Dating looks or intellect
Waiting in a bar for a young man a few weeks ago, she ran through possible options, before settling on the subject of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
A surefire way, the 22-year-old undergraduate reasoned, to guarantee an interesting debate.
Moyle suggests his fairy tales may have been covert confessions of these feelings, given their emphasis on personal sacrifice, but she also helpfully points out that Constance was far from being merely a spurned wife.
She, too, had an affair, writing slyly to her lover that he would make “an ideal husband”, and in some ways she was just as much of a pioneer, with her interests in socialism and pacifism, her involvement in women’s rights, and her enthusiasm for ventures such as Dorothy's Restaurant, where women could dine – and more shockingly smoke – alone.
Fortunately, the evidence of Franny Moyle’s fine biography, the first to draw on more than 300 of Constance’s unpublished letters, is that she was far more interesting than this.
Like one of Wilde’s epigrams, in fact, Moyle takes pleasure in turning our assumptions on their heads.
Even after Oscar’s imprisonment, she continued to collect reviews and editions of his work, and only gave up hope of being reconciled when he chose to return to Bosie rather than to her. Although she doted on their elder son, Cyril, she described the sickly younger Vyvyan as “sweet and affectionate” but also “extraordinarily wilful and wayward”.His theories about the “house beautiful” were supported by her designs for their marital home in Chelsea, an ordinary red-brick villa that they transformed into a temple to aestheticism.Even Oscar’s disappearances into a hidden side of London’s nightlife found echoes in his wife’s experiments with the occult.These poor decisions are just foisted on their members in a haphazard and arbitrary way.
Tragic heroines have an unfortunate habit of living up to their names.More dangerous was Constance’s agreement to take in a lodger, Robbie Ross, a precocious 17-year-old who was already, as Moyle quaintly puts it, “a practising homosexual”, and who promptly found someone else to practise with by seducing his host.