Fighting for the Irish Independence through words: Lady Speranza Wilde

Thursday, May 26, 2011 at 9:00 AM

Have you ever heard of Lady Speranza? She was a mysterious pro-Irish Independence writer for the magazine The Nation during the middle of the 19th century in Dublin. That's the pen name of Jane Francesca Wilde, the mother of the famous and controversial Oscar Wilde.

Born around 1821, Lady Wilde was the daughter of Archdeacon Elgee (son of an Italian immigrant), Rector of Wexford, and Sara Kingsbury, granddaughter of the Commissioner of Bankrupt. At this time, Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain due to the Acts of Union in 1800, and many Irish people hoped for independence from Great Britain's Protestant kingdom.

Lady Wilde embodied her country's hopes and dreams during the fight for independence, by adopting the nom de plume "Speranza," the Italian word for hope. With this nickname she signed many poems, writings, fairy tales and translations. By examining her talent with language, it's easy to understand the origins of her son's genius.

Her first poem appeared in the newspaper The Nation in 1846 and was followed by many others which won the enthusiasm of the leaders of the Young Ireland, the social and political nationalistic movement responsible for the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848.

Gavan Duffy, the editor of The Nation, didn't know that Lady Wilde was behind the Speranza poems and letters. Her article, "Jacta Alea Est," published in 1848, urged armed revolt in the cause of Irish freedom.

Because of the contents of his paper, the British authorities brought Duffy to court. Speranza’s article was used as evidence of seditious conspiracy. Duffy refused to identify the author responsible for the writings. Jane Francesca Wilde came to court and claimed the writings with pride, for she wasn't afraid to stand up for her nation. The following is an excerpt from "Dedication to Ireland," published in Poems by Lady Speranza in 1871:

My country, wounded to the heart,
Could I but flash along thy soul
Electric power to rive apart
The thunder‐clouds that round thee roll,
And, by my burning words, uplift
Thy life from out Death's icy drift,
Till the full splendours of our age
Shone round thee for thy heritage—
As Miriam’s, by the Red Sea strand
Clashing proud cymbals, so my hand
Would strike thy harp,
Loved Ireland!

The Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848 collapsed quickly and the leaders were arrested. After the closure of The Nation, Lady Wilde lost hope for the cause though she continued to believe in its ideals. She started to write about Irish folklore: fairies, leprechauns, elves and the mysticism which is prevalent on Celtic tradition.

Lady Wilde's outspokenness emerged once more when her son Oscar was accused of sodomy and she earnestly defended him. She usually quoted to him lines by Goethe to help him face the troubles of his life.

Indeed, she was used to troubles. Her husband Sir William Wilde, a famous eye and ear surgeon, was at the center of a scandalous court case regarding a young woman. Mary Travers claimed to have been seduced by him. The girl was the daughter of a colleague of Sir William and won the case, gaining £2,000.

Lady Wilde stayed always at her husband's side, like she did for her son Oscar, even when they found themselves bankrupt after Sir William's death. She moved to London (where she died in 1896) with her two sons. Despite the conditions of her late years, she didn't lose the style and appeal which made her so well known and remembered in her beloved Ireland.


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