Book Review: ‘Wilde’s Women’ by Eleanor Fitzsimons

The picture of Oscar’s Wilde’s life (1854-1900) has always been framed within his associations with men, but Eleanor Fitzsimons has taken on the neglected aspect of research on his relationships with women in Wilde’s Women. Oscar’s genius brought us The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Importance of Being Earnest, and other famous literature, plays and poetry. This fascinating biography has been thoroughly researched, and is filled with with anecdotes detailing how women influenced this extraordinary man and inspired his works through their friendship and collaboration.

Oscar drew to himself intelligent, beautiful, talented women; the list of actresses, socialites, writers and other prominent women in Wilde’s Women reads like a who’s who of famous women of the late 1800s. Sarah Bernhardt, Florence Balcombe (who married Bram Stoker of Dracula fame) and Ada Leverson were only a few of Wilde’s women. Oscar admired and loved women as though they were art, often dedicating poems to them. He modeled characters in his plays after them, and had a penchant for the chaste worship of a woman from afar. Fitzsimons quotes poet Denis Florence McCarthy as saying that Oscar had ‘so much amiable enthusiasm about everything that is good and beautiful’.

But the greatest influence on Oscar was his gifted, free-thinking mother. Dubbed ‘Lady Jane’, and a celebrated author in her own right, she held regular gatherings at her home with respected scholars, famous writers, and other members of high society as guests. Growing up in such an atmosphere made high society a natural setting for Oscar. The society women adored his stories, which he later dedicated to them. Fitzsimons quotes Oscar’s friend Vincent O’Sullivan’s writing about him:

‘In the upper reaches of English society it was not the men, who mostly did not like him, who made his success, but the women. He was too far from the familiar type of the men. He did not shoot or hunt or play cards; he had wit, and took the trouble to talk and be entertaining.’

Oscar was not a typical man of the era; he took the trouble to talk with women, and listen to them. He, like his mother, believed that women could –and should– be educated. Fitzsimons has done a great job of capturing a snapshot of time when the Victorian era was changing, due to the efforts of many women. Oscar Wilde’s life was shaped by those who surrounded him, and in turn he supported the women that changed history.

I am grateful to Eleanor Fitzsimons for her meticulous work in producing this book, and highly recommend Wilde’s Women.

You can buy Eleanor Fitzsimon’s Wilde’s Women on Amazon:
https://www.amazon.com/Wildes-Women-Oscar-Wilde-Shaped/dp/1468312669

About the author:
Eleanor Fitzsimons is a researcher, writer, journalist and occasional broadcaster. Her writing has been published in a variety of newspapers and journals including the Sunday Times, the Guardian, the Irish Times, Irish Tatler, the Dubliner Magazine, The Gloss, UCD Connections, Maternity & Infant; History Today and Woman Mean Business. Fitzsimons holds an MA (first class honours) in Women Gender and Society from University College Dublin. She tweets at @EleanorFitz.

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