Constance Lloyd

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Constance Lloyd
Constance Lloyd. Painting by Louis Desanges 1882
Constance Lloyd. Painting by Louis Desanges 1882
BornConstance Mary Lloyd
(1858-01-02)2 January 1858
London, England
Died7 April 1898(1898-04-07) (aged 40)
Genoa, Italy
GenreChildren's stories
Notable worksThere Was Once
(m. 1884)
ChildrenCyril Holland
Vyvyan Holland
RelativesMerlin Holland (grandson)

Constance Mary Wilde (née Lloyd; 2 January 1858 – 7 April 1898) was an Irish writer. She was the wife of Irish playwright Oscar Wilde and the mother of their two sons, Cyril and Vyvyan.

Early life and marriage[edit]

Constance with her son Cyril in 1889

The daughter of Horace Lloyd, an Anglo-Irish barrister, and Adelaide Barbara Atkinson, who had married in 1855 in Dublin, Constance Lloyd was born at her parents' home in Harewood Square, Marylebone, London.[1] Registration of births did not become compulsory until 1875 and her parents omitted to do this.[2]

She married Wilde at St James's Church, Paddington on 29 May 1884.[3] Their two sons Cyril and Vyvyan were born in the next two years.

Constance and Oscar were far more similar than has been generally acknowledged. Their compatibility was also rooted in their personal histories. On both the influence of Ireland, the scars of scandal and the impression of a domineering mother had made their mark. Their connection was Oscar’s home town of Dublin, from where Constance’s mother, Adelaide Atkinson, also hailed. Ada’s family home, at 1 Ely Place, was in fact only a stones throw from that of Sir William and Lady Wilde, on Merrion Square. [4]

In 1888 Constance Wilde published a book based on children's stories she had heard from her grandmother, called There Was Once. She and her husband were involved in the dress reform movement.[5]

It is unknown at what point Constance became aware of her husband's homosexual relationships. In 1891 she met his lover Lord Alfred Douglas when Wilde brought him to their home for a visit. Around this time Wilde was living more in hotels, such as the Avondale Hotel,[6] than at their home in Tite Street. Since the birth of their second son, they had become sexually estranged.[7][page needed]

In 1894, Constance was staying in Worthing with Oscar Wilde and started assembling a collection of epigrams ("Oscariana") from Wilde's works. The intention was that it be published by Arthur Humphreys, with whom she briefly fell in love that summer. In the event the book was published privately the following year.[8]

According to son Vyvyan's 1954 autobiography, the boys had a relatively happy childhood and their father was a loving parent.[9] Richard Ellman's biography of Wilde recounted an occasion when he warned his sons about naughty boys who made their mamas cry; they asked him what happened to absent papas who made mamas cry.

After Wilde's conviction and imprisonment, Constance changed her and her sons' last name to Holland to dissociate them from his scandal.[10] The couple never divorced, but Constance forced Wilde to give up his parental rights. She moved with her sons to Switzerland and enrolled them in an English-language boarding school in Germany. They never saw their father again.[citation needed]

Constance visited Oscar in prison so she could tell him the news of his mother's death.[11] After he had been released from prison, she refused to send him any money unless he no longer associated with Douglas.

Illness and death[edit]

Constance died on 7 April 1898, five days after a surgery conducted by Luigi Maria Bossi.[12] According to The Guardian, "theories [about her death] have ranged from spinal damage following a fall down stairs to syphilis caught from her husband."[13] Also according to The Guardian, Merlin Holland, grandson of Oscar Wilde, "unearthed medical evidence within private family letters, which has enabled a doctor to determine the likely cause of Constance's demise. The letters reveal symptoms nowadays associated with multiple sclerosis but apparently wrongly diagnosed by her two doctors".[13] Multiple sclerosis was then a little-known condition.

Constance sought help from two doctors. One of them was a "nerve doctor" from Heidelberg, Germany, who resorted to dubious remedies. The second doctor—Luigi Maria Bossi—conducted two operations (for uterine fibroid) in 1895 and 1898, the latter of which ultimately led to her death.[12] Writing in The Lancet in 2015, Ashley H. Robins and Merlin Holland surmised that, "the surgery Bossi performed in December 1895 was probably an anterior vaginal wall repair to correct urinary difficulties from a presumed bladder prolapse. In retrospect, the actual problem was probably neurogenic and not structural in origin".[12]

During the second surgery in April 1898, Bossi probably "did not attempt a hysterectomy but merely excised the tumour in a myomectomy". Shortly after the surgery Constance developed uncontrollable vomiting which led to dehydration and death. The immediate cause of death is thought to have been severe paralytic ileus, which developed either as a result of the surgery itself or of intra-abdominal sepsis. Constance is buried in Genoa (Italy), in the Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno.[14] A memorial statue depicting a nude pregnant Constance is included in the Oscar Wilde Memorial Sculpture in Merrion Square in Dublin.



  1. ^ Moyle, Franny (2011). Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs. Oscar Wilde. London: John Murray. p. 14. ISBN 9781848541627.
  2. ^ Anne Clark Amor, Mrs. Oscar Wilde, a Woman of Some Importance (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1983), p. 12
  3. ^ Fitzsimons, Eleanor (26 September 2017). Wilde's Women: How Oscar Wilde Was Shaped by the Women He Knew. The Overlook Press. ISBN 9781468313260. Retrieved 25 September 2016.
  4. ^ Moyle, Franny (2011). Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs Oscar Wilde (1 ed.). London: John Murray. pp. 13–14. ISBN 978-1-84854-162-7.
  5. ^ See Oscar Wilde On Dress, CSM Press, 2013.
  6. ^ Moyle, Franny (2011). Constance. New York, NY: Pegasus Books. p. 1. ISBN 9781605983813.
  7. ^ Oscar Wilde (1987) by Richard Ellman
  8. ^ Edmunds, Antony. Oscar Wilde's Scandalous Summer.
  9. ^ "A Life of Concealment". Time. 27 September 1954. Archived from the original on 12 February 2009. Retrieved 8 August 2008.
  10. ^ Robins, Ashley H.; Holland, Merlin (3 January 2015). "The enigmatic illness and death of Constance, wife of Oscar Wilde". The Lancet. 385 (9962): 21–22. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(14)62468-5. ISSN 0140-6736. PMID 25592892. S2CID 41229933.
  11. ^ Ellman, Richard. Oscar Wilde. New York: Vintage Books, 1988. pp. 497–98.
  12. ^ a b c Robins, Ashley; Holland, Merlin (3 January 2015). "The enigmatic illness and death of Constance, wife of Oscar Wilde". The Lancet. Elsevier. 385 (9962): 21–22. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(14)62468-5. PMID 25592892. S2CID 41229933.
  13. ^ a b Dalya Alberge (1 January 2015). "Letters unravel mystery of the death of Oscar Wilde's wife". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 January 2015.
  14. ^ Oscar Wilde Biography—Poems

Further reading[edit]

Moyle, Franny (2011). Constance: the Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs Oscar Wilde. John Murray.

External links[edit]