Margot Asquith & The Star Child

Margot Asquith in 1905

In her memoir More Memories, socialite Margot Tennant, who was by then the wife of Scottish Liberal M.P. Herbert Asquith, wrote:

‘On 7th December [1891] I received a letter from Oscar Wilde, saying he had dedicated his new story The Star Child to me’.

Margot first met Oscar at a garden party given by Lady Archibald Campbell. In her memoir, she remembered him as a

‘large, fat, floppy man, in unusual clothes sitting under a fir tree surrounded by admirers’.

Oscar was recounting a ‘brilliant monologue’ at the time in which he compared himself playfully,to Shakespeare. Margot felt compelled to join his circle and afterwards they struck up a lasting friendship while strolling around Janey Campbell’s lovely gardens.

Recalling a ‘brilliant luncheon’ Margot hosted with her husband, poet Wilfrid Scawen Blunt wrote in My Diaries; being a Personal narrative of Events 1888-1914:

‘Afterwards, when the rest had gone away, Oscar remained, telling stories to me and Margot’.

During the autumn of 1889, Margot invited Oscar to stay at Glen, her family’s country estate, although she decided he must dislike the countryside since he spent ‘most of his time in the house,’ where he ‘wrote several aphorisms and poems on loose sheets of paper’. The fact that she managed to lose these sheets is indicative of the poor regard she developed for his work: ‘Speaking for myself’, she confessed, ‘I do not think his stories, plays, or poems will live’. Yet, her letter indicates that she was pleased when he dedicated ‘The Star Child’ to her.

Image result for a house of pomegranates first edition

This tale, which is included in A House of Pomegranates, appears to borrow from Irish mythology; Wilde’s charmed child possesses some of the qualities associated with the Sidhe, a fairy race described beautifully by his mother, Jane, in Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland. In Wilde’s tale, two poor woodcutters happen upon a beautiful infant who appears to have fallen from the heavens. Although he grows up to be cruel and haughty, the boy is redeemed once he passes through a series of trials that oblige him to confront  his wickedness.

sidhe

Riders of the Sidhe by John Duncan

Wilde’s tales rarely have conventionally happy endings; although the young man becomes king and rules for three years, his munificence barely touches the unequal society he presides over and he is replaced by a series of despots. The moral of the story is that no matter how beneficent the ruler, the people cannot progress without self-determination.

Margot Asquith too was close to the seat of power. Within months of the publication of A House of Pomegranates, her husband was appointed Home Secretary and in this role he acted as Wilde’s prosecutor. A distant relative by marriage of Lord Alfred Douglas, Margot would have nothing to do with Oscar when he needed her most, although she did remain a loyal friend to Robbie Ross.

You can read ‘The Star Child’ here.

Sources:

Eleanor Fitzsimons, Wilde’s Women: How Oscar Wilde was Shaped by the Women he Knew (Duckworth, 2015)

PBCover

Margot Asquith, More Memories (London, Cassells & Company,1933)

Dr. Anne Markey, Oscar Wilde’s Fairy Tales: Origins and Contexts (Irish Academic Press, 2011)

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Margot Asquith & The Star Child

  1. Given her breach with Oscar Wilde I wonder if her relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas was affected by the poem he wrote describing her as a lesbian? And I would have paid any amount of money to have witnessed the occasion she met Jean Harlow…

  2. Eleanor Fitzsimons

    Yes it must have been I’d imagine. I don’t think they were ever close and her biographer Anne de Courcy reckons his claims about her were nonsense. Of course, she does feature prominently in Philip Hoare’s Oscar Wilde’s Last Stand re: the Maud Allen case (excellent) accused of similar. The Margot/Harlow pronunciation story is brilliant – I hope it’s true!

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