Jane, Lady Wilde sketch attributed to George Morosini
|Born||Jane Francesca Agnes
27 December 1821
|Died||3 February 1896
Chelsea, London, England
|Other names||Lady Wilde|
|Spouse(s)||Sir William Wilde|
Jane Francesca Agnes, Lady Wilde (née Elgee; 27 December 1821 – 3 February 1896) was an Irish poet under the pen name "Speranza" and supporter of the nationalist movement. Lady Wilde had a special interest in Irish folktales, which she helped to gather.
She married Sir William Wilde, an eye and ear surgeon, on 12 November 1851, and they had three children: William Charles Kingsbury Wilde (1852–1899), Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (1854–1900), and Isola Francesca Emily Wilde (1857–1867). Her eldest son William Wilde became a journalist and poet, her younger son Oscar Wilde became a prolific and famous writer, and her daughter Isola Wilde died in childhood.
Jane was the last of the four children of Charles Elgee (1783–1824), a Wexford solicitor, and his wife Sarah (née Kingsbury, d. 1851). Her great-grandfather was an Italian who had come to Wexford in the 18th century. Lady Wilde, who was the niece of Charles Maturin, wrote for the Young Ireland movement of the 1840s, publishing poems in The Nation under the pseudonym of Speranza. Her works included pro-Irish independence and anti-British writing; she was sometimes known as "Speranza of the Nation". Charles Gavan Duffy was the editor when "Speranza" wrote commentary calling for armed revolution in Ireland. The authorities at Dublin Castle shut down the paper and brought the editor to court. Duffy refused to name who had written the offending article. "Speranza" reputedly stood up in court and claimed responsibility for the article. The confession was ignored by the authorities. But in any event the newspaper was permanently shut down by the authorities.
She was an early advocate of women's rights, and campaigned for better education for women. She invited the suffragist Millicent Fawcett to her home to speak on female liberty. She praised the passing of the Married Women's Property Act of 1883, preventing women from having to enter marriage 'as a bond slave, disenfranchised of all rights over her fortune'.
Scandals and death
William Wilde was knighted in January 1864, but the family celebrations were short-lived, for in the same year Sir William and Lady Wilde were at the centre of a sensational Dublin court case regarding a young woman called Mary Travers, the daughter of a colleague of Sir William's, who claimed that he had seduced her and who then brought an action against Lady Wilde for libel. Mary Travers won the case and costs of £2,000 were awarded against Lady Wilde. Then, in 1867, their daughter Isola died of fever at the age of nine. In 1871 the two illegitimate daughters of Sir William were burned to death and in 1876 Sir William himself died. The family discovered that he was virtually bankrupt.
Lady Wilde left Dublin for London in 1879, where she joined her two sons, Willie, a journalist, and Oscar, who was making a name for himself in literary circles. She lived with her older son in poverty, supplementing their meagre income by writing for fashionable magazines and producing books based on the researches of her late husband into Irish folklore.
Lady Wilde contracted bronchitis in January 1896 and, dying, asked for permission to see Oscar, who was in prison. Her request was refused. It was claimed that her "fetch" (i.e. her apparition) appeared in Oscar's prison cell as she died at her home, 146 Oakley Street, Chelsea, on 3 February 1896. Willie Wilde, her older son, was penniless, so Oscar paid for her funeral, which was held on 5 February at Kensal Green Cemetery in London. A headstone proved too expensive and she was buried anonymously in common ground. A monument to her, in the form of a Celtic cross, was erected at Kensal Green Cemetery by the Oscar Wilde Society in about 1999. (It is located at grid square 147 – Cambridge Avenue South (near Canalside), set back 20 metres from the curved path – opposite SQ.148.)
- Marhorie Howes, "Lady Wilde and the Emergence of Irish Cultural Nationalism," in Ideology and Ireland in the Nineteenth Century, ed. Foley and Ryder, Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1998.
- "Speranza (Jane Francesca Wilde)", Irish Writers Online.
- Robeto Rosaspini Reynolds, Cuentos de hadas irlandeses.
- Hesketh Pearson, The Life of Oscar Wilde, reprinted by Penguin Books, 1985. p. 18.
- Joy Melville, "Wilde , Jane Francesca Agnes, Lady Wilde (1821–1896)," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.
- Lady Wilde, "A New Era in English and Irish Social Life," The Gentlewoman, January 1883.
- Terence de Vere White, The Parents of Oscar Wilde, Hodder & Stoughton, 1967.
- Stetz, Margaret D. (2013). "Oscar Wilde and the New Woman". In Powell, Kerry; Raby, Peter. Oscar Wilde in Context. Cambridge University Press. p. 239. ISBN 9781107729100. Stetz describes de Brémont as a "compulsive fantasist".
- Works by or about Jane Francesca Elgee at Internet Archive
- Works by or about Lady Wilde at Internet Archive
- Works by Jane Wilde at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
- Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland by Lady Wilde
- Poems by "Speranza" (Lady Wilde), 1864 (scan of a copy found in the Alumnae Library of Elms College), transcription here.