Behind every great….

100_0087‘Behind every great man stands a great woman’, one of my dearest friends declared, a propos Winston Churchill and the love of his life, his wife Clementine, and of Franklin Roosevelt and Eleanor. We were lunching at the latest fashionable eatery for ladies who lunch, and I rather lowered the tone by quipping that behind every great man is a woman with nothing to wear!

As I sort through years of accumulation in this house, ready to take my next steps forward, I thought of this conversation, and thought of a much ignored and rather valiant woman who stood behind a great man. Her influence over a hundred years later is behind the room I sit in.

I looked around at this white room, white walls and cream curtains, white French furniture and if not white, then painted white and distressed by me, the guts of the rooms being created by the richness of books, and the colour of china. Only three pieces of furniture are the exception to the reigning white – the pine dresser in the dining area, and the antique round Dutch rosewood table laden with piles of books, and a battered old French bench painted in soft grey and cream.

After years of blue rooms, red rooms and yellow rooms this pale restful room is how I want to live these days. Syrie Maugham, Somerset Maugham’s ex-wife, is usually credited with inventing all-white rooms in the thirties. She bleached and pickled and painted furniture and floors, had carpets specially woven in white, and white on white became all the rage.

But the first white rooms in interior decorative history were Mrs Oscar Wilde’s drawing room and dining room in Tite Street, Chelsea.

The poet W. B Yeats described: ” a white drawing room… with white panels, and a dining room all white, chairs, walls, mantel-pieces, carpets…” The Wildes were leaders of fashion, and the much under-rated Constance Wilde edited the Rational Dress Society’s Gazette, often detailing accidents which had befallen women owing to the restrictions or impracticality of their dress.

Her white dining room may have been impractical, but she was an unusual Victorian parent who allowed her two sons to romp and play in its pristine whiteness – and they also scandalised some – as their unconventional mother allowed them to do this naked.

Though not as talented as the wickedly brilliant Oscar, (arriving in America and being asked what he had to declare, he replied, ‘Nothing but my genius!’) she more than held her own, collaborating with him in many of his projects, writing books for children, as well as writing in, and editing her magazine, while creating the artistic and aesthetic environment which had such an influence on their circle and their times.

Constance was also interested in the spiritual life, and became involved with the famous metaphysical and mystical society The Order of The Golden Dawn, where amongst others, well known personalities like WB Yeats, Maud Gonne, famous mystic Evelyn Underhill and even wicked Aleister Crowley before his fall, used to meet.

After the difficult birth of their second son the Wilde’s sexual relationship dwindled, and it was then that Oscar became involved with the love life (what his lover famously described as ‘the love that dare not speak its name ‘) that ended his career and the happiness of them all.

It’s only recently that it’s been understood that the mysterious and crippling illness which blighted Constance’s life, and probably their marriage in the five years before Oscar’s downfall, was the onset of multiple scelerosis. It was a condition which had only been recognised a few years before, and which Constance’s doctors were obviously not aware of.

This too, must have made a huge difference to the quality of the Wilde’s marriage, though they both obviously loved each other. Constance continued to support Oscar’s achievements after his disgrace and was the first to praise the poignant ‘Ballad of Reading Gaol’. But his inability to keep at a distance the beautiful but destructive and heartless “Bosie” Douglas, the other half in the scandal, finally drove husband and wife apart.

Constance took her two boys to Italy to escape the scandal, and died there a couple of years later from the dangerous quack treatment she sought for her increasingly debilitating illness.

There’s been much sympathy and rightly so, for Oscar Wilde and his trials and tragedy, but Constance is often the forgotten one in this tribulation which affected them all. Not only does a fine woman stand behind most great men, but behind every disgraced man stands a humiliated and heartbroken wife…

Since I learned her story many years ago, Constance Wilde has always had a place in my heart… I can never resist women who make the best of things, however bad the things … and as Eleanor Roosevelt so memorably said: “A woman is like a tea bag – you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water.”

Food for threadbare gourmets
After my grandsons had been for lunch and I had made gallons – as it were – of chocolate sauce, I wondered what to do with all the sauce left over. Luckily I had a friend for supper a few days later, and decided to put the chocolate sauce to good use.

I gently stewed some peeled and cored pears in hot water with maple syrup, ginger wine, a few cloves, star anise and a bay leaf added. When soft I left them to steep in this juice, and later, boiled it away until it was thick and syrupy.

Served with whipped cream, re-heated chocolate sauce, and a little shortbread biscuit, it was wickedly delicious to one who has renounced sugar!

Food for thought

There is that which has always been there,
Which has never left your side,
Which has always been present,
Whatever the feeling, the circumstance.
When you turn your attention to trusting that,
You surrender to yourself.


Filed under cookery/recipes, culture, fashion, history, life/style, literature, love, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, uncategorised, womens issues, writing

31 responses to “Behind every great….

