In the spring of 1895 the life of Constance Wilde changed irrevocably. Up until the conviction of her husband, Oscar, for homosexual crimes, she had held a privileged position in society. Part of a gilded couple, she was a popular children's author, a fashion icon, and a leading campaigner for women's rights. A founding member of the magical society the Golden Dawn, her pioneering and questioning spirit encouraged her to sample some of the more controversial aspects of her time. Mrs Oscar Wilde was a phenomenon in her own right.
But that spring Constance's entire life was eclipsed by scandal. Forced to flee to the Continent with her two sons, her glittering literary and political career ended abruptly. Having changed her name, she lived in exile until her death.
Franny Moyle now tells Constance's story with a fresh eye and remarkable new material. Drawing on numerous unpublished letters, she brings to life the story of a woman at the heart of fin-de-siecle London and the Aesthetic movement. In a compelling and moving tale of an unlikely couple caught up in a world unsure of its moral footing, she uncovers key revelations about a woman who was the victim of one of the greatest betrayals of all time.
Filling a gap in literary biography, this meticulous account of the life of Constance Mary Lloyd and her marriage to Oscar Wilde proves revealing, if cumbersome. Moyle (Desperate Romantics) perfunctorily reviews Lloyd's upbringing and devotes most of the book to her life with Oscar. Clearly wishing to correct a historically misbegotten view of their relationship, Moyle steadfastly chronicles the love and artistic and creative energy that "the literary couple" shared, from their work together for Woman's World (a magazine Wilde edited) to the possibility of their collaboration on work that Wilde published under his name. Moyle leads the reader through Lloyd's spiritual and political pursuits as a liberal married mother in Victorian London, and the frazzled grace with which she attempted to retain a semblance of decent life for herself and her two sons after Wilde's imprisonment. Refreshingly, Moyle resists the temptation to let Wilde overtake the story even as Wilde's behavior dictates much of Lloyd's situation. The book drags, however, particularly in its middle third, as the names of characters and organizations in Lloyd's life pile up and become a catalogue of facts, rather than a narrative. Still, Moyle has produced a mostly fascinating portrait of a smart, fierce, and misunderstood woman.