Monthly Archives: May 2016

Happy Anniversary Oscar & Constance!

Oscance

Photo taken by Vanessa Heron

Happy 132nd wedding anniversary to Oscar and Constance, who married on 29 May 1884. To mark the occasion, members of the Oscar Wilde Society attended the unveiling of an OSCANCE memorial at St. James’s Church, Paddington by the couple’s grandson and honorary patron of the society, Merlin Holland.

St_James'_Paddington

St. James’s Church, Paddington

Although Oscar was in the public eye by then, the uncertain health of Constance’s grandfather, John Horatio Lloyd, ensured that their wedding was an unexpectedly low-key event. Admittance, by invitation only, was restricted to family and close friends. Nevertheless, the event was covered extensively by the press of the day.

According to the Edinburgh Evening News, Oscar ‘bore himself with calm dignity’. He deprived the gossip columnists of copy by wearing a perfectly ordinary blue morning frock-coat with grey trousers, although he did display ‘a touch of pink in his neck tie’.

The ceremony may have been subdued, but the bride and groom were jubilant. The Lady’s Pictorial reported that:

The newly-married pair, as they came down the long aisle arm-in-arm, looked as hundreds of newly-married people have looked before – the bridegroom happy and exultant; the bride with a tender flush on her face, and a happy hopeful light in her soft brown eyes.

Constance

Constance’s lovely dress was described in society magazine Queen as a:

…rich creamy satin dress…of a delicate cowslip tint; the bodice, cut square and somewhat low in front, was finished with a high Medici collar; the ample sleeves were puffed; the skirt, made plain, was gathered by a silver girdle of beautiful workmanship, the gift of Mr. Oscar Wilde; the veil of saffron-coloured Indian silk gauze was embroidered with pearls and worn in Marie Stuart fashion; a thick wreath of myrtle leaves crowned her frizzed hair; the dress was ornamented with clusters of myrtle leaves; the large bouquet had as much green in it as white.

Lady Jane Wilde, Oscar’s mother, looked resplendent in grey satin, trimmed with a chenille fringe and topped off with a high crowned hat adorned with ostrich feathers. It was reported in the Lancaster Gazette that she:

‘“snatched” her new daughter to her heart with some effusion’.

After a modest reception at the Lancaster Gate home of John Horatio Lloyd, the newlyweds boarded the boat-train to Dover and travelled on to Paris; ‘few married couples ever carried better wishes with them,’ gushed the Aberdeen Evening Express.

Lovely to think of them sharing such happiness. Read Wilde’s Women for a full account of their marriage.

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Did Jane Wilde Inform Bram Stoker’s Dracula?

May 26 is World Dracula Day, so named to mark to anniversary of the publication of Bram Stoker’s magnificent Gothic novel. One of my favourite holiday experiences of all time was when I sat reading Dracula in the window seat of a house in Grape Lane, Whitby (the Yorkshire seaside town where much of Dracula is set). I could just about see the harbour where Stoker’s mysterious ship comes in under full sail and his demonic black dog disembarks before running up the 199 steps towards Whitby Abbey.

Of course, there are many connections between Stoker and the Wilde family, which you can read about in Wilde’s Women. He was particularly friendly with Lady Jane Wilde; ‘I suppose you dine with Lady Wilde as usual,’ his father asked in one letter between them.

I like to imagine Bram reading Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms & Superstitions of Ireland by his great friend Jane Wilde (who would almost certainly have given him a copy) and thinking ‘hmmmm’.

In Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms & Superstitions of Ireland, published in 1887, ten years before Dracula, Jane explained that:

‘…in the Transylvanian legends and superstitions…many will be found identical with the Irish’.

Particularly significant, she argued, was the shared belief that:

‘the dead are only in a trance; they can hear everything but can make no sign’.

Jane’s descriptions of horned witches who drew blood from victims as they slept might well have informed Bram’s ‘weird sisters’, three female vampires who fed on the blood of men.

While she told tales of men who assumed the shape of wolves and monstrous, soul-devouring hounds, his best loved book reverberates with the howling of wolves, and his Dracula assumes the shape of ‘an immense dog’.

I include details of their friendship in Wilde’s Women:

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Oscar Wilde’s Great-Grandfather & 1798

The first clashes of the Irish rebellion of 1798 took place just after dawn on this day (24 May). Much of the action took place in the county of Wexford in the South-East of Ireland, and one of the families caught up in hostilities was that of the Reverend John Elgee, Grandfather of Lady Jane Wilde, the foremost of Wilde’s Women.

