without permission first with German and then with American movie studios.

Oscar was devastated when he found out she left him for Bram Stoker (he demanded the cross back), but after a few years all three became good friends and this friendship lasted to the end of his life.

4. Charlotte Montefiore

Charlotte was a sister of Oscar’s good friend from Oxford, Leonard Montefiore. Leonard suddenly died at the age of 26 in America. Charlotte and Oscar were friends for some time before that and only a few months after Leonard’s death Oscar proposed her. She said no. His answer was: »I'm so sorry for your decision. With your money and my brain we could have gone far.«


5. Violet Hunt

Violet was a daughter of Pre-Raphaelite painter Alfred William Hunt and a bestselling novelist Margaret Raine Hunt, also known as a translator of Grimms’ Fairy Tales. While Violet became a successful writer on her own too, her role in society was more known as being an active feminist, and a host of literary salons with many reputable guests among which several became her lovers.

When Oscar Wilde met her, he said: »We will rule the world - you with your looks and me with my wit. » He was a frequent visitor of the Hunts for two years, but we don’t have any proof if ever popped the question (there is a story he asked her to marry him in Dublin in 1879).

Being true or false, she soon decided to spend more time in the company of other men (yes, plural). On one occasion she said ’she prefer married men because nobody could believe that she wanted to catch them.’ Among her trophies were George Boughton (painter), Oswald Crawfurd (publisher), and writers Somerset Maugham, H. G. Wells and Ford Madox Ford.

Being a prolific writer with 17 published novels, extravagant, extremely smart and a model for Ford’s Sylvia Tietjens, one of the evilest characters in modern literature, she definitely deserves being described as one of the ’Wilde’s women’, although their relationship probably never became more than professional. He encouraged her to write and was a fan of her sensational writing style.


6. Constance Lloyd

Constance Lloyd was probably the most important woman in the life of Oscar Wilde, the only one who could compete with his mother. She was beautiful, intelligent, well-read and even had some money - just perfect to became Mrs. Wilde. She gave birth to two boys in the first two years of their marriage, but soon after, their relationship started to cool down.

She, however, stayed his friend even after the notorious trial and imprisonment but demanded from him not to see their sons ever again. Constance Wilde translated several articles about her husband, helped him at editing some of his works (definitely had her hands on his collection of fairy tales) and wrote a collection of fairy tales on her own.

There is a comprehensive article about Constance Lloyd (Mrs. Wilde) and her relationship with Oscar:



7. Lillie Langtry

Lily was an actress and producer was another beauty in the life of Oscar who on one occasion said he would rather discover Lily than America. For some time he carried bunches of lilies around and trying to seduce 'the most glamorous woman in England' (his words) several times, yet she thought about him only as her friend.

There’s an anecdote about her from times when he was already dead, but she was still keeping an empty chair for Oscar. at her table for guests. After on’s remark about Oscar being a convicted homosexual, she answered: ’Buy you don’t understand. Oscar was a very versatile man.’

Lily in yellow dress in the center, Oscar first man with top hat going to the right from her

8. Sarah Bernhard (Bernhardt)

Sarah was a French actress who was among the most popular actresses in the world during her career. She was called Divine Sarah and is officially the first international stage star Her mother was a well-known courtesan and it’s only speculated who was the father. Apart from notable roles, many bursts of temper and other eccentric behavior made her even more famous.

She was fired from a production after slapping an older actress and she broke an umbrella on the head of a doorkeeper who called her Little Sarah. Sarah gave birth to an illegitimate child of Prince de Ligne and was a major inspiration to Oscar Wilde's Salome. He wrote a play in French just for her. When she performed it, she was already 50 and he was in exile.

Her life, full of lovers among notable artists, having guts to not only play but also produce the of young talented, yet unknown writers, decorate her home with originals by her contemporaries like Gustave Dore, Louise Abbema, and Georges Clairin, having almost 40 years younger lover when one of her legs was already amputated, was definitely an inspiration for Wilde.


Sarah's dramatic entrance

9. Ouida

Born as Maria Louisa Rame, today almost forgotten, she was one of the most successful British novelists of all times. Writing at candle lights, surrounded by purple flowers, living in a luxurious hotel, organizing scandalized gatherings made of men only, dressed in dresses made from her own designs, she went so far to made her mother wearing black to create best possible contrast with Ouida’s pale-colored satin dresses.


