heartbreak

Photo of the Day

Mrs Wilde, c. 1887

Heartbreak Betrayal and the Unimportance of being Mrs Oscar Wilde

Constance Wilde was the long-suffering wife who remained loyal to her husband Oscar even after he was convicted of “committing acts of gross indecency” (that is, consensual sex) with other men.

The circulation of such stories indicated a widespread desire to establish Constance as something other than a wife crushed by rejection and betrayal. Fortunately, the evidence of more than 300 of Constance’s unpublished letters, is that she was far more interesting than this.

In some ways, Oscar and Constance were a good match. Both had troubled family histories: in his case a surgeon father accused by a former patient of raping her while she was anaesthetized, and in hers a grandfather who exposed himself by running around naked “in the sight of some nursemaids”, followed by a mother whose parenting techniques included “threatening with the fire-irons or having one’s head thumped against the wall”.

More importantly, both husband and wife were clever and ambitious, and for the first few years of their marriage, their lives ran along parallel tracks. While he lectured on the need for women to abandon constricting corsets and dangerously flammable crinolines, she put the idea of “rational” dress into practice by wearing daringly baggy trousers and plenty of wool. 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.

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Photo Of The Day

Angus and Evelyn Jane.

Angus and Evelyn Jane.

My Mother’s Lover

What Happens when Your Mother’s Dying Wish is to Rest in Peace with…Someone You’ve Never Heard of Before?

For years my mother wore a gold locket. When I was a boy, I liked to pull it up from inside her blouse on its chain, tugging it up from between her breasts so I could squeeze the curved button that ran along one edge and make the curlicue gold cover, heavily sprung, pop open to reveal a photograph of my mother’s grandparents.

On an elegant chair sat her grandmother and namesake, Ivy Evelyn Stone, a formidable-looking woman wearing a full skirt, a fuller blouse, and an immensely confident expression. Next to her chair stood her husband, Gene, a railroad engineer in their hometown of Wichita Falls. Especially in Wichita Falls, a railroad town, this was a high-status position then, like that of an airline pilot 50 years later. He is dressed in suit and tie, hair slicked, with his hand on the back of the chair.

I viewed this portrait as a fair representation of the distant world from which my mother came: a stable, solid existence full of aunts and uncles and her mother and father and grandparents all living toughly but carefully in the high bright sun struck towns of north Texas. The picture agreed with the steady, accomplished, morally sturdy person I and many others knew my mother to be. But it hid the fact that she came from a world that moved violently beneath her feet.

The February after my mother died, my brother, Allen, left his New Mexico home and boarded a plane for Honolulu. He carried a backpack that carried a rosewood box that carried our mother’s ashes. The next day, on Maui, he bought six leis and rented a sea kayak. With the leis in a shopping bag and our mother’s ashes in his pack, he paddled into the Pacific.

That day nine years ago was the sort one hopes for in the tropics: warm and balmy, with a breeze that pushed cat’s paws over the water. Beyond the mouth of the bay he could see rising plumes, the spouts of humpback whales gathered to breed. He paddled toward them. When he was closer to the whales than to the shore, he shipped his oar and opened his pack. He pulled out the box and sat with it on his lap, letting the boat drift. He watched the distant spouts. Without any prelude, a whale suddenly but gently surfaced about 30 yards in the distance and released a gush of air. It bobbed, noisily breathed, and dove.

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