Tag Archives: Irish Times

Stories for Children by Wilde, Constance Wilde

On 2 February 1889, a joint review of two collections of ‘fairytales’, one from Oscar Wilde and the other from his wife, Constance, was published in the Irish Times. 

Mr and Mrs Wilde possess charming children of their own and they have utilised their acquaintance with the infant world in giving to it some delightful fairytales, which even the elders must appreciate. “The Happy Prince and Other Tales,” illustrated by Walter Crane and Jacomb Hood, and published by David Nutt is one of the happiest works which Mr. Oscar Wilde has ever produced; whilst Mrs. Wilde’s fairytales, also published recently and entitled “There Was Once,” are a charming reproduction of the old stories, familiar to our childish days, which Nisbet [sic] has brought out.

The death of her beloved grandmother, ‘Mama Mary’ had prompted Constance to compile There Was Once – Grandma’s Stories, a beautifully illustrated collection of five traditional tales and four familiar rhymes. You can still buy this book by following the link. Mama Mary was Mary Atkinson, widow of Captain John Atkinson, who had been Receiver General of the Post Office. She had lived at 1 Ely Place in Dublin, close to the Wilde’s home on Merrion Square .

The Dandy Chair, with three children playing in the long grass, with two older boys holding the younger child. Published in Nister's Holiday Annual for 1899, edited and arranged by Alfred J Fuller; published by Ernest Nister, 1899.

This was not Constance’s only foray into writing for children; The Bairn’s Annual of Old Fashioned Fairy Tales in 1887 featured a story called ‘Was It a Dream’ by Constance Wilde. In 1892, Ernest Nister, publisher of There Was Once, brought out A Long Time Ago, favorite stories retold by Mrs. Oscar Wilde & others. Nister also published A Cosy Corner and Other Stories, which included Constance’s story ‘For Japan’, featuring a little girl named Isola, probably after Oscar’s sister who had died in childhood.

In 1893, Nister brought out A Dandy Chair and Other Stories, an illustrated collection of children’s stories by Constance Wilde, Edith Nesbit and Mary Louisa Molesworth.  One story contributed by Constance was called ‘The Little Swallow’. Although her stories are mostly lost to us now, Constance Wilde’s literary career is covered comprehensively by Franny Moyle in Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs. Oscar Wilde. You can also read about her life in Wilde’s Women: How Oscar Wilde Was Shaped By The Woman He Knew.



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Latest Reviews for Wilde’s Women


Review Highlights for Wilde’s Women:

  • “A lively debut biography…sharply drawn portraits of a colourful cast of characters…A brisk, sympathetic look at an understudied aspect of Wilde’s eventful life.”
  • “Fitzsimons has produced a thought-provoking and illuminating read that is sure to offer new lines of thought for even the most knowledgeable Wilde fan. Thoroughly readable and accessible, this is a must for students of Wilde of those who just have an appreciation of the man and his work. “
    We Love This Book
  • “I adored this book. It’s a fascinating, readable account and is stunningly well written. “
    Irish Examiner
  • “illuminating study of Oscar Wilde’s life… Fitzsimons does a fascinating job of reminding us that it wasn’t just the men in Wilde’s life that raised him up and brought him down, but that this troupe of exceptional women played their part too.   “
  • “A well-written, deeply researched, and detailed biographical portrait of the many women in Wilde’s life, from his mother and wife to actresses and socialites.”
    Library Journal
  • “Lively new study.”
    Irish Times
  • “Even if you think you know all about Wilde, this highly entertaining book, packed with fascinating detail and anecdotes, will still surprise you.”
    The Lady
  • “Eleanor Fitzsimons is to be congratulated on finding a new and eminently profitable angle from which to approach him [Wilde]: the women who were so uncommonly significant in his life.”
  • “Highly enjoyable and generally reliable.”
    Washington Post
  • “I’m hugely grateful to Eleanor for sharing this book with me, it’s been a joy to read and is meticulously researched. You can feel her passion for the subject leaping from the pages, and it’s contagious! “
    Sheroes of history
  • “A remarkable book… the breadth and depth of research is astonishing.”
    Emma Thompson
  • “lively and comprehensive”
    The Women’s History Association of Ireland
  • ” a refreshing approach to a familiar life story – an approach which could profitably be taken with other literary figures, who have been judged, generally speaking, by their relationships with men.”
    Times Literary Supplement
  • “Worthy and useful addition …provides fresh insights and entertaining asides…brings some interesting figures from Oscar’s world into rewarding new focus .”
    Literary Review
  • “Charting Oscar’s life, Fitzsimons paints a series of vivid portraits of some of Oscar’s female friends and acquaintances, as well as providing sketches of a society in which women were beginning to emerge as influential cultural figures in the form of patrons, writers, performers and more…one of the strengths of Fitzsimons’ work is that she also revives some talented women who have quite simply been forgotten…Wilde’s Women, as much as it is intended to reveal Oscar in the light of his female contemporaries, also illuminates a moment crackling with a sense of possibility for women…what is genuinely revelatory is the extent to which those women outside his immediate circle were also affected by his downfall…Wilde’s Women captures powerful female voices and portrays a group of bold and fearless women who stood by their beliefs and by Oscar when many others would not.”
    Franny Moyle, The Wildean
  • “This is the work of a lifetime and a labour of love from Fitzsimons who has tracked down and ascertained the reciprocal influence between Wilde and the major (and many minor) women in his life.”
    The Heythrop Journal

