Truly Wilde: The Unsettling Story of Dolly Wilde, Oscar’s Unusual Niece


She was lovely, sophisticated and famous for her witty conversation, even in a social circle that was known for its fabulous talkers. The only child of Oscar Wilde’s dissipated older brother Willie, Dolly Wilde (1895-1941) led a life as scandalous and glittering as her uncle’s; she, too, loved her own ex, and her longest romantic relationship was with American heiress Natalie Clifford Barney, who was host of the most important Parisian literary salon or the 20th century…American playwright Joan Schenkar brings Wilde to life in a modernist biography that is written in prose as sparkling as Dolly’s fabled bons mots. Schenkar eschews conventional chronology to consider Wilde’s life thematically, from her lesbianism to her taste for smart society to her self-destructive identification with Uncle Oscar. She reminds us just how remarkable and accomplished were the women at Barney’s salon (journalist Janet Flanner, novelist Djuna Barnes, and artist Mina Loy, among them) and how much they esteemed Dolly Wilde…This is essentially a tale of “squandered gifts and lost opportunities,” Schenkar acknowledges, but she successfully provokes readers to share her admiration for Wilde’s prodigal generosity with both her talent and her affections.