Wilde, born in London three months after her uncle Oscar Wilde's arrest for homosexual acts, was the only child of Oscar's older brother, Willie. Her father died just a few years later, and she was raised by her mother and her stepfather, the translator Alexander Teixeira de Mattos.
In 1914, she travelled to France in order to drive an ambulance in World War I. During the war she had an affair with one of her fellow ambulance drivers, Standard Oil heiress Marion "Joe" Carstairs, who in the 1920s became a speedboat racer and was known as "the fastest woman on water." Although she "revelled in" attracting both men and women, Wilde was primarily, if not entirely, lesbian.
Her longest relationship, lasting from 1927 until her death, was with openly lesbian American writer Natalie Clifford Barney, who was host of one of the best-known Parisian literary salons of the 20th century.
Due in part to Jean Chalon's early biography of her, published in English as Portrait of a Seductress, Natalie Barney has become more widely known for her many relationships than for her writing or her salon. She once wrote out a list, divided into three categories: liaisons, demi-liaisons, and adventures.
Colette, the actress, was a demi-liaison, while the artist and furniture designer Eyre de Lanux, with whom she had an off-and-on affair for several years, was listed as an adventure. Among the liaisons—the relationships that Barney considered most important—were Olive Custance, Renée Vivien, Elisabeth de Gramont, Romaine Brooks, and Dolly Wilde. Of these, the three longest relationships were with de Gramont, Brooks, and Wilde; from 1927, Barney was involved with all three women simultaneously, a situation that ended only with Wilde's death.
Dolly Wilde was regarded by many as a gifted storyteller and writer, but she never took advantage of these natural talents. She was supported mostly by the generosity of others and by a small inheritance from her stepfather; her only written works were translations—often uncredited and unpaid—and animated correspondence with her friends.
Wilde drank to excess and was addicted to heroin. She went through several detoxification attempts, none successful; she emerged from one nursing-home stay with a new dependency on the sleeping draught paraldehyde, then available over-the-counter.
In 1939 she was diagnosed with breast cancer and refused surgery, seeking alternative treatments. The following year, with the Germans approaching Paris, she fled for England. She died aged 45 in 1941, of "causes unascertainable", according to the coroner's inquest -- possibly the cancer or possibly a drug overdose.
Truly Wilde: The Unsettling Story of Dolly Wilde, Oscar's Unusual Niece by Joan Schenkar
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Da Capo Press (December 4, 2001)
Amazon: Truly Wilde: The Unsettling Story of Dolly Wilde, Oscar's Unusual Niece
Born a scant three months after her uncle Oscar's notorious arrest, raised in the shadow of the greatest scandal of the turn of the twentieth century, Dolly Wilde attracted people of taste and talent wherever she went. Brilliantly witty, charged with charm, a "born writer," she drenched her prodigious talents in liquids, burnt up her opportunities in flamboyant affairs, and died as she lived—repeating her uncle's history of excess, collapse, and ruin. In this biography, Joan Schenkar has created both a captivating portrait of Dolly and a cultural history of Natalie Clifford Barney's remarkable Parisian salon—frequented by Janet Flanner, Mina Loy, Djuna Barnes—in which she shone so brightly.
Wild Heart: A Life: Natalie Clifford Barney and the Decadence of Literary Paris by Suzanne Rodriguez
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial (September 23, 2003)
Amazon: Wild Heart: A Life: Natalie Clifford Barney and the Decadence of Literary Paris
Born in 1876, Natalie Barney-beautiful, charismatic, brilliant and wealthy-was expected to marry well and lead the conventional life of a privileged society woman. But Natalie had no interest in marriage and made no secret of the fact that she was attracted to women. Brought up by a talented and rebellious mother-the painter Alice Barney-Natalie cultivated an interest in poetry and the arts. When she moved to Paris in the early 1900s, she plunged into the city's literary scene, opening a famed Left Bank literary salon and engaging in a string of scandalous affairs with courtesan Liane de Pougy, poet Renee Vivien, and painter Romaine Brooks, among others. For the rest of her long and controversial life Natalie Barney was revered by writers for her generous, eccentric spirit and reviled by high society for her sexual appetite. In the end, she served as an inspiration and came to know many of the greatest names of 20th century arts and letters-including Proust, Colette, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Isadora Duncan, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and Truman Capote.
A dazzling literary biography, Wild Heart: A Life is a story of a woman who has been an icon to many. Set against the backdrop of two different societies-Victorian America and Belle Epoque Europe—Wild Heart: A Life beautifully captures the richness of their lore.