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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Constance: The Scandalous and Tragic Life of Mrs Oscar Wilde by Franny Moyle

Oscar Wilde and his beautiful young wife, Constance, were very much in love, and feted in both London and Paris.  Constance, like Oscar, edited journals, wrote stories, and gave lectures.  Her writing was highly regarded, and she gave Oscar a huge amount of help with his stories. Both Oscar and Constance were highly concerned with the Women's Movement, and Oscar edited the journal, Women's World.

They mixed with high society, and great artists like the actress, Sarah Bernhardt. They invited these people to their 'House Beautiful' for fashionable parties.

Tall and slim, Constance played a large part in the Rational Dress Society.  This society promoted healthier clothing for women, wanting to get rid of dangerous and restrict corsets, for example.  Constance's exotic and colourful fashions were somewhat eccentric for her time, but many women admired them.

Constance and Oscar had two lovely little boys, and the couple's 'artistic marriage' seemed the epitome of success and happiness. Then Oscar met Bosie...

Franny Moyle's Constance rightly shows that Oscar Wilde's wife should'nt be regarded as just the famous playwright's wife, and needs to be studied in her own right.  She certainly succeeded in becoming the 'New Woman', widely admired in Victorian and Edwardian society.

Moyle also dispels several myths about Constance.  Many of these were the opinions and gossip of Oscar's friends.  Even today, they're powerful rumours. I don't want to write about them here, however, because it may spoil the ending of the book.

I wanted to read this for a long time, and it didn't disappoint me.  Moyle's account of Constance is well-written, and she certainly relates the heartbreaking story of Wilde's fall and the aftermath in such a moving way that it will drive many to tears.

Franny Moyle on Woman's Hour

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