Books

We Were Once: A Novel of Constance Wilde

My name is Constance Mary Lloyd Wilde Holland. In 1875, when I was seventeen years old, my mother gave me a physical scar to match the emotional ones she had been layering on me since my father died a year before. I moved in with my grandfather and became an icon in the aesthetic dress movement, a respected writer, a regular at the avant garde Grosvenor Gallery, a political activist in the Ladies National Association, and an advocate for women and children as part of the Rational Dress Society.

 

Then, I met Oscar Wilde; I always said that even though my life before was busy and enriching, it was as if there had been only blank space, and then, Oscar. He was devoted to me and I worshipped him. When our second son, Vyvyan, was born after two years of marriage, Oscar drifted away from our little family and I struggled to understand. Mother always said I wasn’t good enough for anyone to love, and I began to believe her. For nearly ten years, I fought depression by trudging on with my women’s rights and fashion goals, my search for religion, and my work with the destitute people living just one block from our home. If I could not repair my marriage, I would at least try to accomplish the things that had always mattered to me, even if the increasing pain in my head and limbs tried to make this impossible.

 

But on a cold night in February 1895, Oscar came to me, hat in hand, never meeting my eyes as he revealed that his friend Bosie’s father had called Oscar a sodomite in writing. I could barely breathe enough to ask, “Is it true, Oscar?”. He didn’t have to answer, for I realized that I already knew, and even blamed myself. Oscar went to prison for two years under a Gross Indecency law, while I moved our eight- and ten-year-old sons to Switzerland and changed our last name, though I couldn’t begin a new life while still convinced that rebuilding my marriage was possible. 

 
 

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