Ada Leverson

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

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

Family[edit]

Leverson was born into a Jewish family.[1] Her father was Samuel Henry Beddington, a wool merchant, and her mother's name was Zillah.

She had eight younger siblings, one of whom died in infancy. Her living siblings were named Evelyn, George, Charles, Sybil, Frank, Arthur and Violet. Sybil (who later married David Seligman) had a brief affair and long friendship with Giacomo Puccini.[2] Violet (1874–1962) turned down a marriage proposal from composer Arthur Sullivan and later married author Sydney Schiff.[3]

At 19 Ada married Ernest Leverson (1852–1921) 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 loosely based on her own marriage.[4] Her daughter and biographer, Violet Leverson, married Guy Percy Wyndham in 1923 as his second wife. Her grandson was short story-writer and novelist Francis Wyndham. Ernest Leverson's cousins include actor Darrell Fancourt and, by marriage, actor-playwright Brandon Thomas.

Career[edit]

Leverson began writing during the 1890s, as a contributor to Black and White, Punch, The Yellow Book, St. Stephen's Review, Saturday Review, and Referee. She also worked as a drama critic, though when and what she wrote is unknown.[5] Much of her work cannot be identified because she wrote anonymously, because she frequently befriended the people she parodied and critqued.[6]

She was known as a wit; her writing has been compared to the work of Max Beerbohm and the stories of Saki.

She was a loyal friend to Oscar Wilde, who called her Sphinx;[7] Max Beerbohm; aand George Moore. Osbert Sitwell wrote an anecdote in Great Morning in which she tries, unsuccessfully, to get Moore to see the young William Walton. Sacheverell Sitwell dedicated a poetry collection to her, while she was hopelessly in love with Osbert

After publishing Love at Second Sight, Leverson stopped writing fiction. She worked on ever smaller projects, such as writing the preface to Whom You Should Marry, a book about astrology.[8]

She lived out her old age in the Hotel Porta Rossa in Florence, where she died of pneumonia in 1933.

Friendship with Wilde[edit]

Leverson's friendship with Wilde helped her career to flourish. There was no separation between their personal relationship and their creative collaboration.[9] Their work had many stylistic differences- for example, Leverson had a stronger interest in human nature. But the two shared many similarities; they were from the same cultural background, and they shared interests such as the love of conversation and the sense of fantasy.[10] They quickly became fast friends.

The limits of their friendship were tested when Wilde's homosexuality was exposed and he went on trial. 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 "grand gesture", which, according to James Scanell, is "the dramatic act of welcoming back an outcast."[11]

After Wilde left the Leversons' home, the two friends never saw each other in person again. Their 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 from the 19th century to the present.

Critics disagree on which of her novels is the best; some say it's The Limit, others say it's Tenterhooks, and others choose Love at Second Sight. She's often praised for her skilful dialogue and characterization; many believe she would have excelled in theatre. It is interesting that she never acted upon this. She began to write one play, but never finished it.[12] It's assumed that this is because, for Leverson, writing was a hobby rather than a means of financial security.

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 says, “some have found Leverson's characters merely vehicles for her wit, others believe she conveys accomplished characterization deftly and swiftly in the epigrammatic dialogue.”[13] 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.”[14] 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.”[15]

Over the years, her work has been more appreciated. Many readers have realized that her perspective was quite modern for her day. Her views are more accepted in today’s society, especially as homosexuality is becoming more socially acceptable.

Portrayal in film[edit]

In the 1960 film The Trials of Oscar Wilde she is played by Maxine Audley.

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

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/leverson-ada
  2. ^ Speedie, Julie. Wonderful Sphinx, Virago Press (1993); and Beddington, Frederick. "The Rest of the Family: a letter to Nicolas Bentley", Stellar Press (1963)
  3. ^ Whitworth, Michael H. "Schiff, Sydney Alfred (1868–1944)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, January 2008, accessed 26 October 2012.
  4. ^ Burkhart, Charles. Ada Leverson, Twayne Publishers Inc. (1973)
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Debelius, Margaret. "Countering a Counterparts: Ada Leverson and Oscar Wilde." Women and British Aestheticism. The University of Virginia Press (1999).
  7. ^ Harrison, William M. "Ada Leverson's Wild(e) Yellow Book Stories." The Victorian newsletter, vol. 96 (1999): 21-28. Accessed on 10 June 2014.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Burkhart, Charles qtd. in Poupard. "Ada Leverson (1895-1933)". Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Literary Criticism Online. Accessed 09 June 2014.
  10. ^ Callow, Simon. Oscar Wilde and His Circle. London: National Portrait Gallery (2000)
  11. ^ 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)
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ Poupard, Dennis. "Ada Leverson (1895-1933)". Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Literary Criticism Online. Accessed 09 June 2014.
  14. ^ Brown, John Mason qtd. in Poupard. "Ada Leverson (1895-1933)". Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Literary Criticism Online. Accessed 09 June 2014.
  15. ^ 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]