Uncanny Life of Unknown Niece: Dolly Wilde

On this day, one hundred and twenty years ago in London, Dorothy Ierne Wilde, known as Dolly Wilde, was born as an only child of Willie, known only as Oscar Wilde’s older brother.

She looked, said everyone who knew them both, remarkably like her uncle Oscar. She had the same artfully posed, soft, white hands, the same elongated face, and the same air of indolent melancholy which Aristotle insisted was always the natural accompaniment of wit.

    She spoke remarkably like her uncle too or, rather, like a brilliantly female version of Oscar — for there was nothing parodically male about Dolly Wilde. And although she would occasionally dress up as her uncle in borrowed, too-tight pants, a great flowing tie and a famously ratty fur coat (perhaps it was Oscar’s favourite coat after all, the one Dolly’s father Willie was supposed to have pawned when Oscar was imprisoned), she looked most like Oscar Wilde when she was dressed up as herself: a beautiful, dreamy-eyed, paradoxical woman — wonderfully stylish and intermittently unkempt, spiritually illuminated and clearly mondaine. She stares out at us from her few significant photographs with a distinctly contemporary gaze; conscious of the camera, casual about her audience.”

Truly Wilde, The Unsettling Story of dolly Wilde, Oscar’s Unusual Niece; by Joan Schenkar

dolly-wilde-as-oscar-wilde

Dolly Wilde as Oscar Wilde

Having lost her father early in childhood, Dolly became uncanny connected with her uncle Oscar whom she never met and therefore idealized, sharing his brains and wits she used to make her life a work of art. Indeed she was known for her conversational abilities she, unlike her uncle, seldom used in writing, but rather in socializing she was a master of. She was one of the Beautiful Losers: a legendarily gifted speaker whose talent was large, whose expression was private, and whose friends, lovers, and enemies all ended by wringing their respective hands over her squandered gifts and lost opportunities.

“Her conversation was, from the accounts that survive, funny, lyrical, flowing, intimate, interested, penetrating and frequently acerbic. The most tantalising and frustrating part of trying to understand Dolly Wilde is that the hypnotising experience of being in a room with her is lost forever now. Even those who experienced it struggled to recreate it, those grey morning afters having rubbed the edges off the memory, and her essence stubbornly refusing to be separated from herself. While Oscar left a body of written work that would make his wit immortal, Dolly never managed to distil her great talent with words into writing, and so it died with the last person who remembered her.”

Culture & Stuff, November 13, 2011.

It was a peculiar time in Paris in which she arrived in 1914 at the age of nineteen, soon after the World War One it became the time of salons, parties, socialites, the time when one half of the world felt guilty and not wanting to celebrate ever, and the other half having nothing else to do. Peculiar and unique, Dolly belonged to the latter, making her life a work of art and becoming the dream of many women in her social circles.

“Charming herself, she could be charmed into putting off anything, even the narratives she loved so much.

    `Go on,’ Dolly would say to her friend Victor Cunard, the LondonTimes correspondent in Venice, as he hesitated between the irresistible desire to pour out his secret life to her and the fully justified fear that his secret would be instantly betrayed. `Go on,’ she would saw disarmingly in her `bird-charmer’s’ voice to the New Yorker magazine writer Janet Flanner, who was telling her a particularly violent fairy tale, `but tell it slowly, tell every word so that it will last longer.’ Dolly Wilde’s life was full of such interesting, unfinished, delayed relationships through which she was sometimes tempted to try and fulfill herself.”

Truly Wilde, The Unsettling Story of dolly Wilde, Oscar’s Unusual Niece; by Joan Schenkar

Dolly’s was generation that lost its men: some of them slaughtered in trenches of war, and others returned war heroes but forever scarred by battle experience.

Women took over the role of men, and did it quite directly. Dolly was no different.

Women loved Dolly, while Dolly loved one woman, the love of her life, Natalie Clifford Barney. Dolly loved her till the day she was found dead for never completely revealed causes in her flat in London in 1941, at the age of 45.

Natalie_Barney_in_Fur_Cape

Natalie Clifford Barney painted by her mother Alice Pike Barney in 1896.

“Although she could only have been produced by the follies and grandeurs of the 1920s and the 1930s, Dolly Wilde seems sensationally contemporary. Her tastes for cutting-edge conversation and `emergency seductions’ (as she called the sexual adventures which she applied like unguent to her emotional wounds), for fast cars and foreign films, for experimental literature and alcoholic actresses, are still right up to the minute, and it is too easy to forget that she has been dead — and deader still for being unnoticed — these sixty years.”

Truly Wilde, The Unsettling Story of dolly Wilde, Oscar’s Unusual Niece; by Joan Schenkar

Lived extravagantly and passed mysteriously, Dolly was undoubtedly one of most peculiar infamous persons of twentieth century.

The least we can say on this day is: Happy birthday, Dolly!

