The other day I was reading through my blogroll, and the double-barrelled Elaine Simpson-Long – who reads L.M. Montgomery’s journals and so shall I soon, I dearly hope, and who lives in Colchester, my old Colchester, darling Colchester! – had received a cute pink copy of one of Ada Leverson’s books. From Bloomsbury which apparently has put it back into print as part of a series of delightful charming books that I want to read all of. (Pls ignore that sentence.)
Ada Leverson is amazing. Out of all of Oscar Wilde’s friends, Ada Leverson is maybe my favorite. I do not go on and on about her the way I do about sweet faithful doglike devoted Robbie Ross, but that is only because she was mysterious and hard to know, and so it is hard to find out all about her; and also because Ada did not get UTTERLY PERSECUTED by Bosie after Oscar Wilde died, the way Robbie did, and thus I don’t have to go on and on about her in tones of righteous indignation.
Still, in the last analysis, I like her best. Robbie was a sweet dear but he did do that slightly inexcusable thing with those boys that time, and Ada has no such dreadful advantage-taking blot on her record. I think that she and Oscar Wilde had a very sweet relationship. He called her “Sphinx” and told her often and at length how great she was (poor baby in not a very happy marriage, I’m sure it was much needed), and she wrote amusing pieces in Punch poking fun at him, which he loved. When he was out on bail in between trials, Ada Leverson let him stay secretly at her house, and she didn’t make him talk about the trials, one bit, just carried on amusing him and finding him amusing.
Here are two excerpts from letters & reminiscences that are a perfect example of their friendship (I think). When Oscar Wilde got out of jail, Ada and her husband Ernest (really!) were among the first people he saw. Afterwards he wrote to her:
Dear Sphinx, I was so charmed with seeing you yesterday morning that I must write a line to tell you how sweet and good it was of you to be the very first to greet me. When I think that Sphinxes are minions of the moon, and that you got up early before dawn, I am filled with wonder and joy.
I often thought of you in the long black days and nights of my prison life, and to find you just as wonderful and dear as ever was no surprise. The beautiful are always beautiful.
This is my first day of real liberty, so I try to send you a line, and with kind regards to dear Ernest whom I was pleased to see again, ever affectionately yours, Oscar Wilde
I am staying here as Sebastian Melmoth – not Esquire but Monsiour Sebastien Melmoth. I have thought it better that Robbie should stay here under the name of Reginald Turner, and Reggie under the name of R. B. Ross. It is better that they should not use their own names.
Later, Ada wrote about seeing him again:
We all felt intensely nervous and embarrassed….He came in, and at once he put us at our ease. He came in with the dignity of a king returning from exile. He came in talking, laughing, smoking a cigarette, with waved hair and a flower in his buttonhole, and he looked markedly better, slighter, and younger than he had two years previously. His first words were ‘Sphinx, how marvellous of you to know exactly the right hat to wear at seven o’clock in the morning to meet a friend who has been away.’
Typical self-concealing Sphinx, she hardly says a word about herself. But it’s obvious, don’t you think, how fantastic she thought he was?
…I wanted to end on that happy note, but when I was pawing through my book of Oscar Wilde’s letters that I love but feel guilty for having, I found this letter that Oscar Wilde’s wife, Constance, wrote to their psychic, when Oscar Wilde was in jail, and everything was just going spectacularly to hell. And it’s the most pitiful thing I think I’ve ever read in my life. Poor dull little Constance.
My dear Mrs. Robinson, What is to become of my husband who has so betrayed and deceived me and ruined the lives of my darling boys? Can you tell me anything? You told me that after the terrible shock my life was to become easier, but will there be any happiness in it, or is that dead for me? And I have had so little. My life has been all cut to pieces as my hand is by its lines….Do write to me and tell me what you can. Very sincerely yours, Constance Wilde
I have not forgotten that I owe you a guinea.
Oh I do not care much for dull serious Constance, and it was mean never letting the boys ever see their father again, but still this letter hurts my heart.
I so love those new Bloomsbury editions. I got one of them (The Brontës Went to Woolworths) before my ban started, and I kind of wish I’d gotten more. And yes, that last letter is sad in so many ways 😦
I really want them. ALL. My last landlord called recently to let me know that she’s posting my housing deposit check, and I have determined to spend it on a haircut and some frames for my pictures so my new apartment walls will be less bare – but it would be really good to have the Bloomsbury Group books. I can’t though! Absolutely must not! Walls very blank! Hair hasn’t been cut in a year!
(A book-buying ban is harder to maintain when you have spare money. It seems.)
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