The highlight of my Bank Holiday weekend was a one-woman show in the Brighton Festival entitled ‘Mrs Oscar Wilde’, written and performed by talented actress (and fellow Goodreads Author!) Lexi Wolfe. It consists of a series of short vignettes in which Constance Wilde writes letters to her brother Otho Lloyd. The research is meticulous, based on real-life correspondence and writing, and it was riveting to see Constance transform before our eyes from star-stuck young girl to newly fledged ‘celebrity wife and mother’ to passionate, confident political activist and feminist; and then age and diminish as increasing disillusionment with her neglectful spouse and concerns about his dangerous lifestyle take hold. The final scene was particularly moving as Constance, ill and dying in exile, hounded by her husband’s disgrace and torn by concern for her boys, wonders what her legacy will be – she hopes to be remembered for her literary and political work, and for her championing of the burgeoning women’s movement, but fears she will only ever be remembered as ‘Mrs Oscar Wilde’.
It was exactly this sidelined legacy that I was trying to challenge in ‘The Coward does it with a Kiss’ – published back in 1990 when there was less biographical information about Constance publicly available, and also consisting of a series of (fictional) letters, written in this case by Constance to Oscar. It’s so nice to see that the balance is now being redressed, both by Lexi Wolfe and also of course by Franny Moyles in her 2012 biography ‘Constance: the tragic and scandalous life of Mrs Oscar Wilde’ (which I’m ashamed to say I have yet to read – I shall remedy the situation over the summer, and post a review right here on Goodreads …)
I do love to see a neglected, invisible character given a voice, and looking back I can see that writing ‘The Coward’ gave me the confidence to tackle Anne de Bourgh in ‘Before Elizabeth – the story of Anne de Bourgh’ – a fictional character in this case of course, but a voiceless, sidelined one in ‘Pride and Prejudice.’
I’m hoping to republish ‘The Coward’ in the near future, but in the meantime there seem to be a few second-hand copies knocking around if anyone wants to give it a go! And do try and catch ‘Mrs Oscar Wilde’ if you get the chance to see a performance – it’s off to Leeds next I believe!