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Jane Wilde

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Jane Wilde
BornJane Francesca Agnes Elgee
(1821-12-27)27 December 1821
Wexford, Ireland
Died3 February 1896(1896-02-03) (aged 74)
Chelsea, London, England
Pen nameSperanza
OccupationPoet, writer
Notable worksAncient Legends Mystic Charms & Superstitions of Ireland
(m. 1851; died 1876)
ChildrenOscar Wilde
Willie Wilde
Isola Wilde
RelativesJohn Elgee (grandfather)
Robert McClure (cousin)
Basil Maturin (first cousin, once removed)
Memorial to Lady Wilde and her husband located in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin

Jane Francesca Agnes, Lady Wilde (née Elgee; 27 December 1821 – 3 February 1896)[1] was an Anglo-Irish poet under the pen name Speranza[2] and supporter of the nationalist movement. Lady Wilde had a special interest in Irish folktales, which she helped to gather[3] and was the mother of Oscar Wilde and Willie Wilde.

Personal life


Jane was the last of the four children of Charles Elgee (1783–1824), the son of Archdeacon John Elgee, a Wexford solicitor, and his wife Sarah (née Kingsbury, d. 1851). Her father died when she was three years old which meant she was largely self-educated. Even so, she is said to have mastered 10 languages by the age of 18. She claimed that her great-grandfather was an Italian who had come to Wexford in the 18th century; in fact, the Elgees descended from Durham labourers.[4]

On 12 November 1851 she married Sir William Wilde, an eye and ear surgeon (and also a researcher of folklore), in St. Peter's church in Dublin,[5] and they had three children: William Charles Kingsbury Wilde (26 September 1852 – 13 March 1899), Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900), and Isola Francesca Emily Wilde (2 April 1857 – 23 February 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 of a fever. Jane was the grandmother of Oscar's sons Cyril and Vyvyan Holland, and of Willie's daughter Dorothy Wilde.

When her husband died in 1876, the family discovered that he was virtually bankrupt.[6] Jane Wilde - now Lady Wilde, following the knighting of her husband in 1864 - joined her sons in London in 1879. She lived with her older son in poverty, supplementing their meagre income by writing for fashionable magazines and producing books based on the research of her late husband into Irish folklore. She wrote several books including 'Ancient legends, mystic charms, and superstitions of Ireland' (1887). Her poems are said to have influenced her son Oscar's own work. For example, his 'Ballad of Reading Gaol' has been compared to her poem 'The Brothers' (based on a true story of a trial and execution in the 1798 Rebellion).[7]

In January 1896 Lady Wilde contracted bronchitis and, dying, asked for permission to see Oscar, who was imprisoned in Reading Gaol. 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. Her funeral was held on 5 February at Kensal Green Cemetery in London. It was paid for by Oscar, as her older son, Willie Wilde, was penniless.[8] She was buried anonymously in common ground without a headstone. In 1996 she was memoralised in the form of a plaque on the grave of Sir William Wilde in Dublin as 'Speranza of The Nation, writer, translator, poet and nationalist, author of works on Irish folklore, early advocate of equality for women, and founder of a leading literary salon'.[9] In 1999, a monument to her, in the form of a Celtic cross, was erected at Kensal Green Cemetery by the Oscar Wilde Society. (It is located at grid square 147 – Cambridge Avenue South (near Canalside), set back 20 metres from the curved path – opposite SQ.148.)


Lady Jane Wilde by J. Morosini

Lady Wilde was the niece of Charles Maturin and 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 Charles Duffy to court but he refused to name the person who had written the offending article. "Speranza" reputedly stood up in court and claimed responsibility for the article. While the confession was ignored by the authorities, they permanently shut the newspaper down.[10]

Jane 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, which prevented a woman from having to enter marriage 'as a bond slave, disenfranchised of all rights over her fortune'.[11]


London Library's copy of Ancient Legends of Ireland.

In 1864 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 and a long-time patient. Travers claimed that Sir William had drugged her with chloroform and raped her in 1862; when Lady Wilde wrote a letter to Travers's father contesting the allegations, Mary sued her for libel.[12] Mary Travers won the case, although she was only awarded a farthing for damages plus costs. The costs, however, amounted to £2,000.[13]


  • Wilde, Jane (1888). Ancient Legends Mystic Charms & Superstitions of Ireland. ISBN 9783849673604. Retrieved 16 September 2022.


Lady Jane Francesca Wilde 'Speranza' 1821-1896 Poet and Essayist lived here 1887-1896
  • In 1911 the American-born writer Anna de Brémont, who claimed to have had a close friendship with Lady Wilde, published a memoir entitled Oscar Wilde and His Mother.[14]
  • Mother of Oscar: The Life of Jane Francesca Wilde, Joy Melville, John Murray (1994)
  • Wilde's Women: How Oscar Wilde Was Shaped by the Women He Knew, Eleanor Fitzsimons, Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd (16 Oct 2015)
  • A Critical Biography of Lady Jane Wilde, 1821?-1896, Irish Revolutionist, Humanist, Scholar and Poet, Karen Sasha Anthony Tipper, Edwin Mellen Press (2002)


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ "Speranza (Jane Francesca Wilde)", Irish Writers Online.
  3. ^ Robeto Rosaspini Reynolds, Cuentos de hadas irlandeses.
  4. ^ Sturgis, Matthew (2019) [2018]. Oscar: A Life. London: Head of Zeus. p. 9. ISBN 9781788545983. Retrieved 28 June 2022. Jane had also convinced herself that the Elgee name derived from the Italian 'Algiati' – and from this (imaginary) connection she was happy to make the short leap to claiming kinship with Dante Alighieri (in fact the Elgees descended from a long line of Durham labourers).
  5. ^ [1] The church no longer exists.
  6. ^ Terence de Vere White, The Parents of Oscar Wilde, Hodder & Stoughton, 1967.
  7. ^ "Like Mother, Like Son". The Irish Times.
  8. ^ "Cemetery". Archived from the original on 26 February 2008. Retrieved 11 April 2008.
  9. ^ "Like Mother, Like Son". The Irish Times.
  10. ^ Joy Melville, "Wilde , Jane Francesca Agnes, Lady Wilde (1821–1896)," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.
  11. ^ Lady Wilde, "A New Era in English and Irish Social Life," The Gentlewoman, January 1883.
  12. ^ Richard Ellmann (1988). Oscar Wilde. Vintage Books. pp. 14–15.
  13. ^ Gerard Hanberry, More Lives Than One: The Remarkable Family of Oscar Wilde through the Generations, Collins Press, 2011, ISBN 9781848899438
  14. ^ Stetz, Margaret D. (2013). "Oscar Wilde and the New Woman". In Powell, Kerry; Raby, Peter (eds.). Oscar Wilde in Context. Cambridge University Press. p. 239. ISBN 9781107729100. Stetz describes de Brémont as a "compulsive fantasist".