Monday, 20 August 2012

A Wilde Family

More Lives Than One  - Gerard Hanberry   -  The Collins Press

Whilst Oscar Wilde and the main events of his colourful life culminating in his death in Paris on 30th November 1900 gives the structure to this book it is what you learn about his family, in particular his mother and father, that gives the book its interest.

 His father, William ,was clearly a talented ear and eye surgeon as well as being an accomplished antiquarian and statistician. It was primarily for his work on the Irish census that he received his knighthood. Although he was at the centre of Dublin Society he certainly had a past which had it been widely known would certainly have ostracised him from the drawing rooms of most of his nineteenth century friends and acquaintances. We are told that he fathered three illegitimate children before he married Oscar's mother. The younger two, both girls, died in early adulthood as a result of burns when the ball gown of one of them caught fire. The other girl went to the assistance of her sister and her dress also succumbed to the flames. We also learn of Sir William's debateable relationship with a Miss Travers.

Oscar's mother had a much more overtly colourful life than her husband. Although she came from a staunchly unionist family she became involved in the Young Ireland movement during the 1840's and calling herself, "Speranza," she contributed nationalistic poems to its newspaper, the Nation. Her marriage to Oscar's father seems to have been precipitated by the death of her mother. At that time it was not considered acceptable for a young woman to live alone. In later life, after the death of her husband and living in London, Lady Jane comes across as a rather sad and pathetic woman. She appears as a caricature of what she once was. Despite her much reduced circumstances she still has her ,"at homes," and conversaziones, trying to relive the lifestyle she had in Dublin at 1 Merrion Square.

Oscar's dissolute elder brother William also features in this book as does Oscar's wife, Constance, who tragically dies in 1898 after a spinal operation leaving her two boys to be brought up by an aunt. By that stage Constance and the boys had adopted the surname of Holland.

An interesting book which reads well

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