I was born in November 1886 to Constance Lloyd and Oscar Wilde in their house on Tite St in Chelsea. My parents were disappointed-- they had wanted a girl and the already adored by older brother Cyril. They neglected to register my birth until several weeks later and then weren't sure of the exact date!
I do remember the happy years of my childhood. Cyril and I adored our father. He was a hero to us both. He was so tall and distinguished and to our uncritical eyes so handsome. He was a real companion to us and we looked forward to his frequent visits to our nursery. He would go down on all fours on the nursery floor being in turn a lion , a wolf, or a horse caring nothing for his usually immaculate appearance.
Besides playing with us he told all his own wonderful fairy stories. There was one about fairies who lived the great bottles of colored water that chemists used to put in their windows. The fairies America out of their bottles at night and played and danced and made pills in the empty shop. Cyril once asked hi why he had tears in his eyes when he told us the story of The Selfish Giant and he replied that really beautiful things made him cry. My father lived in a world of his own, an artificial world perhaps, but a world in which the only things that mattered were art and beauty in all their forms . This gave him that horror of conventionality which destroyed him in the end.
Some time ago I had a dream in which my mother appeared to me and said : I want you to tell the story of your childhood and of the loneliness of being Oscar Wilde's son in those far off days. Perhaps some people will blame you for it but many more will approve of your doing so. Besides you have a young son of your own and you owe this to him. The Wilde story has been written by those who loved him, by those who hated him and by those who never knew him.So I think it is not altogether inappropriate for the aftermath to be written on behalf of those , who altogether innocent, suffered in a hurt, incomprehensible way, wondering why they were not treated like other people.
I suppose my brother and I got on together as well as any brothers can be expected to do. Brotherly love is one of the rarest phenomena in family. In The Importance Of Being Earnest, Gwendolen says to Cecily " now that I come to think of it I have never heard of any man mention his brother. The subject seems distasteful to most men."My brother was jealous of me but I was more jealous of him. Cyril had curly hair and was the favorite of both my mother and father. He was strong and healthier than I and he excelled at games even as a small boy.
We played mostly I. The Royal Hospital gardens which were a short distance from Tite St. The Chelsea pensioners were all our friends. We dug in their gardens and listened to their stories of bygone campaigns. There was one I particularly remember because he had been a drummer boy at Waterloo.
In these happy times our house was filled with the literary and artistic people of the day like Sarah Bernhardt, Henry Irving, John Ruskin, John Singer Sargent, Lily Langtry, Mark Twain, Ellen Terry and Robert Browning. All the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were there and we were invited to children's parties at their homes and their studios.
One time we were supposed to go to a children's fancy dress party. Our father had decided that Cyril should go as Bubbles the little boy from the Millais painting and I go as Little Lord Fauntleroy . This when we wanted sailor outfits. Our parents were having a reception on the day the costumes arrived and Papa demanded we wear them for his guests. We put the costumes I but before we got to the drawing room we removed all our clothing and pranced in nude to the horror of the Victorian visitors. We were only 6 and 7at the time. Father took the hint and we were give. Real sailor suits in real naval cloth made by a Navy tailor. We were the envy of all the little Cupids and Fauntleroys at the party.
After 1895 I never saw my father again. He was found guilty in May, 1895 and sentenced to two years imprisonment with hard labor. By age 11 knew my father had been in trouble but I was unaware of the nature of the offense. It wasn't until I was 18 after reading R H Sherard's book Oscar Wilde, The Story of An Unhappy Friendship that I knew the truth. I was so depressed I decided not to read any more books about my father. Cyril had known about the scandal after seeing a newspaper placard in the street but had shielded me from the knowledge . I did not even know who Robbie Ross was and how much he had done and was still doing for my father's memory.
After the scandal broke my brother and I were returned to London from our schools. My mother was in tears poring over press clippings. The hue and cry against the Wilde family was just as bad in Ireland so we were sent abroad to hide ourselves . Mother remained behind until the bailiffs forced her from our home and the contents sold in a bankruptcy auction. For months afterwards my brother and I kept asking for our soldiers, our trains and other toys. We could not understand why those questions upset our mother so. It was only when I saw the sale catalogue years later I understood. The bankruptcy sale consisted of 246 lots. Number237 was a large quantity of toys. They realized 30 shillings.
We went into exile in Switzerland where our uncle Otho Lloyd and his family lived. One day we were called into the dining room and told that in the future our name would no longer be Wilde but changed to Holland. We were to,d to practice writing our new names. To disguise me further my middle name of Oscar was dropped and the more common spelling of Vivian to be used. We were told told forget our name was ever Wilde and our possessions checked to make sure labels with the name Wilde were removed. I did not know why all this was done but Cyril did. After this time he never really smiled again or spoke about our father.
