Saturday, February 16, 2013

Oscar Wilde's Wife

Most people don't even realize he had one. But he did.

From a story in the Weekly Standard...

It is surprising that no biography of Constance appeared before 1983—although, oddly enough, that year brought forth two differently documented and often conflicting works. Surprising because Constance was a pathbreaker in many ways, not least in marrying Oscar. Franny Moyle, having written on the loves and aesthetics of the Pre-Raphaelites, now turns her attention to the Aesthetic movement, of which Oscar Wilde was the most notorious popularizer.

She begins with a dramatic mise en scène, the evening on which Constance learns that Oscar will press the fatal charge of libel against the Marquess of Queensberry. At that very moment he was at the height of his renown, with two plays, An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest, showing in the West End. What follows concerns how things reached this point and the aftermath.

Interestingly, it is the story of a marriage. According to Moyle, Constance was prepared “to partner the high priest of Aestheticism in awakening a wide public to just how far art might be extended in life.” She was well educated for a woman of her class, and she seemed to share Oscar’s gift for languages. From childhood she was already familiar with the Pre-Raphaelite painters and, later, with the writings of John Ruskin. Her dresses, reflecting the clothes made fashionable by the Aesthetic movement, created sensations: At gallery openings, “Mr. and Mrs. Wilde were offering Lillie Langtry some serious competition as the main interest for celebrity spotters.” Constance, with her interest in textiles, was probably also responsible for the avant-garde interior design of their residence in Chelsea, which was (per the Aesthetic credo) “aesthetic, practical, and healthy.”

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