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John Elgee, Rector of Wexford by then, almost lost his life during the rising of 1798, when his home was occupied by a bloodthirsty band of local pike-men. Although many Protestant clergymen and their families were murdered at that time, the Elgee family was spared; otherwise there would never have been an Oscar Wilde. Local historians attributed this act of mercy to the gratitude of a former prisoner to whom Elgee had shown kindness in his role as inspector of the local gaol. [i]

In Ancient Cures, Charms, and Usages of Ireland: Contributions to Irish LoreJane Wilde recorded details of her family’s involvement:

‘On the day the rebels entered Wexford, the rector Archdeacon Elgee, my grandfather, assembled a few of his parishioners in the church to partake of the sacrament together, knowing that a dreadful death awaited them. On his return, the rebels were already forcing their way into his house; they seized him, and the pikes were already at his breast, when a man stepped forth and told of some great act of kindness which the Archdeacon had shown his family.

In an instant the feeling changed, and the leader gave orders that the Archdeacon and all that belonged to him should be held safe from harm. A rebel guard was set over his house and not a single act of violence was permitted. But that same evening all the leading gentlemen of the town were dragged from their houses and piked by the rebels upon Wexford Bridge.’ [ii]

Wexford Bridge (c) 1798

Rector Elgee, widely admired in the community, was appointed Mayor of Wexford in 1802 and elevated to Archdeacon of Leighlin in 1804. Jane was little more than a baby when he died in 1823. A tribute in the Waterford Mirror lamented the passing of a man who had, ‘died universally regretted – as he had lived beloved by all his parishioners’.[iii]

[i] One example is James Bentley Gordon, History of the Rebellion in Ireland in the Year 1798 (Dublin, T. Hurst, 1803), p.176. An article in the Belfast Newsletter of 12 March 1824 repeats this version. Elgee undoubtedly had a connection with Wexford Gaol: Parliamentary records suggest that he acted as prison inspector and procured supplies for the prisoners. Details of payments to purchase provisions, along with an application for a salary on behalf of Rev. John Elgee are included in accounts presented to the House of Commons from the East India Company, printed in 1808, p.429

[ii] Lady Jane Wilde, Ancient Cures, Charms, and Usages of Ireland: Contributions to Irish Lore (London, Ward & Downey, 1890) pp.228-9n

[iii] ‘Tithe case Before the Privy Council’, Waterford Mirror, 24 January 1825, p.3

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George Egerton: Writing a ‘Topsy-Turvey’ World

I’m delighted that my feature ‘George Egerton: “Writing a Topsy-Turvey World”‘ was long-listed for the prestigious THRESHOLDS Feature Writing Competition. Egerton admired Wilde and emulated his style so I’ve decided that she qualifies as one of Wilde’s Women.

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You can read my profile of the life and writing of this extraordinary woman on the Thresholds website here, or below:

George Egerton

George Egerton: Writing a ‘Topsy-Turvey’ World

by Eleanor Fitzsimons

Surely, a proto-modernist writer whose experimental approach and provocative themes were echoed, decades later, in classic works by James Joyce and D.H. Lawrence should enjoy an enduring reputation. No one would countenance the neglect of an author whose challenging first collection of short stories, Keynotes, sold more than six thousand copies in its first year, was translated into seven languages, and influenced Hardy’s Jude the Obscure. Yet the name George Egerton is rarely mentioned outside academic circles.

Perhaps Egerton, a woman, ensured her own neglect by engaging in unflinching criticism of the patriarchy. In ‘Now Spring Has Come’, the second story in Keynotes, she insisted that woman should embrace her true and turbulent nature, when she wrote: ‘the untrue feminine is of man’s making.’ Egerton’s sensual exploration of such dangerous themes provoked a backlash so intense that Punch magazine reflected the unease she incited among its Victorian readers by parodying her viciously in ‘She-Notes’ by ‘Borgia Smudgiton’.