The latest reviews for Wilde’s Women have appeared in the Washington Post, The Times Literary Supplement, and The Woman’s History Association.

The TLS review is behind a paywall but highlights include:

‘The originality of this latest Wilde biography lies in its in-depth discussion of influential yet subsequently forgotten women of the fin de siecle.’
‘It is a refreshing approach to a familiar life story – an approach which could profitably be taken with other literary figures, who have been judged, generally speaking, by their relationships with men.’
I love this review in American magazine High Voltage!

I’m also absolutely thrilled that Wilde’s Women has been reviewed in The Guardian newspaper by the wonderful Simon Callow, acclaimed actor and a distinguished biographer in his own right.

Also thrilling is the lovely, positive review Wilde’s Women received in iconic magazine The Lady (THE place to advertise for a governess or housekeeper should you require one).


Wilde’s Women - cover

Additional reviews can be found below:

The Irish Times asked renowned and respected Wilde scholar Dr. Eibhear Walshe to review Wilde’s Women. There’s a link to the review here.

Wilde’s Women has also been reviewed positively by The Independent here and here, by Kirkus and by We Love This Book (book of the week) among others. There is a round-up of review highlights on my author page on my agent’s website: http://www.andrewlownie.co.uk.


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Irish Times Reviews Wilde’s Women

I’m delighted that the Irish Times asked renowned and respected Wilde scholar Dr. Eibhear Walshe to review Wilde’s Women. I’m also very happy with his balanced and insightful evaluation. He describes my book as ‘a lively new study’. There’s a link to the review here.

Wilde’s Women - cover

Wilde’s Women has also been reviewed positively by The Independent here and here, by Kirkus and by We Love This Book (book of the week) among others. There is a round-up of review highlights on my author page on my agent’s website: http://www.andrewlownie.co.uk.

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Wilde’s Women in The Irish Times


My book, Wilde’s Women was officially published yesterday, which was Oscar Wilde’s 161st birthday. It was lovely to have the opportunity to mark the occasion with a feature in The Irish Times. There’s a link to it here and I’ve posted it below:

Oscar Wilde: ladies’ man

Oscar may have been gay but many of the key people in his life were women, says author Eleanor Fitzsimons. He also championed women writers and feminists

“Do you have any other ideas?” With these words my endlessly patient agent ended his explanation of why the book proposal his naive new client had devoted the best part of a year to wasn’t generating sufficient interest among publishers. Sure, they admired my writing style and found my subject compelling but, and I’m paraphrasing here, in the cut-throat world of bookselling, they considered my biography of Harriet Shelley, tragic first wife of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, too niche to take a punt on.

It felt at that moment as if the heady days of securing representation, winning a couple of literary prizes and dreaming of one day holding a book in my hands that had my name on the cover had come to an end. But nobody likes to leave an uncomfortable silence and it seemed impolite, if not downright remiss, to admit to having no more ideas at all. And so it was that I blurted out the words “Wilde” and “women”.

