Jane Wilde, Lady Wilde

Wilde's father was William Wilde – an eye and ear surgeon, born in County Roscommon in 1815. In 1851 he married Jane Francesca Agnes Elgee, a self–educated poet who shared his interest in Irish folklore.

Jane Wilde was an early advocate of women's rights, and of armed revolution in Ireland. When she wrote about the latter she often used the pen name Speranza.

William Wilde was knighted in 1864, meaning that his wife became known as Lady Wilde. Also in 1864, the Wildes were at the centre of a sensational Dublin court case when a young woman called Mary Travers (the daughter of a colleague of Sir William's and a long time patient) claimed that Sir William had drugged her with chloroform and raped her, in 1862. When Lady Wilde wrote a letter to Travers's father contesting the allegations, Mary sued her for libel. On winning the case, Mary Travers was awarded only a farthing in damages – but plus costs, which amounted to £2,000.

When Sir William died, in 1876, the family discovered that he was nearly bankrupt. Lady Jane went to live with Oscar in London, supplementing his meagre income with her own writing. In January 1896, while Oscar was in prison, she contracted bronchitis. Close to death, she asked for permission to visit her elder son, but this was refused. It was claimed that her 'fetch' (a supernatural double, or apparition, in Irish folklore – often regarded as a premonition of death) appeared in Oscar's prison cell as she died at her home in Chelsea, on 3 February 1896.

© Haydn Thompson 2021