Tag Archives: Eleanor Fitzsimons

Culture Night 2016: Wilde & Women in The Arts


I was absolutely thrilled to be invited to participate in Ireland’s wonderful and vibrant Culture Night this year. I spoke at a brilliant event organised by herst_ry at the lovely Liquor Rooms on Dublin’s quays. My topic was how Oscar Wilde helped women in the arts. Here is a taste of just three of the women I spoke about. All three are included in my book Wilde’s Women:   


Alice Pike Barney (1857–1931)


Self portrait: Alice Pike Barney Renwick Gallery, Washington D.C.

One day in July 1882, Oscar Wilde took time out of his arduous lecturing schedule to go to the Long Island resort of Long Beach with one of his patrons Sam Ward. There he was introduced to Alice Pike Barney and her six-year-old daughter, Natalie. When Alice injured her foot in the water, Oscar, well over six feet tall and broad-shouldered, gallantly carried her up the beach and they got talking. Although hugely talented, Alice’s ambitions to study art were opposed by her boorish husband, Albert Clifford Barney, a hard-drinking man with a nasty habit of infidelity.

Oscar encouraged her to ignore her husband and so she did. She took art lessons in Paris and studied under Carolus-Duran and James McNeill Whistler. Later, she was admitted to the Society of Washington Artists and had solo shows at major galleries including the Corcoran Gallery of Art. With newfound confidence, she also wrote and performed in several plays and an opera, and worked to promote the arts in Washington, D.C. Many of her paintings are in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Elizabeth Robins (1862 –1952)


Elizabeth Robins: So much more than a beautiful face

American actress Elizabeth Robins was determined to break into English theatre. When she met Oscar at a party in July 1888, he told her: ‘Your future on our stage is assured’. He introduced her to influential theatre directors and even helped her to secure an agent. She found it amusing that he encouraged her to emulate Lillie Langtry since she saw herself as an altogether more serious performer with ambitions to manage and direct too.

The course of Robins’ life changed when she travelled to Norway and studied the works of Henrik Ibsen, a playwright who was sympathetic to the plight of women. In his notes for A Doll’s House, Ibsen asserted:

A woman cannot be herself in contemporary society; it is an exclusively male society with laws drafted by men, and with counsel and judges who judge feminine conduct from the male point of view.

Robins formulated a plan to introduce Ibsen to English audiences. She also hoped to end the stranglehold that male actor-managers had on English Theatre, a situation that resulted in women being undervalued as actors, writers and producers. When she struggled to attract subscribers to fund a series of twelve of Ibsen’s plays at the Opera Comique, Oscar stepped forward: ‘The English stage is in her debt,’ he declared, ‘I am one of her warmest admirers’. He funded her project and encouraged others to do so. Although audiences found the realism of Ibsen’s plays alarming, Oscar turned up several times and gave her productions his full attention. He assured her: ‘I count Ibsen fortunate in having so brilliant and subtle an artist to interpret him’.

Robins, grateful for Oscar’s support, acknowledged:

…he was then at the height of his powers and fame and I utterly unknown on this side of the Atlantic. I could do nothing for him; he could and did do everything in his power for me.

E. Nesbit (1858-1924)


E Nesbit; Pioneer of Children’s Literature

When Edith Bland, who wrote as E. Nesbit, sent Oscar her poetry collection Lays and Legend in 1886, he responded with an encouraging letter. As editor of The Woman’s World, he reviewed her collection Leaves of Life and published three of her poems. In his review of Woman’s Voices, an anthology edited by Elizabeth Sharp, he described Nesbit as ‘a very pure and perfect artist’, and lauded her ambition to ‘give poetic form to humanitarian dreams, and socialist aspirations’.

