Ada Leverson

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Ada Leverson (née Beddington; 10 October 1862 – 30 August 1933) was a British writer who is known for her friendship with a famous aesthete and for her work as a witty novelist of the fin-de-siècle.

Family[edit]

Her father was Samuel Henry Beddington, a wool merchant, and her mother was named Zillah. Leverson had eight younger siblings, one of whom died in infancy. The survivors were, in order of birth, Evelyn, George, Charles, Sybil, Frank, Arthur and Violet. Sybil (who later married David Seligman) had a brief affair and long friendship with Giacomo Puccini.[1] Violet (1874–1962) turned down a marriage proposal from the composer Arthur Sullivan and later married the author Sydney Schiff.[2]

Ada married Ernest Leverson (1852–1921), when she was 19, without her parents' consent. The marriage broke up when he moved to Canada in 1905. It has been suggested that her trilogy, The Little Ottleys, is based somewhat on her own marriage.[3] Her daughter and biographer, Violet Leverson, married Guy Percy Wyndham in 1923, his second marriage. Her grandson is the short story-writer and novelist Francis Wyndham. Ernest Leverson's cousins include actor Darrell Fancourt and, by marriage, actor-playwright Brandon Thomas.

Career[edit]

She began writing during the 1890s, as a contributor to Black and White, Punch, The Yellow Book, St. Stephen's Review, Saturday Review, and Referee. It is unclear when, but she also worked as a drama critic.[4] Much of her work cannot be identified because she wrote anonymously, which it can be assumed because of her friendships with the people, who she parodied or critiqued.[5] She was a loyal friend to Oscar Wilde, who called her Sphinx.[6] She was a wit, and a friend of Max Beerbohm; her writing has been compared to Beerbohm's, and the stories of Saki.

She was also a friend of George Moore; Osbert Sitwell in Great Morning has an anecdote in which she tries, unsuccessfully, to get Moore to see the young William Walton. Of the Sitwells' circle – Sacheverell Sitwell dedicated a poetry collection to her, while she was hopelessly in love with Osbert – she lived out her old age in the Hotel Porta Rossa in Florence, where she died of pneumonia in 1933.

After publishing Love at Second Sight, Leverson stopped writing fiction. She worked on even smaller projects, such as writing the preface to Whom You Should Marry, a book about astrology.[7]

Friendship with Wilde[edit]

Leverson's friendship with Wilde made her career flourish. Most interesting about their friendship is that separation between their personal relationship and their professional relationship never occurred.[8] While the friends' work presented some differences, like Leverson having a stronger interest in human nature, the two shared many similarities, both socio-culturally and in interests such as the love of conversation and the sense of fantasy.[9] This allowed their friendship, which lasted for only eight years, to instantly develop.

The limits of their friendship were tested when Wilde's homosexuality was revealed in his famous trials. Between his trials, Leverson and her husband invited Wilde to stay in their nursery because no hotel or inn would accept him as a guest. Wilde's and Leverson's other friendships were seriously challenged by Leverson's support, or as James Scannell calls it, the grand gesture. The grand gesture is, "the dramatic act of welcoming back an outcast."[10]

After Wilde left the Leverson's home, the two friends never saw each other in-person again, but the friendship continued through telegrams and letters. Charles Burkhart believes that it is most fitting for Leverson's last piece of work to be a remembrance of the friend who expanded her career.

Works[edit]

Novels[edit]

  • The Twelfth Hour (1907) [1]
  • Love's Shadow (1908)
  • The Limit (1911)
  • Tenterhooks (1912)
  • Bird of Paradise (1914)
  • Love at Second Sight (1916)
  • Letters To The Sphinx From Oscar Wilde and Reminiscences of the Author (1930)
  • Little Ottleys (Virago 1982) omnibus:
    • Love's Shadow (1908),
    • Tenterhooks (1912),
    • Love at Second Sight (1916)

Short Stories and Parodies[edit]

  • "An Afternoon Party"
  • "A Minx - A Poem in Prose"
  • "An Overheard Fragment of Dialogue"
  • “The Advisability of Not Being Brought up in a Handbag: A Trivial Tragedy for Wonderful People”
  • “Claude’s Aunt”
  • “Mimosa”
  • “In the Change of Years”

Adaptation[edit]

  • Sixes and Sevens (2004)

Reception[edit]

