One of the lesser-known women in Wilde’s Women, someone who admired Oscar hugely, is Adela Schuster, the extraordinarily generous daughter of a wealthy Frankfurt banker. She is thought to have met him late in 1892.
In 1895, when Oscar was in dire straits, Adela opened her purse to him; the £1000 she gave him paid his mother’s rent and her burial expenses as well as funding the confinement of Willie Wilde’s wife Lily when she gave birth to Dolly Wilde. Adela also attempted to effect a reconciliation between Oscar and Constance by corresponding with mutual friends.
In a letter to More Adey, written in 1896, Adela described the ‘real affection’ she felt for Oscar & her ‘immense admiration for his genius’, adding:
“I do and always shall feel honoured by any friendship he may show me…Personally I have never known anything but good of O…and for years have received unfailing kindness and courtesy from him – kindness because he knew how I loved to hear him talk, and whenever he came he poured out for me his lordly tales & brilliant paradoxes without stint and without reserve. He gave me of his best, intellectually, and that was a kindness so great in a man so immeasurably my superior that I shall always be grateful for it”.
Oscar in turn paid tribute to Adela in de Profundis, describing her as:
“…one of the most beautiful personalities I have ever known: a woman, whose sympathy and noble kindness to me both before and since the tragedy of my imprisonment have been beyond power of description: one who has really assisted me, though she does not know it, to bear the burden of my troubles more than anyone else in the whole world has: and all through the mere fact of her existence: through her being what she is, partly an ideal and partly an influence, a suggestion of what one might become, as well as a real help towards becoming it, a soul that renders the common air sweet, and makes what is spiritual seem as simple and natural as sunlight or the sea, one for whom Beauty and Sorrow walk hand in hand and have the same message.”
Oscar instructed Robbie Ross to make two copies of the letter that would become de Profundis, and to send one copy to Adela Schuster and one to Frances (Frankie) Forbes-Robertson, since he believed ‘both these sweet women will be interested to know something of what is happening to my soul’.
Although it’s not known whether Oscar met with Adela after his release, he did have a copy of The Importance of Being Earnest sent to her. On his death, she sent a wreath and her name was included on a list of “those who had shown kindness to him during or after his imprisonment,” which was attached to a wreath of laurels inscribed “A tribute to his literary achievements and distinction”. This was placed at the head of Oscar’s coffin by Robbie Ross
Ross also sent Adela a comprehensive account of Wilde’s final months on 23 December 1900, and dedicated The Duchess of Padua to her in his Collected Edition (1908) in order to fulfil Oscar’s desire to express his gratitude for her “infinite kindness”. His lovely dedication can be read here.
Truly, Adela Schuster was one of Wilde’s Women.