I have to admit that I knew very little about Constance Wilde before reading this book, other than, of course, that she was Oscar Wilde's wife. However, I came to appreciate her as a strong woman, who did suffer but who always tried to do the right thing and fought hard to protect her sons.
Constance had a difficult upbringing. Her brother Otho, who she adored, was older than her and she was left with a widowed mother who both verbally and physically abused her. When her mother re-married, Constance went to live with her fathers family, but her early experiences made her withdrawn and shy. Oscar Wilde's family knew hers in Ireland, and so the connection was there from a young age. Constance idolised Oscar, although it is telling that letters from Constance to Otho crossed each other - Constance announcing her engagement at the same time that Otho attempted to warn her about a 'worrying story' he had heard. So, even in those very early days, alarm bells may have been sounding that Oscar may not have been the "ideal husband", although Constance refused to listen to the story and so we can only imagine what warning Otho wished to give.
By this point though, Constance was beyond any warnings or worries and marriage led to her being more outlandish, while Oscar became more conventional. She seemed to gain confidence and took up causes and a new social life with enthusiasm. Constance was a great believer in women wearing more sensible clothing and she was seen as fashionable, although sometimes too daring in her dress. Early marriage was passionate and Constance was expecting her first baby only six months after moving into their new home. Two children later though, affections had waned and Wilde embarked on his first homosexual affair, although he retained a strong sense of marital duty.
This biography covers fully Constance's early life and marriage and how tragedy and scandal befell her as her life with Oscar diverged. Bosie Douglas usurped Constance - as the author notes, "she was no longer the heart of the Wilde household". The story of Oscar Wilde's downfall is well known, but no less dramatic for the re-telling. Constance had always given Oscar a refuge and stability; she helped him with his work and they often had similar causes and interests in the early days of their marriage. Even Oscar's friends attempted to warn him of the path he was going down, but Constance saw, perhaps even before he did, of the danger.
When Oscar went to prison, his friends and Constance's supporters had only animosity for each other. Yet, touchingly, Constance still seemed to care for Oscar, even though her whole life had fallen apart. In one thing Constance was adamant - her sons, Cecil and Vyvyan, came first. She would do anything to protect them and did her utmost to shield them from scandal.
I greatly enjoyed this extremely interesting biography. The book presents the story of Constance's life fairly, pointing out both her strengths and weaknesses and painting a picture of a woman who perhaps was rather naive and ran away from issues that troubled her, but, in the end, had the strength of character to re-build her life. The biography also gives a very interesting and unbiased portrait of Oscar Wilde. This is a very readable and entertaining book and I found it hard to put down. I would recommend it highly as a fascinating account of a woman who is often overlooked in the story of her famous husbands life. Lastly, I read the kindle version of this book and the illustrations were included.