Nesbit, the main earner in her unconventional family, was obliged to all but give up writing poetry, her true passion, in favour of writing serialised children’s stories. Drawing on her own childhood fears and insecurities, she invented the children’s adventure story in which her protagonists faced genuine peril. Her best loved tales include the classics Five Children and It and The Railway Children. Nesbit changed children’s writing and influenced CS Lewis, JK Rowling and Jacqueline Wilson among many others. She is the subject of my next biography.


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The Family of Things

I was delighted to join Helen Shaw of Athena Media recently as the tenth guest on their excellent ‘The Family of Things’ series of podcasts. You can visit the website here or listen on iTunes.

Here’s the blurb from the Athena Media Website:

Author and researcher Eleanor Fitzsimons is our latest guest in The Family of Things.


Eleanor Fitzsimons PR Shot

Eleanor Fitzsimons: Author of Wilde’s Women

Eleanor’s acclaimed biography of Oscar Wilde from the perspective of the women in his life ‘Wilde’s Women’ opens new windows on both Wilde and his work.

Eleanor’s beautifully written and carefully researched study was published in Ireland in Autumn 2015 and is being released in the US this year. In this conversation with presenter Helen Shaw she introduces us to Wilde’s intriguing mother, Jane Wilde, a celebrated writer in her own time, and his much suffering wife Constance LLoyd as well as the women writers who influenced and inspired Wilde.

Eleanor describes her work as ‘recovering’ lost stories of women in history and sees her journey as akin to excavating the past; bringing forth what has been forgotten or obscured.
Wilde’s Women is published by Duckworth Overlook and you can follow Eleanor’s work and story via twitter.



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I’ve won the Keats-Shelley Essay Prize 2013

Eleanor Fitzsimons and Salley Vickers

I’m absolutely thrilled. I’ve won the Keats-Shelley Essay Prize for 2013. This means a lot as I am working on a biography of Harriet Shelley and I’m hoping that this takes me a step closer to publication. Fingers crossed! Here are some details:

Keats-Shelley Prizes 2013 won by Irish Writers:

On Thursday evening, 7 November, in front of a distinguished audience that filled St. Martin’s Hall in St. Martin’s Crypt to capacity, the prestigious Keats-Shelley Essay prize for 2013 was awarded to Eleanor Fitzsimons for her essay ‘The Shelleys in Ireland: Passion masquerading as insight?’ and the prestigious Keats-Shelley Prize for Poetry was awarded to Patrick Cotter for his poem ‘Madra’. This is the first time in the sixteen year history of both the poetry prize and the essay prize that an Irish person has won, so it’s remarkable to have achieved the double.

The Keats-Shelley Prizes were established in 1998 by the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association, which actively champions and celebrates new voices and emerging writers. In her introduction, acclaimed novelist and chair of the judging panel, Salley Vickers described the essays submitted this year as, ‘rich and various, scholarly and for the most part pleasingly original’.

On presenting the prize to Ms. Fitzsimons, Salley Vickers described her winning essay as, ‘a thoughtful, exciting account of political reform’, and spoke of how her own admiration for the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley was tainted somewhat by his behaviour towards his first wife, Harriet. She chose Patrick Cotter’s poem for: ‘It’s mysterious power to conjure the non-verbal animal world via language – a non-verbal world that stayed in my mind and remained tangible in my imagination’.

Eleanor Fitzsimons is a researcher and freelance journalist. She is represented by literary agent Andrew Lownie and is working on a biography that examines Harriet Shelley’s fascinating, turbulent and tragic life. More information here: http://www.andrewlownie.co.uk/authors/eleanor-fitzsimons/books/a-want-of-honour-the-short-life-and-tragic-death-of-harriet-shelley

Patrick Cotter is the Artistic Director of the Munster Literature Centre in Cork and the organiser and jury chairman of the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. His published work includes a verse novella and two poetry collections Perplexed Skin (Arlen 2008) and Making Music (Three Spires 2009).

The winning essay and poem will be published in the next issue of the Keats-Shelley Review. For further information see http://www.keats-shelley.co.uk/keats-shelley-prize


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