Wilde’s Wife

Reviewing the new biography Constance, Elizabeth Powers ponders what exactly she knew about her husband’s gay affairs:

How much did Constance suspect of Oscar’s transition from dandyism to debauchery, especially since the press contained numerous not-so-subtle allusions to his behavior and since, by 1893, he had “effectively Cyrilwildeentered into a new marriage, with Bosie [Lord Alfred] Douglas,” distancing himself for weeks, even months, at a time from home and hearth? Were her many activities attempts to avoid the obvious? Did none of her friends enlighten her? Was “the Love that dare not speak its name” so unspeakable that she literally could not think it?

Moyle concedes that Constance’s avoidance “is hard to explain, except perhaps in terms of her fleeing from a situation that she did not wish properly to confront.” I wonder if this reticence did not also affect Oscar, who had descended so much into licentiousness that he seemed unable to grasp the extent of his own danger. Friends recommended fleeing abroad after the libel trial, allowing the uproar to die down, but he refused.

(Photo: Constance Wilde with their child Cyril in 1889)