It’s not widely known that Oscar Wilde’s niece Dorothy, always known as Dolly, was written into then out of Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald after she made a drunken pass at his wife, Zelda, one night in Paris.
Dolly Wilde was born in 1895 into chaos and poverty to a father lost to alcohol and a mother whose inability to cope led her to abandon her infant daughter in what she described as a ‘country convent’. From the day of her birth, just three months after the imprisonment of her Uncle Oscar, her life was governed by turmoil and impulsiveness.
In adulthood, Dolly was so outrageous that had she been fictional she would have lacked credibility. As a teenager, she ran away to war torn France, where she drove an ambulance and developed a taste for fast cars and exotic women. An incorrigible womaniser, Dolly specialised in ‘emergency seductions’ and went through a string of lovers. When, much to Scott’s annoyance, she made a pass at Zelda, he captured her in an unflattering cameo in Tender is the Night as incorrigible lesbian seductress Vivien Taube, but he deleted the passage from the published version.
Here’s an excerpt:
An hour later he came out of somewhere to a taxi whither they had preceded him and found Wanda limp and drunk in Miss Taube’s arms.
“What’s the idea?” he demanded furiously.
Miss Taube smiled at him. Wanda opened her eyes sleepily and said:
“What’s all this business?” he repeated.
“I love Wanda,” said Miss Taube.
“Vivian is a nice girl,” said Wanda. “Come sit back here with us.”
“Why can’t you get out of the taxicab and go home with your friends,” said Francis harshly to Miss Taube. “You know you have no business to do this. She’s tight.”
“I love Wanda,” repeated Miss Taube good-naturedly.
“I don’t care. Please get out.”
In answer Wanda drew the girl close to her again, whereupon in a spasm of fury Francis opened the door, took her by the arm and before the girl understood his purpose deposited her in a sitting position on the curb.
“This is perfectly outrageous!” she cried.
“I should say it is!” he agreed, his voice trembling. A chasseur and several by-standers hurried up; Francis spoke to the driver and got into the cab quickly. The incident had wakened Wanda.
“Why did you do that?” she demanded. “I’ll have to go back.”
“Do you realize what she was doing?”
“Vivian’s a nice girl.”
Although Dolly never met her famous uncle, her pale, elongated face, remarkable blue-grey eyes, shock of dark hair and affected pose, conjured him up for all who met her. She inherited too his ‘clear, low, musical voice’, insatiable appetite for cigarettes and inability to regulate her chaotic finances.While her friends nicknamed her Oscaria, Dolly herself declared: ‘I am more like Oscar than Oscar himself’. In her ‘Letter from Paris’ column in July 1930, Janet Flanner, Paris correspondent of The New Yorker, described Dolly attending a bal-masqué dressed as Oscar, ‘looking both important and earnest’. When H.G. Wells bumped into her at the Paris PEN Club, he declared himself ‘delighted to meet at last a feminine Wilde’.
Her end was as tragic as her uncle’s.