Best remembered – if remembered at all – for Keynotes, Egerton was born Mary Chavelita Dunne in Melbourne, Australia, in 1859, to Isabel George, a Welsh Protestant, and Captain John J. Dunne, an Irish Catholic. A militiaman’s daughter, Egerton’s unsettled childhood unfolded between Australia, Chile and New Zealand, where her father participated in the brutal suppression of that country’s indigenous Maori people. She was also educated for a time in a German Catholic boarding school. The early death of her mother, when Egerton was just fourteen, obliged her to abandon aspirations of becoming an artist in order to spend her formative years in and around Dublin, helping her widowed father to raise her younger siblings. As a result, she considered herself ‘intensely Irish’. Several of her stories tackle Irish themes: ‘The Marriage of Mary Ascension’ explores clerical and parental oppression in middle-class Ireland, while ‘Mammy’ includes an account of prostitution in Dublin.

Once her father could spare her, Egerton trained as a nurse and lived in New York for a time, before returning to Ireland as travelling companion to the Hon. Charlotte Whyte-Melville. When Captain Dunne discovered that Whyte-Melville’s husband, Henry Higginson, an Episcopalian priest, was having an affair with his daughter, he threatened Higginson at gunpoint, prompting Egerton to flee to Norway with her lover. Their marriage, contracted in June 1888, endured for less than a year and, shortly afterwards, Higginson, a volatile alcoholic, died of complications related to his illness. Although Egerton lived in Norway only briefly (she soon moved on to London), her time there honed her literary abilities. A talented linguist, she had learned Norwegian and immersed herself in the works of Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg and Nobel Prize-winner Knut Hamsun, with whom she enjoyed a brief romance and whose work she translated into English. She used her relationship with Hamsun as the inspiration for ‘Now Spring Has Come’. Egerton also studied the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche a decade before they were translated into English; she references him in several of her stories and is the first person to do so in English literature.

In November 1891, Egerton married Egerton Tertius Clairmonte, a Canadian citizen and struggling novelist whose lack of success obliged her to take up her own pen in order to supplement the family income. It helped that the couple had moved to rural Ireland where Egerton encountered few distractions. Her pseudonym paid tribute to her late mother, whose maiden name she took, and also to her husband. Remarking that this was ‘the only provision that he ever made for her’, Egerton’s biographer, Terence de Vere White, noted: ‘Her elopement with Higginson gave her the material for a book; her second husband, by his dependence on her, gave her the motive to employ it.’ George, the couple’s only child, was born in 1895, the same year his parents divorced. By then, John Lane and Elkin Mathews of the Bodley Head had published Keynotes (1893), which Egerton dedicated to Knut Hamsun, her former lover.

In a series of interlinked stories, Egerton’s first collection explores the gradual acceptance by her female protagonists that the purity required of them was a patriarchal construct imposed in order to deny them sexual freedom and fulfilment. In ‘Now Spring Has Come’, she was scathing in her criticism, writing:

Men manufactured an artificial morality; made sins of things that were as clean in themselves as the pairing of birds on the wing; crushed nature, robbed it of its beauty and meaning, and established a system that means war, and always war, because it is a struggle between instinctive truths and cultivated lies.

Egerton’s women reject their proscribed roles as guardians of morality, and refuse to engage in the heteronormative courtship plots familiar to readers of the time. Instead, they cooperate with other women, often overcoming constructed ethnic and social divisions in pursuit of agency and self-determination. ‘Woman, where her own feelings are not concerned, will always make common cause with women against men’, she wrote in ‘The Spell of the White Elf’, the third story in Keynotes.

While most of Egerton’s heroines are white middle– and upper-class women, in ‘Under Northern Sky’, Marie Larsen, a maidservant, entertains her drunken master with compelling tales in a bid to ensure that her mistress enjoys an uninterrupted night. In doing so, she ‘[takes] the enemy by stratagem’. The emancipated women that populate these dangerous and destabilising stories prompted comparison to Ibsen and sparked intense speculation as to the true identity of their author. Reviewing Egerton’s collection for The Academy in 1894, literary critic William Sharp described her fictional world, where women explore their desires and pursue supportive relationships with other women, as ‘topsy-turvey’.

Although closely associated with the fin-de-siècle New Woman movement, Egerton was uncomfortable with her inclusion: ‘I am embarrassed at the outset by the term ‘New Woman’’, she admitted. In an interview with American periodical Book Buyer, she confessed to having no views on ‘emancipation’ or the ‘woman question’. Unlike true New Woman writers, Egerton adopted an essentialist approach to gender, encouraging women to abandon all ambitions of emulating men in order to focus on the realisation of their own potential. In her epistolary and largely autobiographical novel Rosa Amorosa, she wrote:

Broadly speaking, woman has given most of her energy to a development of masculine qualities, instead of a cultivation to the utmost of the best in herself – as woman – with the object of producing the finest type of womanhood.