Love Gina Wings

Can We Really Trust Ourselves? The Art of Lust

We all know it… the whip of lust, adrenaline rush of wanting all at once or, as was seductively described by Maureen Medved in The Tracey Fragments

“One day you fall for this boy. And he touches you with his fingers. And he burns holes in your skin with his mouth. And it hurts when you look at him. And it hurts when you don’t. And it feels like someone’s cut you open with a jagged piece of glass.”

or perhaps Saul Williams in Said the Shotgun to the Head

“Have you ever lost yourself in a kiss? I mean pure psychedelic inebriation. Not just lustful petting but transcendental metamorphosis when you became aware that the greatness of this being was breathing into you. Licking the sides and corners of your mouth, like sealing a thousand fleshy envelopes filled with the essence of your passionate being and then opened by the same mouth and delivered back to you, over and over again – the first kiss of the rest of your life. A kiss that confirms that the universe is aligned, that the world’s greatest resource is love, and maybe even that God is a woman. With or without a belief in God, all kisses are metaphors decipherable by allocations of time, circumstance, and understanding”

 

We have all known it, since the moment we have transformed into adults, pretty young back then but still… adults.

Lust… the word first used before twelfth century and defined as a strong feeling of sexual desire – makes you wonder – is it a constant occurrence in our lives, or we tend to grow out of it, as if it were a pair of worn-out jeans?

Furthermore, are we entitled to the feeling, even upon passing the so-called ‘young age’, even upon reaching certain life milestones: establishing long-term partnership, having a house, a garden, maybe kids, and a dog?

Surprisingly enough, once we reach all the goals we realize: nothing ever changed. The spark we had within us is still there, burning, now even more fiercely, persistent and strong. With maturity we become confident in what we do want and what not, so sparking that fire within us may not be as frequent yet once it happens, fireworks are sure to follow.

So… here I was, thirty-nine, committed, life established on solid grounds… was it for lack of excitement and wanting to feel alive again, or perhaps reasons more frivolous, wanting to escape the defined path into unknown, for mere pleasure of expectation, that I have found myself prone to this rush and jitters of feeling lustful again?

There was nothing unusual in what I was feeling constantly, C. JoyBell C. describes it perfectly when she says…

“I don’t know why people are afraid of lust. Then I can imagine that they are very afraid of me, for I have a great lust for everything. A lust for life, a lust for how the summer-heated street feels beneath my feet, a lust for the touch of another’s skin on my skin…a lust for everything. I even lust after cake. Yes, I am very lusty and very scary.”

Each age carries its peculiarities within, and the most important one in the mid-life and its crisis, is that all of a sudden, you become irresistibly comfortable with the person you have become, with no need for approval, justification or explanations. You simply – are.

And I was. I am. And am irreversibly in love with myself. And that is liberating.

Are we all in quest for liberation?

C. JoyBell C. wraps it up perfectly when saying

“I’m not in search of sanctity, sacredness, purity; these things are found after this life, not in this life; but in this life I search to be completely human: to feel, to give, to take, to laugh, to get lost, to be found, to dance, to love and to lust, to be so human.”

 

But maybe the best description of lust in maturity is found in a confession by Catherynne M. Valente in Deathless

“Koschei smiled. His pale lips sought hers, crushing her into a kiss like dying. She tasted sweetness there, as though he still kissed her with honey and sugar on his tongue. When he pulled away, his eyes shone.

“I don’t care, Marya Morevna. Kiss him. Take him to your bed, and the vila, too, for all it matters to me. Do you understand me, wife? There need never be any rules between us. Let us be greedy together; let us hoard. Let us hit each other with birch branches and lock each other in dungeons; let us drink each other’s blood in the night and betray each other in the sun. Let us lie and lust and take hundreds of lovers; let us dance until snow melts beneath us. Let us steal and eat until we grow fat and roll in the pleasures of life, clutching each other for purchase. Only leave me my death — let me hold this one thing sacred and unmolested and secret — and I will serve you a meal myself, served on a platter of all the world’s bounty. Only do not leave me, swear that you will never leave me, and no empress will stand higher. Forget the girls in the factory. Be selfish and cruel and think nothing of them. I am selfish. I am cruel. My mate cannot be less than I. I will have you in my hoard, Marya Morevna, my black mirror.”

 

So here I was, mature enough, and lustful as ever… it was not that feeling that excited me as much, as knowing that the newly found lust is not necessarily to be kept secret. So maybe this not-so-innocent musing can be best wrapped up by a uncanny toast by Patricia Highsmith for New Year’s Eve, 1947…

“My New Year’s Eve Toast: to all the devils, lusts, passions, greeds, envies, loves, hates, strange desires, enemies ghostly and real, the army of memories, with which I do battle — may they never give me peace.”

 

Love Gina Wings

 

 

Virginia Woolf on Craftsmanship & The Shady Reputation of Lady English

“…Words, English words, are full of echoes, of memories, of associations. They have been out and about, on people’s lips, in their houses, in the streets, in the fields, for so many centuries. And that is one of the chief difficulties in writing them today – that they are stored with other meanings, with other memories, and they have contracted so many famous marriages in the past.”

With these words Virginia Woolf begins the interview in a BBC radio broadcast in April 29, 1937. The interview is a reminiscence of the essay ‘Craftsmanship’ published in ‘The death of the Moth and other Essays’ in 1942. by Leonard Woolf.

