I. A. R. Wylie

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Wiley in Germany age 25, ca. 1910

Ida Alexa Ross Wylie, also Ida Alena Ross Wylie, born 16 March 1885 in Melbourne, died 4 November 1959 in Princeton, New Jersey, usually known by her pen name I. A. R. Wylie, was an Australian-British-American novelist, screenwriter, magazine writer and poet. She is probably best known as the author of the novel that became the basis of the film Keeper of the Flame (1942), directed by George Cukor and starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. More than 30 of her works were made into films between 1915 and 1953.


I. A. R. Wylie's father, Alec Wylie of England, was in debt much of his life and often on the move from creditors.[1] And so it was that sometime in the 1880s he fled England for Australia, but not before divorcing his first wife while proposing to her sister, Christine (who refused).[1] In Australia, he soon married a plain farmer's daughter named Ida Ross.[1] The couple's first child, I. A. R. Wylie, was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1885, literally named after her parents: Ida Ross and Alec Wylie.[1] In 1888, Alec moved back to London with his new wife and young child, but Ida Ross died shortly thereafter.[1] Alec then renewed relations with Christine, his first wife's sister, and Christine became the young Wylie's home school teacher and guardian, raising her while her father struggled from one crisis to the next. "Christine was just the first of a line of women who proved far stronger and more reliable than any man in Ida's life."[1]

Wylie's self-education at home meant she spent many hours making up her own stories to fill up time, and, at the age of 19, she sold her first short story to a magazine.[1] From that time forward she was able to support herself financially with her writing on various topics.[1] For example Wylie had a roommate named Esme who had been raised in India and so she wrote stories based on Esme's reminisces.[1] Wylie went on to write at least five books based in India, The Native Born, or, The Rajah's People (1910); The Daughter of Brahma (1913); Tristram Sahib (1915); The Temple of Dawn (1915); and The Hermit Doctor of Gaya (1916). While living in Germany in her 20s, she wrote a number of books including My German Year (1910); Rambles in the Black Forest (1911); The Germans (1911); and Eight Years in Germany (1914).[1] Her novel, Towards Morning (1918), was "perhaps the first in English to suggest that not all Germans were evil imperialists."[1]

Returning to England just prior to the war, Wylie joined the Suffragette movement.[1] She provided a safe house for women who were released from prison where they could recover from hunger strikes without being watched by the police.[1] She struck up a friendship with a woman named Rachel. In 1917, Rachel and Wylie traveled to America where they bought a car and roamed around the country, from New York to San Francisco, a remarkable journey with the state of roads and cars at the time.[1]

Wylie eventually settled in Hollywood where she sold her stories.[1] Over thirty movies[2] were made between 1915 and 1953 based on her works, including Torch Song (1953) and Phone Call from a Stranger (1952). Her story, "Grandmother Bernle Learns Her Letters," published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1926, was filmed twice — by John Ford in 1928 as Four Sons, and by Archie Mayo in 1940, also as Four Sons.[1] She is probably best known as the author of the novel that became the basis of the film Keeper of the Flame (1942), directed by George Cukor and starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn.[1]

Wylie was probably a lesbian, though she never openly came out.[1] In her autobiography My Life with George, in which the "George" of the title is her subconscious ego, Wylie says:

"I have always liked women better than men. I am more at ease with them and more amused by them. I too am rather bored by a conventional relationship which seems to involve either my playing up to someone or playing down to someone. Here and there and especially in my latter years when there should be no further danger of my trying to ensnare one of them I have established some real friendships with men in which we meet and like each other on equal terms as human beings. But fortunately, I have never wanted to marry any of them, nor with the exception of that one misguided German Grenadier, have any of them wanted to marry me."[3]

In her autobiography she acknowledges that many of her women friends refer to her as "Uncle," and as one critic says, her choice of being credited as "I. A. R. Wylie" instead of Ida Wylie was certainly an attempt to downplay her gender in publications.[1][3] According to Dr. Bert Hansen's article, "Public Careers and Private Sexuality: Some Gay and Lesbian Lives in the History of Medicine and Public Health", Wilie was the long-time partner of pioneering physician Sara Josephine Baker.[4]

In the 1930s, Wylie, Sara Josephine Baker and another pioneering woman physician, Dr. Louise Pearce, settled on a property near Skillman, New Jersey called Trevenna Farm.[1] They lived there together until Baker died in 1945, followed by Pearce and Wylie in 1959.[1]


Her books include:


External links[edit]