Although her exploration of sexual emancipation and self-actualisation resonated with New Woman preoccupations, Egerton shunned notions of equality. Yet, while she envisaged an alternative calling for woman, her forthright language reflected the fury of the burgeoning women’s rights movement. In ‘Now Spring Has Come’, she wrote:

What half creatures we are, we women! – hermaphrodite by force of circumstances, deformed results of a fight of centuries between physical suppression and natural impulses to fulfil our destiny.

Egerton loathed the duplicity of Victorian society, which she summed up in a sardonic letter to her father, writing: ‘sin as you please but don’t be found out it’s all right so long as you don’t shock us by letting us know.’ Little wonder her protagonist in ‘A Cross Line’, the first story in Keynotes, dreams of escape:

A great longing fills her soul to sail off somewhere too – away from the daily need of dinner-getting and the recurring Monday with its washing, life with its tame duties and virtuous monotony.

Although Egerton intended ‘A Cross Line’ to be the last story in her collection, the Bodley Head insisted it go first since, as Professor Margaret Stetz argued:

With its plot based on casual adultery, its references to unwed mothers, and its flattering portrayal of a woman who drinks whiskey, goes fishing alone, and smokes cigarettes, ‘A Cross Line’ […] guaranteed attention for the whole book.

Fearless in her choice of theme, Egerton also subverted conventional genre boundaries that set long-form and short-form fiction apart. Norwegian academic Gerd Bjørhovde insists that readers were ‘as shocked by the way she wrote as by what she wrote’. Her stories spill into each other, chasing themes from first page to last, as she explores the innate wildness of a woman’s nature and allows her female protagonists to seize opportunities for self-knowledge and control of their destiny. In Discords, her darker and far less successful second collection of stories, Egerton documents the barriers women collide against when attempting to break free from rigid Victorian norms. Here, she explores alcoholism, marital abuse, prostitution and suicide. In ‘Virgin Soil’, the fifth story in the collection, a newly married woman is destroyed by her ignorance of the sex act.

Only in ‘The Regeneration of Two’, the last story in Discords, does Egerton sound a hopeful note, allowing her protagonist to enjoy a fulfilling, non-marital romance and a gratifying career helping other women. As American scholar Martha Vicinus suggests, this decision to lighten the tone may reflect Egerton’s ‘need to imagine a better world where women work together and men understand and keep their freedom too’. It is telling that she set this story in her beloved Norway rather than Victorian England, where she had made her home by then. While Egerton had plenty of detractors, she had supporters too. In 1895, publisher John Lane, with whom she had a romantic liaison, wrote to her from America, assuring her that her stories were ‘very much in the air’ there. Adopting the title ‘Keynotes’, he published a series of New Woman fiction under the Bodley Head imprint.

Egerton also wrote for quarterly literary periodical The Yellow Book: her story ‘The Lost Masterpiece’ was included in the very first issue in April 1894, and her connection with this publication created an association with the Decadent movement. By echoing Oscar Wilde’s style in several of her stories, and quoting him in an epigram to ‘A Little Gray Glove’, the fourth story in Keynotes, she reinforced Wilde’s association with New Women’s writing. Several passages in ‘A Cross Line’, which imagine a dance in a ‘dream of motion’, take much from Wilde’s Salome, although Egerton’s woman dances for her own pleasure and not in an attempt to satisfy the male gaze:

She can see herself with parted lips and panting, rounded breasts, and a dancing devil in each glowing eye, sway voluptuously to the wild music that rises, now slow, now fast, now deliriously wild, seductive, intoxicating, with a human note of passion in its strain.

This dancing woman is acutely aware of the undermining decorative role she is expected to fill, a common theme in New Woman writing. In a show of solidarity, she wonders if other women feel the same.

Egerton’s association with Wilde, and the consequent discontinuation of The Yellow Book, damaged her reputation. Although she wrote five short story collections, an epistolary collection, one novel, and several plays, she never replicated the success of Keynotes. Her decline coincided with her marriage in 1901 to drama critic and literary agent Reginald Golding-Bright, who was fifteen years her junior. Following his example, she became drama agent to George Bernard Shaw, who produced her first play, and also to Somerset Maugham. Egerton, known by then as Mary Chavelita Bright, passed the final four decades of her long life in relative solitude and died in 1945. As one obituary writer put it:

George Egerton’s death brings back to mind the so-called ‘new woman’ school of fiction of the nineties in which the ‘problems’ of the relations of the sexes for the first time in English literature were put before a somewhat bewildered Victorian public.