Leverson’s work, though not extremely popular, has been critiqued and analyzed since the nineteenth-century up to today’s century. There is no agreement on which of her novels was the best, though some say it is The Limit, others think it is Tenterhooks, while others choose Love at Second Sight. Commonly, her skill at dialogue and characterization is praised upon, even to the point that many believe she would have excelled in theatre. It is interesting that she never acted upon this, though one would assume that writing was more of a hobby than a financial security for her. She began to write one play, but never finished it.[11] Although, one critic in The Bookman commented on how her lack of characterization distracted the reader from understanding what The Twelfth Hour was about. Dennis Poupard sums up her use of characterization as, “some have found Leverson's characters merely vehicles for her wit, others believe she conveys accomplished characterization deftly and swiftly in the epigrammatic dialogue.”[12] John Mason Brown recommended that Leverson’s work be read by, “those who find laughter no hardship, high comedy a delight, nonsense relaxing, and who are not made uncomfortable by worldlings both comfortable and conscienceless.”[13] Margaret Crosland summarized several critics’ feelings toward Leverson and reports that she is seen, “as a distant descendent of Jane Austen, sensitive to the hidden motives of behavior, ready to laugh at vanity, understanding of married couples, parents, and children, yet seemingly preoccupied with all that was going on in the world outside.”[14] Over the years, her work has been more appreciated, most likely because many have realized that her perspective was quite modern for her day and is more accepted in today’s society (esp. since homosexuality is becoming legalized across the nation).

Portrayal in film[edit]

In the 1997 film Wilde she is played by Zoë Wanamaker.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Speedie, Julie. Wonderful Sphinx, Virago Press (1993); and Beddington, Frederick. "The Rest of the Family: a letter to Nicolas Bentley", Stellar Press (1963)
  2. ^ Whitworth, Michael H. "Schiff, Sydney Alfred (1868–1944)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, January 2008, accessed 26 October 2012.
  3. ^ Burkhart, Charles. Ada Leverson, Twayne Publishers Inc. (1973)
  4. ^ Myers, Robert Manson. Sixes and Sevens, Jostens Books (2004); and West, Anthony qtd. in Poupard. "Ada Leverson (1895-1933)". Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Literary Criticism Online. Accessed 09 June 2014.
  5. ^ Debelius, Margaret. "Countering a Counterparts: Ada Leverson and Oscar Wilde." Women and British Aestheticism. The University of Virginia Press (1999).
  6. ^ Harrison, William M. "Ada Leverson's Wild(e) Yellow Book Stories." The Victorian newsletter, vol. 96 (1999): 21-28. Accessed on 10 June 2014.
  7. ^ Crosland, Margaret. "Ada Leverson (10 October 1862-30 August 1933)". Late-Victorian and Edwardian British Novelists, First Series. Dictionary of Literary Biography (1995). Accessed 29 May 2014.
  8. ^ Burkhart, Charles qtd. in Poupard. "Ada Leverson (1895-1933)". Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Literary Criticism Online. Accessed 09 June 2014.
  9. ^ Callow, Simon. Oscar Wilde and His Circle. London: National Portrait Gallery (2000)
  10. ^ Scannell, James. "Welcoming the Outcast Back into Society: Oscar Wilde and Ada Leverson's Ur Moment." Oscar Wilde: The Man, His Writings, and His World. AMS Press Inc. (2003)
  11. ^ Crosland, Margaret. "Ada Leverson (10 October 1862-30 August 1933)". Late-Victorian and Edwardian British Novelists, First Series. Dictionary of Literary Biography (1995). Accessed 29 May 2014.
  12. ^ Poupard, Dennis. "Ada Leverson (1895-1933)". Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Literary Criticism Online. Accessed 09 June 2014.
  13. ^ Brown, John Mason qtd. in Poupard. "Ada Leverson (1895-1933)". Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Literary Criticism Online. Accessed 09 June 2014.
  14. ^ Debelius, Margaret. "Countering a Counterparts: Ada Leverson and Oscar Wilde." Women and British Aestheticism. The University of Virginia Press (1999).
  • Violet Wyndham (1963) The Sphinx and her Circle: A biographical sketch of Ada Leverson 1862–1933
  • Charles Burkhart (1973) Ada Leverson
  • Julie Speedie (1993) Wonderful Sphinx: The Biography of Ada Leverson

External links[edit]