The life and times of socialite Dolly Wilde
Before there was Paris Hilton, the uber-celebrity socialite of the early 20th century was Dolly Wilde, a witty, bon vivant who constantly lived on the legacy of her famous uncle, the poet Oscar Wilde.
But unlike Hilton, Wilde was not rich and used her natural talent as an eloquent storyteller to live with friends as the perpetual– and notorious– guest.
Sadly, she never used her talent to make a mark in literary history.
Dolly Wilde: A character out of a book
Born on 11 July 1895 in London, Dorothy Ierne Wilde, better known as Dolly, was only three months old when the homosexual Oscar was arrested for “gross indecency.”
Her father was Oscar’s brother, Willie, an alcoholic journalist who died early. Her mother then married the translator Alexander Teixeira de Mattos, who became her stepfather.
Growing up, Dolly idolized her uncle despite her family turning their back on him. She went to France in 1914 to become an ambulance driver during World War I.
It was around that time that she met and a relationship with a fellow ambulance driver, the heiress Marion “Joe” Carstairs, who would become famous in her own right.
Dolly Wilde: The Parisian life
Having only a small fund from her stepfather, Dolly then moved on to the Paris salons and parties, living glamorously in hotels and houses of her rich friends.
Noted writer Djuna Barnes once turned Dolly a character in her work, Ladies Almanack, as Doll Furious.
But the jealous Dolly didn’t like Djuna, saying: “Why should you be the one with genius? If anyone has it, it should be me.”
Dolly had many affairs, one of which was with the silent screen actress Alla Nazimova. But the love of her life was the writer, Natalie Clifford Barney.
Meanwhile, Lady Una Troubridge once described her as “the better man” as compared to her uncle.
Dolly Wilde: Addiction, alcoholism and death
Unfortunately, Dolly was also a heavy drinker and got into heroin. She tried to rehabilitate herself but failed, becoming addicted to the sleeping draught paraldehyde instead.
She was later diagnosed with breast cancer in 1939, but she refused surgery and preferred alternative treatment.
At the start of World War II and the Germans advancing on Paris, she moved back to London in 1940. On 9 April 1941, she died of a possible drug overdose.
With Dolly’s death, Barney said that “just as no one’s presence could be as present as hers, so no one’s absence could be so absent.”