Interest in Egerton has grown in recent years but she remains neglected in comparison to contemporaries such as Olive Schreiner, Sarah Grand, and Mona Caird. Yet, her unique brand of feminist writing is worthy of our interest and her revolutionary ideas had a significant influence on several groundbreaking writers, both male and female.

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Rossetti, Sidonia & Lady Jane Wilde

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, painter, poet and one of the founder members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, was born on this day (12 May) in 1828. Oscar Wilde, who was determined to become a poet like his mother, admired Rossetti greatly and strove to associate himself with the Pre-Raphaelite poets, Rossetti in particular. As a young man, his credibility among this group was enhanced greatly by the fact that Lady Jane Wilde had translated the English edition of Willhelm Meinhold’s Sidonia the Sorceress, a key Pre-Raphaelite text, in 1849. Rossetti in particular was said to have referred to and quoted from Jane’s translation ‘incessantly’.

Edward Burne-Jones, 'Sidonia von Bork 1560', 1860

Burne-Jones ‘Sidonia von Bork 1590’

In his review of a 1926 edition of Sidonia, reprinted in Leaves and FruitEdmund Gosse stated that it was Rossetti who ‘inoculated the whole Preraphaelite circle with something of his own enthusiasm’ for the book. The association of this text with the Pre-raphaelites was strengthened in 1893, when William Morris’s company Kelmscott Press reprinted and published Jane’s translation of Sidonia the Sorceress. Here’s a beautifully illuminated page from that edition:

Wilde was fully aware of this connection of course. In a letter sent from Reading jail to his great friend and literary executor Robert Ross in 1896, he mentioned that:

‘my Great-uncle’s Melmoth and my mother’s Sidonia the Sorceress were among the books which entranced him [Rossetti] in his youth.’

Lady Jane Wilde’s translation of Sidonia the Sorceress can be read here. The foremost of Wilde’s Women, her influence on her son Oscar was enormous.

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Captain Cyril Holland RIP

Captain Cyril Holland

St. Vaast Post Military Cemetery, Richebourg-l’Avoue

On 9 May 1915, Captain Cyril Holland of the Royal Field Artillery was killed in action when shot by a German sniper during the disastrous Battle of Aubers Ridge. He was twenty-nine years old. At the time, his brother Vivian was stationed just three miles away.

Cyril Holland, born Cyril Wilde on 5 June 1885, was the elder son of Oscar and Constance Wilde. A career soldier, in December 1905 he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery and progressed to full Lieutenancy in 1908. He was also a fully qualified interpreter and spoke flawless German.

While serving in India in 1914, Cyril wrote to his brother to explain that, since the death of their father in 1900:

my great incentive has been to wipe (the) stain away; to retrieve, if may be, by some action of mine, a name no longer honoured in the land. The more I thought of this, the more convinced I became that, first and foremost, I must be a man. … I am no wild, passionate, irresponsible hero. I live by thought, not by emotion.  I ask nothing better than to end in honourable battle for my King and Country.

How tragic that insufferable intolerance left a fine and sensitive man feeling ashamed to carry the name of one of our greatest literary heroes.

Photograph of Captain Cyril Holland (Wilde)

Cyril Holland

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Speranza’s ‘Saturdays’

Speranza, Lady Jane Wilde

Lady Jane Wilde aka Speranza

When Lady Jane Wilde, Oscar’s mother, arrived in London on 7 May 1879, she faced an uncertain future having been left with nothing but debts after the death of her beloved husband, Sir William Wilde. As soon as she recovered her customary ebullience, she revived her Saturday salon and let it be known that she would be at home between five and seven. Visitors came in their droves and, in time, she needed to supplement her ‘Saturdays’ with literary Wednesdays.

‘No more successful hostess than Lady Wilde could be found’,

wrote her friend Catherine Hamilton.

‘She managed to put people at their ease, and without talking too much herself, she drew out the best in others’.

Here’s an excerpt from my book, Wilde’s Women, describing these very special gatherings:

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When William Butler Yeats persuaded novelist Katharine Tynan to write him a letter of introduction to Lady Jane Wilde, he expressed the hope that he would find her ‘as delightful as her book [Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms and Superstitions of Ireland]…as delightful as she certainly is unconventional’. To Jane, he was ‘my Irish poet’. In time, he would name Maud Gonne, his great love and muse, ‘The New Speranza’. Yeats, who thought the whole Wilde family ‘very imaginative and learned’, acknowledged that London had few better talkers than Jane. He wrote of her that she ‘longed always perhaps, though certainly amid much self-mockery, for some impossible splendour of character and circumstance’.

