APRIL 10: Dolly Wilde (1895-1941)


Although her fame never reached the height of her uncle’s,
socialite Dolly Wilde still lived a fabulously gay lifestyle, enjoying the
three loves of her life – writing, women, and alcohol – up until her death on
this day in 1941.

Dolly Wilde, photographed by Cecil Beaton (x). 

Born July 11, 1895, Dorothy “Dolly” Wilde came into the
world just three months after her uncle, the playwright Oscar Wilde, was found
guilty for “gross indecency” in the infamous Regina v. Wilde case. Her father was Oscar’s brother Willie, but he
passed away when she was just four years old. After her father’s death, her
mother was quickly remarried to a rich Dutch translator and the two raised Dolly  together in London. Although she never met Oscar Wilde and
her father was firmly estranged from his brother at the time of his death, many
family members and acquaintances believed Dolly to be Oscar reborn; not only
did she take after him appearance wise, but Dolly also shared her uncle’s gift
for writing and his general lust for life. Growing up with the heavy shadow of
Oscar’s memory looming over her, legend has it that Dolly would often dress up in her uncle’s
old clothes, even his iconic fur jacket as depicted in his famous Sarony
portrait. In the novel Truly Wilde, Joan
Schenkar writes:

“Everyone who met Dolly Wilde remarked on the disturbing
ways in which she was like her famous uncle. Some people felt that in Dolly’s
enormous blue-grey eyes and virtuosic wit — so strangely like her uncle’s —
they were seeing another ‘Oscar,’ born again in female form and playing to a
smaller audience.”

Dolly was known for taking after her uncle, Oscar Wilde (x).  

In 1914, Dolly left home for the first time to join the WWI ambulance
corps. She was stationed in France for most of the war, where she had one of
her first notable affairs with a fellow ambulance driver and heiress, Marion
Carstairs. After the war, Dolly stayed in Paris and continued to live the life
of luxury her last name afforded her. She was undeniably a party girl, which
began to gravely affect her later on in life when she became addicted to heroin
and made multiple suicide attempts. Despite the tolls it would end up taking on
her health, it was the party scene of 1920s Paris where Dolly met Natalie Clifford
Barney, who she would have the longest relationship of her life with. Natalie was an heiress
from America who ran a popular salon at her home at 20 rue Jacob in Paris’ Left
Bank. The two bonded over their self-destructive tendencies and love of
writing. Although she was encouraged by her friends to publish her writings,
Dolly refused, and one of the only surviving sources of her gift are her love
letters to Natalie. In one, Dolly writes: 

“I am a darting trout; shifting,
glancing & flashing my iridescent tail in a hundred pleasant pools! …How
long I shall keep in the path of virtue I can’t say but virtue with an object
is so much more salutary than virtue with its own reward!”

Towards the end of her life, Dolly’s drug addiction consumed
her and caused her health to plummet prematurely. Natalie eventually left her
to be with the author Romaine Brooks, and so Dolly found herself living in a nursing
home. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 44, but refused treatment.
With the second World War approaching, Dolly fled France for England, where
passed away on April 10, 1941 at the age of 45.