Dolly Wilde: Witty Socialite, Lost Talent

By July 11, 2019 Authors, News

Dorothy Wilde (11 July 1895 – 10 April 1941) was an English socialite and niece of the better known Oscar Wilde. Best known as Dolly, she had a reputation as a witty conversationalist, a family trait but bad luck, bad decisions, a war, drugs and alcohol ensured she never realised her full talent.

Born in London in July, 1895, just three months after Oscar Wilde’s arrest for homosexual acts, Dorothy Ierne Wilde was the only child of Oscar’s older brother, Willie and the only niece to Oscar. Just a few years after her birth Willie Wilde died, leaving Dorothy to be raised by her mother and stepfather, translator Alexander Teixeira de Mattos.

Dolly Wilde, photographed by Cecil Beaton

In 1914 Dolly, as she was then known, travelled to France and worked as an ambulance driver in WWI. In 1917 while living in Paris, Dolly had an affair with fellow ambulancewoman Marion “Joe” Carstairs who in the 1920s became a speedboat racer and was known as ‘The Fastest Woman on Water”. Despite revelling in the attention of both men and women, Dolly was a lesbian.

A gifted storyteller, Dolly was known for her witticisms and as a raconteur, yet despite her obvious talent, never took advantage of them in the way her uncle did. She had some written works, mostly translations, often uncredited and usually unpaid, most of her surviving talent is evidenced in her letter writing.

Dolly was almost certainly held back by her alcoholism, and an addiction to heroine. Despite many attempts to get clean, she was never successful, emerging from one detox attempt with a new addiction to paraldehyde.

Wilde’s longest relationship lasted from 1927 to her death, with openly lesbian American writer Natalie Clifford Barney, who was host of one of the best known literary saloons of the 20th century in Paris.

In 1939, Dolly was diagnosed with breast cancer and refused surgery. A year later as the Germans approached Paris, Dolly fled to England. Dolly Wilde died, aged 45 in 1941 of ‘Causes unascertainable”, according to the coroners report, and it’s thought she died either from the cancer, or a drug overdose as she increasingly leaned on narcotics to cope.

Dolly Wilde died with no published works to her name, and is possibly the best known 20th century author who never was.

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