Tag Archives: Robbie Ross

Margot Asquith & The Star Child

Margot Asquith in 1905

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

So wrote Margot Asquith, socialite and wife of Scottish Liberal M.P. Herbert Asquith, in her autobiography More Memories, which was published in 1933. Her first sighting of Oscar had been at a garden party given by Lady Archibald Campbell and she remembered him as a ‘large, fat, floppy man, in unusual clothes sitting under a fir tree surrounded by admirers’. He was recounting a ‘brilliant monologue’ in which he compared himself to Shakespeare and she felt compelled to join his circle. Afterwards they strolled around Janey Campbell’s lovely gardens and struck up an enduring friendship.

Some time later, during the autumn of 1889, Margot, who was Margot Tennant at the time,  invited Oscar to stay at Glen, her family’s country estate. Since he spent most of his time indoors, writing ‘several aphorisms and poems on loose sheets of paper,’ she decided he must dislike the countryside. She thought little of his work and even managed to lose those precious sheets. ‘Speaking for myself’, she confessed, ‘I do not think his stories, plays, or poems will live’. Yet she was pleased when he dedicated ‘The Star Child’ to her.

Image result for a house of pomegranates first edition

This cautionary tale, which is included in A House of Pomegranates, appears to borrow from Irish mythology. Two poor woodcutters happen upon a beautiful infant who seems to have fallen from the heavens. The baby grows up to be cruel and haughty but he is redeemed once he passes through a series of trials that force him to acknowledge his wickedness. Wilde’s charmed child possesses qualities that are associated with the Sidhe, a fairy race his mother, Jane, described beautifully in Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland.


Riders of the Sidhe by John Duncan

Wilde’s tales rarely have conventionally happy endings. In this one, the reformed young man becomes a benevolent king but he rules for just three years. His munificence barely impacts on the unequal society he presides over and he is replaced by a series of despots. No good comes of his reign. The moral of Wilde’s story is that no matter how beneficent their ruler, the people will never achieve progress without self-determination. You can read ‘The Star Child’ here.

Margot Asquith was close to the seat of power. Her husband was appointed Home Secretary within months of the publication of A House of Pomegranates and in this role he acted as Wilde’s prosecutor. Margot, who was distantly related by marriage to Lord Alfred Douglas, would have nothing to do with Oscar when he needed her friendship and support.


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


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

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



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The Funeral of Oscar Wilde 3 December 1900

Oscar Wilde was buried at Bagneux cemetery at 9am on 3 December 1900. His funeral mass was read by Fr. Cuthbert Dunne at the church of Saint-Germain-des- Prés in the presence of fifty-six people, among them ‘five ladies in deep mourning’.

Image result for deep mourning 1900

Robbie Ross identified four of these women*: American journalist, novelist, poet and singer Anna de Brémont and her maid; Mme Stuart Merrill, wife of the American symbolist poet who had raised a petition for Oscar’s release; and ‘an old servant girl of Oscar Wilde’s wife’. Richard Ellmann identified the fifth as a Miriam Aldrich, although Horst Schroeder disputes this (the woman was Mildred Aldrich – see update below).** At the head of Oscar’s coffin, Ross placed a wreath of laurels inscribed

‘A tribute to his literary achievements and distinction’

It bore the names of

‘those who had shown kindness to him during or after his imprisonment’

among them Ada Leverson and Adela Schuster. Lord Alfred Douglas interrupted a shooting holiday in Scotland to turn up as chief mourner. According to Wilde’s biographer Richard Ellmann there was an ‘unpleasant scene’ at the graveside  that he speculates may have been ‘some jockeying for the role of principal mourner’. He writes that while Wilde’s coffin was being lowered, Douglas almost fell into the grave.

Wilde’s remains were transferred to Père Lachaise in July 1909.



I am indebted to Simon Phillips (see his comment below) for clarifying that Mildred Aldrich was the fifth veiled woman in attendance. She wrote about her encounters with Wilde in ‘The burial of a fallen poet,’ an excerpt from her autobiographical Confessions of a Breadwinner. You can read a profile of Aldrich and an excerpt by following this link or for more information follow the link that Simon has provided below.


Wilde’s Women


*From ‘Robert Ross Gives a New Version of the Last Days of Oscar Wilde’, New York Times, 13 March 1910. Also, Anna de Brémont confirms her presence in Oscar Wilde and his Mother.

**Horst Schroeder, Additions and corrections to Richard Ellmann’s Oscar Wilde (Braunschweig Selbstverl, 2002), p.216


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Oscar Wilde: October 16 1854 – November 30 1900

As his life drew to a close, Oscar’s general health was poor. For much of his adult life, he had suffered from intermittent deafness and infections in his right ear, a condition that had flared up in prison but was inadequately treated. In September 1900, he fell ill once again, to the extent that it was necessary for his right ear was operated on in his hotel room. Although the procedure appeared to have been effective, by mid-November he had suffered a relapse and was confined to bed.

During the final weeks of his life, Oscar was nursed lovingly by his great friends Robbie Ross and Reggie Turner. On 29 November, Ross, a convert to Catholicism since 1894, sent for Father Cuthbert Dunne, a priest attached to the Passionist Church of St. Joseph’s in Paris. Although incapable of speech at that point, Oscar was conditionally baptised into the Catholic faith; Ross assured Ada Leverson that was in accordance with her friend’s long-held wishes.

Early on the morning of 30 November, a change came over Oscar and his breathing became laboured. Shortly before two o’clock in the afternoon, he heaved a great sigh and breathed his last. Ross laid out his friend’s body and found two Franciscan nuns to watch over him while he informed the authorities of the death of Oscar Wilde.

Wilde’s first grave in Bagneux


In their paper ‘Oscar Wilde’s terminal illness: reappraisal after a century’, Ashley H Robins and Sean L Sellars concluded, based on medical evidence, that Oscar Wilde died of meningoencephalitis secondary to chronic right middle-ear disease. (The Lancet, Vol 356, November 25, 2000, pp.1841-1843)

Excerpt taken from Wilde’s Women


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Adela Schuster: “one of the most beautiful personalities”

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.


‘Cannizaro’, Adela Schuster’s Wimbledon home

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.


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