Katharine Tynan felt ‘entirely grateful ‘that Jane was ‘very kind to an obscure Irish versifier’. The first gathering she attended took place in the modest house on Park Street in Mayfair that Jane and her elder son Willie took occupancy of towards the end of 1881. Although they had traded up to a more fashionable address, they were obliged to compromise on space and could barely manage the rent on ‘a little house wedged in between another little house and a big public-house at the corner’. When Katharine was greeted by Jane, decked out in ‘a white dress like a Druid priestess, her grey hair hanging down her back’, the first thing that struck her was the gloom. She recounted a humorous anecdote in her memoir, Twenty-Five Years Reminiscences. As she stumbled in the direction Jane indicated: ‘A soft hand took mine and a soft voice spoke. “So fortunate,” said the voice, “that no one could suspect dear Lady Wilde of being a practical joker! There really is a chair”’.

Once they had negotiated the narrow stairway, guests were greeted by Jane or her garrulous elder son, Willie, who bore a striking resemblance to Oscar. On one occasion, an American friend, Anna de Brémont lost her nerve and hovered on the threshold of the red-tinged semi-darkness until Jane called her by name and rose majestically, ‘her headdress with its long white steamers and glittering jewels giving her quite a queenly air’. The gathering that day consisted of ‘long-haired poets and short-haired novelists – smartly dressed Press women, and not a few richly gowned ladies of fashion’. It was considered, ‘very intellectual’ to be seen at Lady Wilde’s crushes and a cacophony of accents competed to be heard. Local Londoners vied with their Hibernian neighbours and a transatlantic twang dominated at the height of the season when visiting Americans were drawn there by Oscar’s popularity. ‘All London comes to me by way of King’s Road…but the Americans come straight from the Atlantic steamers moored at Chelsea Bridge,’ Jane boasted. Her reception for poet Oliver Wendell Holmes was said to have attracted the cream of literary London.

On that first occasion, Katharine Tynan reported that Jane’s blinds were down in defiance of the bright sunshine outside. Inside, the murk was punctured by the few feeble beams that radiated from a scattering of red-shaded tallow candles ‘arranged so as to cast the limelight on the prominent people, leaving the spectators in darkness’. In almost every account of Jane’s life, it is assumed that vanity was her motivation for keeping her house in darkness so as to distract attention from her ravaged looks. Yet, Catherine Hamilton, among others, testified that her friend remained ‘strikingly handsome’ with ‘glorious dark eyes’ well into her sixties. According to another friend, Henriette Corkran, Jane simply detested ‘the brutality of strong lights’.

Certainly, Jane’s own words support this. She told Oscar that she chose crimson wallpaper punctuated with gleaming golden stars in order to give her home ‘a genial glow’. In her Notes on Men, Women and Books, she expressed approval for Sydney Smith’s aphorism ‘light puts out conversation’, and she also admired romantic poet Samuel Rogers for keeping his dining table in ‘soft shadow’ when most people would have, ‘a vulgar, blinding, flaring glare of gas pouring down upon the heads of the unfortunate, half-asphyxiated guests’.

Although her objective was a ‘genial glow’, the atmosphere at Jane’s Park Street home must have seemed oppressive to some. Pre-Raphaelite painter Herbert Gustav Schmalz, who was rumored to have clashed with Oscar when the latter accused him of leaving one of Jane’s gatherings too early, remembered pastilles of compressed medicinal herbs smoldering on her mantelpiece, and curtain-draped mirrors hanging from ceiling to floor, making it difficult to discern where her room ended and where it began.

As Katharine Tynan’s eyes adjusted to the gloom, she saw that Jane’s walls were crammed with photographs of Oscar in various poses. Their subject arrived shortly afterwards, as he generally did in those early days. In response, the crowd parted, allowing him to bow over his mother’s hand before taking up his favourite position by the chimney-piece, where he struck an aesthetic pose. After a time, he shook off his affectation in order to help his mother pass around the tea. Katherine Tynan declared that, on this and on all such occasions, she found Oscar unfailingly ‘pleasant, kind and interested’; just like his delightful mother.

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