Everyone knows about Oscar Wilde’s court case and his subsequent two-year spell in Pentonville, Wandsworth and Reading Gaol, but I was reading last week about the fact that his parents, Sir William & Lady Jane Wilde, also had a famous trial in Dublin. Sir William was accused of “seducing” (as in raping when under anaethetic) one of his patients, a Mary Travers. She wrote a pamphlet about a quack doctor and his wife and handed it to people outside lecture halls where William was speaking. Jane Wilde complained about it and was accused of libel. It was a bit of a lose/lose trial for both, for Mary was only awarded a farthing in damages and Jane had to pay thousands in legal costs.

On top of that, William and Jane’s only daughter Isola (Oscar’s sister) died as a child a few years later from a fever.

Sir William and his wife began to retreat west to his house in Co Galway over the following years. His book on the landscape and myths of Lough Corrib is brilliant. He died in 1876 virually penniless and Jane returned to Dublin a few years later. Shortly after that she went to join her sons Willie and Oscar in London. She lived in a fairly poor state with Willie, who was a journalist, and she too went back to writing to earn money. Oscar was not very wealthy at this stage, and would not be until The Importance of Being Earnest went big in 1894. Unfortunately the following year 1895 was the year of trial and incarceration for him. Losing the case bankrupted Oscar.

When she fell ill in January 1896 she asked if her son could be released from jail to see her one last time. The request was refused and she died a month later. Oscar paid for the funeral and the plot in Kensal Green cemetary, but neither he nor his brother could afford a headstone.

Although she was short of money, she did live in Chelsea just off the King’s Road. Hardly “poor London lodgings” but a case of reduced circumstances for one of the distressed rich. In the 1890s Chelsea was  a bohemian place – artists such as Rossetti, Turner, Whistler and Sargent  were among her neighbours.

Oscar came out of prison in 1897. He didn’t see his brother, Willie, who died as an alcoholic in 1899 died aged just 46.

King Creosote & Jon Hopkins – Bubble