What was I thinking? Why would anyone in their right mind choose to write yet another book about Oscar Wilde? Well, unlike poor Harriet, he is universally renowned. Think about it. Not a single day goes by in this, the country of his birth, and in most other countries, without some broadcaster or columnist channelling Wilde’s wit, some theatre director reprising one of his sharp social comedies, or some aspirant author pitching a book about the minutiae of his life. Why shouldn’t I join them?

Anyway, I wasn’t really going to write about Oscar Wilde at all. I was going to write about the women in his life. “The women,” you ask. “What women? We thought he was gay.” Well, he was, but he was also a loving husband, a besotted boyfriend, an affectionate brother to his lovely little sister, a devoted son, and a brilliant best friend to some very impressive women. In Aspects of Wilde, Vincent O’Sullivan described his friend’s uncommon fondness for women:

I have always found, and find today, his [Wilde’s] warmest admirers among women. He, in his turn, admired women. I never heard him say anything disparaging about any woman, even when some of them required such treatment!

Even Lord Alfred Douglas, Wilde’s beloved Bosie, admitted: “With women he succeeded a great deal better than with men.”

Ever since I first encountered Lady Jane Wilde, Oscar’s flamboyant mother and an enduring heroine in his native Ireland, I’ve been intrigued by the influence she had on her son’s life and work. Jane was a poet, a revolutionary, a feminist and a lifelong campaigner for better access to education for women. She was also an incorrigible snob and a brilliant conversationalist whose Saturday conversazione and literary Wednesdays were always packed. She never doubted the genius of her sons and her wholehearted support may have made them reckless.

Far too little has been written about Wilde’s first love, Florence Balcombe, who left him for Bram Stoker and fought tenaciously to secure her rights to her husband’s literary estate. Best remembered for her beauty, she was described by writer Horace Wyndham as “a charming woman and brim full of Irish wit and impulsiveness”. Wilde found brief happiness and stability with his wife, Constance, mother to his two beloved sons. Beautiful, accomplished, politically active and hugely supportive of her brilliant husband, she did her best to stand by him until the end of her heartbreakingly short life.

As an individualist, Wilde believed that few limits should be placed on anyone’s life. He chose as some of his closest friends, freethinking women who challenged conventional gender roles and pushed their way into the public sphere, ignoring the tut-tutting of a society determined to keep them down. He traded witticisms with these women, promoted their work, collaborated with them on theatrical productions, dedicated stories to them and drew inspiration from their lives. Several of his most outspoken and memorable characters are women: Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Ernest, Mrs Erlynne in Lady Windermere’s Fan, Mrs Allonby in A Woman of No Importance.

While some of Wilde’s friends, Lillie Langtry, Ellen Terry and Sarah Bernhardt, are household names, he also engendered extraordinary loyalty in women who are largely forgotten: witty and vivacious Ada Leverson, who inspired his sparkling dialogue; and kind-hearted Henrietta Vaughan Stannard, who published bestselling novels as John Strange Winter and invented her own line of cosmetics. When Wilde toured America, society women paved his way. When he edited The Woman’s World, a progressive women’s magazine, he invited contributions from feminist campaigners and leading thinkers on gender.

At Oxford, Wilde dedicated his Newdigate Prize winning poem, Ravenna, to George Fleming, nom de plume of playwright and novelist Julia Constance Fletcher; he admitted that he was “attracted by her in every way”. He gave renowned feminist and pacifist Helena Swanwick her start in journalism and she wrote of him: “His extravaganzas had no end, his invention was inexhaustible, and everything he said was full of joy and energy”.

At the height of his fame, Wilde was welcomed into the most fashionable drawing rooms in London. As O’Sullivan put it:

In the upper reaches of English society it was not the men, who mostly did not like him, who made his success, but the women. He was too far from the familiar type of the men. He did not shoot or hunt or play cards; he had wit, and took the trouble to talk and be entertaining.

Yet many of these women distanced themselves after he was imprisoned and poet Alice Meynell, formerly an admirer, declared “while there is a weak omnibus horse at work or a hungry cat I am not going to spend feeling on Oscar”.

The women in Wilde’s Women are deserving of at least one book each, and in some instances these biographies exist. Their lives are fascinating and fraught with the challenges of operating in an oppressively patriarchal world. By examining them collectively in terms of their relationship to Wilde, I hope to bring them to the attention of a new readership, and to expose a neglected facet of the most-talked-about man in the world.