On February 3 1896 my grandmother Lady Wilde died. In London and Mother told me she was going back to personally tell my father of the death. I asked "why don't we see him anymore?"
She replied that he was unwell and he had a great deal of trouble. When she saw him in prison with that sad news it would be the last time she would ever see him again.
When she returned our formal schooling started again this time in Germany. Cyril and I did not respond well to German regimentation and we were expelled from two different schools. We were then enrolled in an English style school in Heidelberg. While there we had our pictures taken in our Etonian suits. Mother sent copies to father and they were in his possession when he died. In alerted to Robert Ross he wrote: I have heard from my wife. She sends me photographs of the boys--such lovely little fellows in Etonian collars but she makes no promises to allow me to see them.
I did not like the Heidelberg school like Cyril did and because of my interest in Catholicism mother decided to send me to a Jesuit school in Monaco. This might seem to be a strange choice but one of my parents' loyal friends was Princess Alice of Monaco who promised to look after me there.So I went to a school where I was a Protestant who didn't at the beginning speak any Italian though some of the fathers spoke French. I continued school here and mother visited me in February 1898 . Little did we know then that it would be our last time together as she died shortly thereafter from complications from a spinal operation. However I truly believe she died of a broken heart after. My father's disgrace. My last letter from her spoke of my father writing " Try not to feel harshly about your father. Remember that he is your father and that he loves you. All his troubles arose from the hatred of a son for his father and whatever he has done he has suffered bitterly".
Upon my mother's death Cyril and I left our two schools and returned to England under the guardianship of my mother's family who were keen to wipe out the memory of our father and our Irish heritage. We were lead to believe that he was already dead and the family kept Cyril and I apart in separate schools. Cyril was determined to reinstate the family honor by being a man.
I think that's why he ended up in the professional Army. The lives of my brother and I could have been much happier if we had been allowed to mingle with our father's loyal friends. They inquired after us but contact and letters were forbidden by our guardian. My first cousin Dorothy Wilde was born while my father was in prison but I had no knowledge of her until she was 22.
I wanted to go to Oxford but because my father had gone there I was sent to Cambridge.
I was there when I read The Ballad Of Reading Gaol for the first time. I told my brother and he sent me a copy of De Profondis. Ronald a Firbank became a student at my college and we became good friends.
I was trying for the foreign service when a fellow student Sir Coleridge Kennard said he knew of my background and his mother Mrs Helen Carew wanted to meet me. When I met this old friend of my father's it was the first time anyone. Spoke of him with respect. Mrs Carew showed me her inscribed copies of his books and I saw his handwriting for the first time. She told me about my father's great friend Robert Ross and how he was restoring the Wilde estate.
Then there was a momentous meeting with Robert Ross, Reginald Turner and Max Beerbolm all of whom had been my father's intimate friends. I also met Miss Adela Schuster , the lady of Wimbledon who had paid many expenses for my father. I met Mrs Ada Leverson whom my father had called The Gilded Sphinx Of Golden Memory. She was a fascinating person still very beautiful with the aureole of gold-tinted hair from which derived the name my father had given to her.
Robert Ross wanted to meet Cyril and they became firm friends. I truly recognized the greatness of my father when Mr Ross hosted a magnificent dinner for my 21st birthday in November 1907.
Present were many of my father's dearest friends: More Adey, Charles Ricketts, Charles Shannon, Reginald Turner, and William Rothenstein as well as Ronald Firbank, Coleridge Kennard, sir William Richmond , Henry James and my brother Cyril.
Robert Ross made my father's estate solvent and edited his collected works. I attended with him the transfer of my father's remains to Pere Lachaise Cemetary in Paris where he rests under a magnificent monument created by Jacob Epstein.
My father was only 46 when he-- an age when most authors and artists are entering the period of their greatest achievements . I and my present wife are continuing the work started byRobert Ross. Now that Oscar Wilde has regained the position in literature that he lost in 1895 I hope his spirit is at rest for he might well say to himself as the Young King says in A House Of Pomegranates: On the loom of sorrow and by the white hand of pain has this my robe been worn.
Written by bill kaiser for oscar wilde's 162nd birthday salon@ antebellum hollywood
PRESENTED @ ANTEBELLUM HOLLYWOOD
ON THE 162ND BIRTHDAY OF OSCAR WILDE.
for info about oscar wilde death day salon on november 30th~