  1. I’m ashamed to say Valerie that until this post I had no idea that Oscar Wilde was married let alone had children.I obviously have a lot of sympathy for her having to face the trials she did with her health as well as the scandal of her husbands homosexuality.
    In the past always had sympathy for Wilde himself suffering imprisonment for defying what is now an outmoded law though I’m sure he could have been much more discreet given how the law stood at that time. I always thought it was wrong that he was accused of seducing Lord Alfred Douglas when in fact Douglas was old enough to make the decision for enter into such a public affair.
    Another case where a man didn’t honour his marriage vows and the wife and children are left to suffer.
    xxx Mega Hugs Valerie xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lovely to hear from you David..
      .One of the sad things about the Wilde thing was that Bosie left Wilde’s love letters in the pockets of suits of clothes he gave to various rent boys. which one can’t help wondering was deliberate… he also encouraged Wilde to sue his ( Bosie’s) crazy father for libel, and it was on the strength of this trial which was abandoned, that the police the next day came and arrested Wilde and the letters were used in evidence against him …the most recent theory about Wilde is that he didn’t participate in these homosexual orgies with rent boys but went along with them simply because he was enslaved by Bosie… and also that he was protecting Bosie by taking the blame…Bosie wasn’t worth it and later repudiated Wilde !!!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Well written and poignant! Love this line from your writing: “Not only does a fine woman stand behind most great men, but behind every disgraced man stands a humiliated and heartbroken wife…”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I thought of my Grandmothers and Mother while reading this. All strong, supportive women, usually seen in the shadows of their husbands. I know from whence comes my strength, however. They are all horoines to me. I’m so glad you enjoy that lovely anonymous passage. It is special. All the best with your next stage. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • thank you Ardys. I’ll keep you posted on the adventures that are coming my way !!!
      Yes, our ancestors are precious aren’t they… none more so than grandmothers.. can’t speak for mothers, not having had one !!!!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I didn’t know you were back blogging! I’m so glad I saw this post. I’ve missed your observations and stories!


  5. The pears with chocolate sauce sound yummy!
    What a fascinating post altogether – once again I had lots to learn from your post. I didn’t realise OW was a husband/father either.
    I think of you often, sorting and going through memories and I send love your way. I would love to be sitting there on the floor with you in your beautiful white room, going through things and hearing your stories.
    With love, Sally


    • Oh sally, how lovely to hear from you. are you out of hospital now and safely back in your own bed? I do hope the worst of it is all over, and you;re healing beautifully…
      What a lovely word picture you painted of us sitting on the floor nattering together… would love it to happen too… I also love the way blogging puts us in touch with like minds, and helps to create such warm and loving connections over the air waves…

      Liked by 1 person

      • I love that too. I am out of hospital and in my own bed but recovery seems a bit slower than last time – or I am more impatient!
        Distance means nothing does it, when connections across the ether bring like minds together.
        All the best 🙂


  6. As with Luanne, I’ve just noticed you’re blogging again. Loving having one of our best bloggers to read. Welcome back.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Dear Mark, I’m blown away by your generous welcome back…thank you so much for your kind words… so encouraging and so much appreciated, thank you


  8. That Oscar Wilde had a wife and children was news to me too. Thank you for telling the her-story and the food for thought. Like those who’ve already commented I’m delighted that your blogging pit-stop is over.


  9. Thank you so much Ele, lovely to hear from you and thank you so much for your welcome back… it gives me such a kick when I’ve been feeling a bit discouraged…

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Good one. Didn’t know that about Wilde. Loved the Roosevelt comment, had not heard that one before.


  11. Very, very interesting. Thank you. Our rooms do reflect who we are and how we are within them—



  12. You are right – Constance was obviously far too ignored and underrated – and still is. I have read much about Oscar Wilde and have been saddened by the fact that his talent and accomplishments have largely been eclipsed by ‘the scandal’ part of his life. Yet, Constance has always seemed a shadowy figure somewhere in the background. How unjust!


  13. Thank you friend, so good to hear from you… yes, what you say about Constance i true, and I suspect may be said for many others….


  14. Constance was true to her name it would seem. It seems you are being true to your name, as well; strong, brave 😉 Hmm…are names a reflection of our essential selves or do they help form us into our essential selves ~the person to whom we surrender? I note that one of Syrie Maugham’ s names was Maud. Maud is a very strong spirited name. Maud Gonne was a true Maud. According to Maud G there wouldn’t have been a great Poet Yeats without her to be his muse.


  15. I have always been fascinated by the Oscar Wilde story, it is both tragic and in many ways one for us to ponder in relation to the many stories of our times. When I consider all the politicians caught in scandals, standing at the podium as they give their heartfelt apology to their constituents while their wife and children stand by their sides, I can only wonder what they are thinking. Then I wonder, would I do the same? Would I stand in the glare of the lights and ‘support’ the betrayer of my trust?

    Constance Wilde bore tragedy and pain with grace. I think I would like to know more about her.

    Your room sounds beautiful and restful.

    Next time you have extra chocolate sauce consider one of my favorites, EnMole Sauce.


  16. There are so many narratives hidden in the folds of history. Your masterful storytelling brings warmth and understanding to the breadth and depth of the human experience. 🙂


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  20. Endlessly fascinating, the dynamic between men and women. He is supposed to be the head of the house, but we know she’s the neck (that turns the head). Choosing to turn its own way is folly! =)


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