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Constance Lloyd's portrait by Louis William Designes (oil on canvas, 1882)
Constance Lloyd is the best known as Mrs. Wilde, although many still don't know this literary giant was actually a married man with two sons. Even less know is the fact she was an artist too, for some time heavily included in her husband's work, while he was still building his reputation, helping him to meet interesting people and being open for his experiments in personal life, including a deadly relationship with Bosie Douglas. While she prohibited him to see his sons after the infamous trial with devastating consequences, she still helped him until her premature death at only 39 years of age.
Who was Constance Lloyd, who played so important part in the life of one of the most notorious artists of last centuries?
Drawing of Constance, 1884
Her Early Years
Constance Mary Lloyd was born on Januar 2 1858 in London to the successful English barrister Horace Lloyd and his Irish cousin Adele (Adelaide) Atkinson. She had an older brother Otho. The marriage of her parents was not a happy one and soon after the birth of both kids they started living separately, Horace spending too much on social life in London and Adele trying to spend as much possible time in Ireland with her mother Mary in Dublin.
As we can read in Otho's memoir's Constance's life was very unhappy, mostly due to the mental instability of her mother, leading to many cases of emotional and probably even physical abuse of Constance in her childhood and adolescence years. It seems while her father was still alive, although mostly absent, outbursts of Adele were still somehow under control, but after his death of pulmonary infection soon after her sixteenth birthday, she stayed completely unprotected towards her unpredictable mother's behavior.
Otho who was studying at Bristol and Oxford in those years later described the life of his sister as full of fear. After a while, he still managed to convince his grandfather John Horatio Lloyd to take Constance under his roof and protection. It was also Otho who connect Constance with Oscar, whom he met in Oxford, where they were studying at the same time, but never became very close, until Speranza, Oscar's unconventional mother and Oscar visited the home of Lloyd's to meet Constance's and Otho's aunt from Dublin.
Not Love at First Sight
The meeting between Oscar and Constance in June of 1881, right after his Poems were published, was a meeting of two good-looking youngsters with great love for art and talent for foreign languages. It was not loved at first sight. While Constance with her wavy auburn hair and purplish brown eyes, tall, slim figure and aesthetic taste for cloths definitely looked charming, it was probably her distance which attracted Oscar even more.
To be honest, he was in love with several ladies and even unsuccessfully suited some of them before and after he met Constance. He was also involved in several foggy relationships with young men, already being a regular target of mockery in Punch.
While he obviously made a good impression being already pretty famous, she charmed him as well. Her intelligence, education (fluent in five languages among other things), good manners and a bit of shyness only contributed to her charm. When Oscar and his mother left Lloyd's home he said he thinks he'll marry that girl.
Yet it was still a surprise for the majority of their mutual friends and acquaintances when he later really proposed her and she said yes.
Her answer to his proposal in 1883
As long as I live you shall be my lover.
— Constance Mary Lloyd
Oscar and Constance, 1892
Trouble in Paradise
Despite her family not being too enthusiastic about Oscar they married after three years of knowing each other on May 29, 1894, at St James' Church in Paddington. It seemed for some time both were very much in love. Oscar was apparently very happy in first two years of marriage praising his love life to his friends and trying to convince them to marry too.
They got two sons (Cyril in 1885 and Vivian in 1886) in first two years of marriage, but after the birth of the second one, the couple became estranged. One of the possible reasons was of gynecological nature although we'll never know what kind of problems she had, they were very likely connected with her death before her 40th birthday.
Oscar started spending most of his nights in hotels, officially working on his literary masterpieces and Constance increasingly participating in some of the fields where she was already active:
- liberal politics,
- feminism (she demanded the right for women being able to serve in Parliament), contemporary fashion (she was an advocate of more practical clothing, being a sensation showing in public in split skirt, abandoning tight corsets),
- translating (early reviews of his work from Dutch, for instance),
- writing, still occasionally collaborating with Oscar (among her stuff an edited version of The Happy Prince was found after her death).
They also enjoyed decorating their way too expensive home called House Beautiful together.
Constance was definitely involved in his first book of fairy tales and she also wrote a book of stories for kids on her own. The title There was once grandma's stories was published in 1888 by legendary Ernest Nister and is presented in the central part of this article.
Constance also became pretty intensively involved in Theosophy, being part of the rituals of The Golden Dawn.
Her Book of Fairy Tales
After becoming parents they both believed their boys should have an access to the best possible literature for kids and obviously believed they should write some by themselves. There was Once subtitled Grandma's tales was her retelling of famous fairy tales as she remembered being told to her by her granny.
The collection was published at legendary Ernest Nister publishing house and includes such fairy tales as Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and Puss in Boots. It was illustrated by John Lawson (1865-1909).
Did she make a right decision?
Constance Wilde's Death
Soon after Oscar's inclination to men became more and more obvious and he even started to bring his lovers to their house which, thanks to their both exquisite taste, became one of the most tastefully decorated homes in England.
When he started an affair with Lord Alfred Douglas in 1891 their marriage was practically over. Lord Alfred 'Bosie' Douglas became fatal for Oscar eventually convincing him to start a trial against Marquess Queensberry and even (unintentionally) helped his opponent to defeat Oscar at court what led to the loss of almost all his property and sending him in prison, where he contracted a serious illness.
When Oscar returned from prison, Constance had already moved to France, changing her boys' surnames to Holland to protect at least some of their privacy. She still loved her husband, trying to help him with some money, but demanding to stay away from his sons.
When he restored a relationship with Bosie, she cut her financial help too. Roughly at the same time, she needed a surgery for no clear reason. Some people believe she had a tumor in her uterus, there's a theory she had an unsuccessful surgical correction of her intimate parts causing urinary problems and some even claim she had an undiagnozed and then almost unknown multiple sclerosis.
There's also a speculation she died of complications from a venereal disease contracted from her husband or of a spinal damage caused by her fall from the stairs (interesting fact: Oscar died after a fall a few ears later too).
Soon after surgery, some kind of infection developed and she started vomiting unable to hold liquids in her body. She died five days later, on April 7, 1898, in Genoa where she is still buried.
Her last known photo (1896)
All used images are public domain. Credit:
Can you add something about this fascinating lady?
Tolovaj (author) on July 07, 2020:
I agree, Peggy Woods. We'll never know how many clever ladies helped to pave the way to the glory of their husbands.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 03, 2020:
Constance was certainly a beautiful and talented lady. It is a shame that her marriage ended badly and that she died at such an early age. She was a trailblazer for that day and time.