Wilde’s Women by Eleanor Fitzsimons is published by Duckworth Overlook on October 16th

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My Review of Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth by Margaret Atwood

I’m absolutely delighted that the wonderful Margaret Atwood will open the Mountains to Sea festival in Dun Laoghaire, which is on from 3-8 September 2013. Several years ago I reviewed her book, ‘Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth’. I was struck at the time by her deep understanding of our relationship with debt and would recommend this book highly. Here’s my review:

BOOK OF THE DAY: ELEANOR FITZSIMONS reviews Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth by Margaret Atwood Bloomsbury 230pp, £9.99

WITH REMARKABLE prescience and a firm grasp of the zeitgeist, Margaret Atwood, Lady Oracle herself, has produced this timely and engaging treatise on the nature of debt – a concept she believes to be integral to the human condition. This is not the first time that Canada’s first lady of literature has reflected current preoccupations in her work. Her post-modern novel Oryx and Crake, depicting in the bleakest terms a devastating global pandemic, was published in 2003 just as her home city of Toronto was in the throes of the Sars epidemic. Now to coincide with the current economic turmoil resulting from the anchoring of our financial system on the shifting sands of unsustainable debt, she has written Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, a companion piece to the Massey Lecture series that the author delivered during a recent lecture tour of Canada. Each of the five chapters in the book formed a lecture and the series will be broadcast on radio in Canada starting on November 10th. Atwood maintains that her motivation for this tangential undertaking is common curiosity. She has, she claims, long been fascinated by the concept of an underlying balancing principle governing society and giving rise to the concept of indebtedness. Debt, she argues, “mirrors and magnifies both voracious human desire and ferocious human fear”. So integral is it to the workings of society that it predates humanity and forms the model underlying the functioning of all groupings of social animals, including several species of primate.

Shedding light on the world’s current predicament, Atwood makes the compelling argument that our hunter/gatherer antecedents preclude us from fully realising the consequences of paying back in the future the money we borrow to satisfy our immediate desires. We are programmed for instant gratification and unable to resist credit if it is offered. This is compounded by our unrealistic optimism about our ability to repay loans. We simply cannot be relied upon to self-regulate our level of personal indebtedness in the absence of external guidelines and regulations. Though filled with such gems of common sense, this is definitely not a book to reach for if you’re struggling to balance your personal finances. Instead this quirky little volume, weighing in at just over 200 pages, is an abstract and erudite exploration of the relationship between creditor and debtor. In asking the fundamental and quaintly old-fashioned question “is debt sinful?”, the author notes a shift in our attitudes from sinful (as believed by the hard-working, self-sufficient generation of our parents) to harmless (as espoused by the recent credit card generation) back to sinful again (according to this new credit crunch generation). Is the sin of indebtedness equally grave for both the borrower and the lender as Dr Johnson maintained? Is it possible that some seek the thrill of indebtedness in the same way a laboratory rat, when deprived of all stimuli, will choose to electrocute itself rather than withstand boredom?

Payback flows along in an accessible, conversational style that belies the considerable research and learning underpinning it. Seamlessly blending classic with contemporary culture and drawing on Atwood’s own sensible Canadian childhood, it meanders through mythology, ancient history, literature, theology and anthropology with concepts lifted from Star Trek and vivid evocations of ancient Egyptian burial rites sharing the same page. In one paragraph, Machiavelli warns of the dangers of a leader plunging his country into debt as it results in a loss of power and influence. In another, we learn that forbidding Christians from charging interest on loans gave rise to the kind of anti-Semitism best illustrated in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. Dickens’s Scrooge and Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus are described as shadow debtors, one spending with abandon having pledged his soul to the devil and the other grasping money but incurring a debt to humanity for his harsh treatment of others. Atwood’s finale, a reworking of A Christmas Carol, sees a modern manifestation of Scrooge inhabiting a chilling environmental parable. Ultimately, the author offers us a glimpse of redemption but urges us to act now or lose it forever. This slight volume, an extended essay really, grapples with some huge concepts and would make an affordable stocking-filler in these austere times. First published in the Irish Times of Tuesday November 6, 2008.

PDF is here: Review – Payback Debt & the Shadow Side of Wealth by Margaret Atwood

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