Ouida contributed four articles for The Woman’s World (edited by Wilde) and he called her the last of romantics after reading her Guilderoy. Her extremely popular books, especially “Moths” and “Princess Napraxine”, with controversial themes and subversive undertones, definitely inspired Oscar who sent her several of his works to hear her opinion.

Her extravagant lifestyle, owning numerous horses and dogs (30 at a time), being surrounded by most expensive flowers and dressed in stylish clothes, was, as some believed, partially funded by Oscar himself (when he still had some money to spend).


10. Marie Corelli

She was another writer who made a huge influence on Oscar. She started her career as a musician but soon became a writer. Believe it or not, she sold more novels than her contemporaries Rudyard Kipling, H. G. Wells and Arthur Conan Doyle together! Oscar was her great fan describing Corelli’s first novel as ’telling marvelous things in marvelous ways'.

He advised her to rather build her literary reputation on gossip, not on reviews and it seems she used his advice when she declared that no copy of her new book will be sent to the press. Everybody who wishes to make a review should get a copy like the rest of the publicity - in bookstores and libraries. Their friendship lasted at least until she wrote an article for his The Woman’s World.

Later, as we can conclude from diaries and written memories, he outgrew her writings and started to despise her writing style. Yet, it was at least one thing they shared until the end of their lives - just like he was attracted to men, she was attracted to women.

In a way, we can conclude each of the presented women served as a role model for one of the wittiest man ever - Oscar Wilde.

Updated: 04/03/2018, Tolovaj
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Did we miss to mention any of important women in Oscar Wilde’s life?

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Tolovaj on 12/19/2023

I don't have this info, DerdriuMarriner.

Tolovaj on 12/19/2023

It's hard to say, DerdriuMarriner. Oscar's attitude was definitely affected by his mother and her influence, while heleped him at performing in public, very likely destroyed intimacy necessary at certain situations.

Tolovaj on 12/19/2023

I believe it would take a two work days to me.

DerdriuMarriner on 12/19/2023

The in-text image to the left of Wilde woman 9, Ouida, is by Punch.

Is it intended as a compliment or an insult that the quote under her image seems to compare her to an "unweeded garden"?

DerdriuMarriner on 12/18/2023

Wilde woman 8, as Sarah Bernhardt, amazes me with unexpected reasons for her appeal.

Aren't English 19th-century people known for their manners? Were there no consequences for her eccentricities and temper?

DerdriuMarriner on 12/16/2023

Wilde woman 8, Sarah Bernhardt, had a known mother and an unknown father.

Was her family and extended family network only inclusive of her, her mother and her son and his descendants and spouses?

DerdriuMarriner on 12/15/2023

The second paragraph to Wilde woman 8, Sarah Bernhardt, considers her giving birth to a son.

Find a Grave describes Maurice Bernhardt (Dec. 22, 1864-Dec. 21, 1928) as playwright and theatre director and writer of plays for his mother.

Were the Bernhardt plays competitive with the Wilde play in terms of economic and literary achievements?

DerdriuMarriner on 12/14/2023

Wilde women 8, Sarah Bernhardt, merited a play made especially by him for her.

Might that mean that Wilde ultimately personally and professionally preferred Bernhardt to Wilde woman 7, Lillie Langtry?

DerdriuMarriner on 12/13/2023

The in-text image between Wilde women 7 and 8, Lillie Langtry and Sarah Bernhardt respectively, has some men top-hatted and some not.

Is there a reason for top-hattedness or not? The women, apart the white-dressed one alongside top-hatted Wilde, seem to have their hair covered.

DerdriuMarriner on 12/12/2023

The in-text image between Wilde women 6 and 7, Constance Lloyd and Lillie Langtry respectively, has the author with a cigarette in his right hand.

It seems a bit strange to me, who stereotype men of Wilde times as smoking in set places, such as smoking rooms in male clubs, and at set times, such as after dinner.

Was Wilde known to be the 19th-century equivalent of a chain smoker?

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