In his editorial note note he states:

“If she had lived, there is no doubt that she would have made large alterations and revisions in nearly all these essays before allowing them to appear in volume form. Knowing this, one naturally hesitates to publish them as they were left. I have decided to do so, first because they seem to me worth republishing, and second because at any rate those which have already appeared in journals have in fact been written and revised with immense care.”

We can only thank Mr. Woolf for enriching us with Virginia’s another amazing work which inspires us to consider our words even more seriously – if for nothing else, than for the simple fact…

“Now we know little that is certain about words, but this we do know — words never make anything that is useful; and words are the only things that tell the truth and nothing but the truth.”

Not only it is important to handle words with care from author’s but also from the reader’s perspective, because…

“… one sentence of the simplest kind rouses the imagination, the memory, the eye and the ear — all combine in reading it.

But they combine — they combine unconsciously together. The moment we single out and emphasize the suggestions as we have done here they become unreal; and we, too, become unreal — specialists, word mongers, phrase finders, not readers. In reading we have to allow the sunken meanings to remain sunken, suggested, not stated; lapsing and flowing into each other like reeds on the bed of a river.”

It is both interesting and valuable to consider her own viewpoint at the time of creation and, although not identical, the two works miraculously intertwine. So Virginia ponders in the interview

“… the very obvious yet always mysterious fact that a word is not a single and separate entity, but part of other words. Indeed it is not a word until it is part of a sentence. Words belong to each other, (…)

How can we combine the old words in new orders so that they survive, so that they create beauty, so that they tell the truth? That is the question.

And the person who could answer that question would deserve whatever crown of glory the world has to offer.”

And she further continues, describing the art and craftsmanship of writing, and breathing life into words…

“It is only a question of finding the right words and putting them in the right order. But we cannot do it because they do not live in dictionaries; they live in the mind. And how do they live in the mind? Variously and strangely, much as human beings live, ranging hither and thither, falling in love, and mating together. It is true that they are much less bound by ceremony and convention than we are. Royal words mate with commoners. 

Indeed, the less we enquire into the past of our dear Mother English the better it will be for that lady’s reputation. For she has gone a-roving, a-roving fair maid.”

Perhaps the most striking point is the revolutionary meditation on words which will shed a new light on every work of literature ever written – and how do they survive tests of time…

“… all we can say about them is that they seem to like people to think before they use them, and to feel before they use them, but to think and feel not about them, but about something different. They are highly sensitive, easily made self-conscious. They do not like to have their purity or their impurity discussed. If you start a Society for Pure English, they will show their resentment by starting another for impure English – hence the unnatural violence of much modern speech; it is a protest against the puritans. They are highly democratic, too; they believe that one word is as good as another; uneducated words are as good as educated words, uncultivated words as good as cultivated words, there are no ranks or titles in their society. Nor do they like being lifted out on the point of a pen and examined separately. They hang together, in sentences, paragraphs, sometimes for whole pages at a time. They hate being useful; they hate making money; they hate being lectured about in public. In short, they hate anything that stamps them with one meaning or confines them to one attitude, for it is their nature to change.

Perhaps that is their most striking peculiarity – their need of change. It is because the truth they try to catch is many-sided, and they convey it by being many-sided, flashing first this way, then that. Thus they mean one thing to one person, another thing to another person; they are unintelligible to one generation, plain as a pikestaff to the next. And it is because of this complexity, this power to mean different things to different people, that they survive.”

 

Maybe we are just slaves to words, and maybe that is not the curse, but rather otherwise.

Do not miss this valuable recording.

 

Love Gina Wings

How Mr. Selfridge Reinvented Shopping

What London needs is a good shaking up.” – was Andrew Carnegie‘s observation that distant 1900 as he found himself appalled by the simple fact that the shop people had been considerably better at driving away customers than at attracting them.

Back then, shopping was not necessarily an entertaining activity, but merely a rather difficult and time consuming chore: a woman, since it was prevalently women’s duty, was supposed to go to the store searching for specific, desirably not out of the ordinary, things, carefully order them and wait for the delivery.

Highly likely, if you were upper class, shopping was the main – if not the only – duty you had. Being it in time before the radio, TV, mass media, internet, and the only entertainment available, at least for women, being Sunday church, no wonder the same women, in search of their share of life pleasures, did something about it – with a little help from their male counterparts who understood this quite well.

The nineteenth-century passion for fashion, rise of buying in bulk on credit, and general lack of entertainment had provided the perfect conditions to develop department stores as we know them today.

Harry Gordon Selfridge opened his first department store in then unfashionable London Oxford Street on 15 March 1909. 400,000 Pounds Sterling, equivalent of one billion today’s US dollars, were invested into this grand and revolutionary project.

This border-ludicrous, amazing venue has inspired Lindy Woodhead, more than a century later, to write the words in her ‘Shopping, Seduction & Mr. Selfridge‘:

A man light years ahead of his time, a true accelerator of change, he deserves to be remembered as the man who put fun on the shop floor and sex appeal into shopping.

Indulge in this great read, and next time you visit London, make sure to visit Selfridges. It is still there, in the same place.

Love Gina Wings