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... My grandmother Ada Leverson imagined that the height of bliss would be to sit in a theatre listening to her own dialogue spoken by ‘real live actors’, and much of her life was spent in trying to finish a play. It was always the same play, but as time drew level with her inspiration and threatened to leave it behind, the characters and dialogue had every so often to be brought up to date by radical alteration before the final curtain was reached ...

Dear Sphinx

Penelope Fitzgerald, 1 December 1983

The Little Ottleys 
by Ada Leverson and Sally Beauman.
Virago, 543 pp., £3.95, November 1982, 0 86068 300 1
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The Constant Nymph 
by Margaret Kennedy and Anita Brookner.
Virago, 326 pp., £3.50, August 1983, 0 86068 354 0
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The Constant Novelist: A Study of Margaret Kennedy 1896-1967 
by Violet Powell.
Heinemann, 219 pp., £10.95, June 1983, 0 434 59951 4
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... Ada Leverson (1862-1933) said she had learned about human nature in the nursery. A little brother got her to help him make a carriage out of two chairs, but when he was taken out in a real carriage he was not in the least interested. Certainly she never under-estimated the human capacity for imagination or for disappointment ...


John Bayley, 8 December 1988

The Letters of Max Beerbohm 1892-1956 
edited by Rupert Hart-Davis.
Murray, 244 pp., £16.95, August 1988, 0 7195 4537 4
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The Faber Book of Letters 
edited by Felix Pryor.
Faber, 319 pp., £12.95, October 1988, 0 571 15269 4
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... absurd. An awful New Woman in a divided skirt, introduced by Bosie, writing a pamphlet at Mrs Leverson’s writing-table with the aid of several whiskeys and sodas; her brother, who kept reiterating that “these things must be approached through first principles” ... two other New Women who explained that they were there to keep a strict watch on New ...


Emma Tennant, 20 August 1981

Lenare: The Art of Society Photography 1924-1977 
by Nicholas de Ville and Anthony Haden-Guest.
Allen Lane, 136 pp., £15, May 1981, 0 7139 1418 1
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... in a roly-poly of white buttoned kid. My presenter, the wit and author Violet Wyndham, daughter of Ada Leverson, author of The Little Otleys and Love at Second Sight, was much amused by all this. It was an odd way to spend a day, in the oxcart queue up the Mall to the Palace, in a salon where nerves ran to such a pitch anyone would think we were due to ...

Abbé Aubrey

Brigid Brophy, 2 April 1981

Aubrey Beardsley: An Account of his Life 
by Miriam Benkovitz.
Hamish Hamilton, 226 pp., £8.95, February 1981, 0 241 10382 7
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... and singular: ‘His associates ... included Oscar Wilde, briefly, and Wilde’s “Sphinx”, Ada Leverson, and her husband. It included, too, William Rothenstein.’ Guided by her personalised Muse, Ms Benkovitz swoops on Beardsley’s character, which, however, gets away. Her claimed ‘attempt to evaluate Beardsley’s character more ...

Outside Swan and Edgar’s

Matthew Sweet: The life of Oscar Wilde, 5 February 1998

The Wilde Album 
by Merlin Holland.
Fourth Estate, 192 pp., £12.99, October 1997, 1 85702 782 5
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Cosmopolitan Criticism: Oscar Wilde’s Philosophy of Art 
by Julia Prewitt Brown.
Virginia, 157 pp., $30, September 1997, 9780813917283
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The Cambridge Companion to Oscar Wilde 
edited by Peter Raby.
Cambridge, 307 pp., £37.50, October 1997, 9780521474719
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Wilde The Novel 
by Stefan Rudnicki.
Orion, 215 pp., £5.99, October 1997, 0 7528 1160 6
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Oscar Wilde 
by Frank Harris.
Robinson, 358 pp., £7.99, October 1997, 1 85487 126 9
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Moab is my Washpot 
by Stephen Fry.
Hutchinson, 343 pp., £16.99, October 1997, 0 09 180161 3
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Nothing … except My Genius 
by Oscar Wilde.
Penguin, 82 pp., £2.99, October 1997, 0 14 043693 6
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... was struck by an overwhelming sense of catastrophe. Holland traces the story back to 1930 and to Ada Leverson, who – he suggests – probably heard it from Reggie Turner. In her version, ‘a curious, very young, but hard-eyed creature appeared, looked at him, gave a sort of laugh, and passed on. He felt, he said, “as if an icy hand had clutched at ...

Costume Codes

David Trotter, 12 January 1995

Rebel Women: Feminism, Modernism and the Edwardian Novel 
by Jane Eldridge Miller.
Virago, 241 pp., £15.99, October 1994, 1 85381 830 5
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... strange unrest in novels by the well known (Bennett, Forster, Galsworthy) and the less well known (Ada Leverson, M.P. Willcocks). She points out that, while these novels exposed and tested particular marriages, they did not question the institution itself. In her view, three writers only – Amber Reeves, Olivia Shakespear and Elizabeth von Arnim – did ...

Silly Buggers

James Fox, 7 March 1991

The Theatre of Embarrassment 
by Francis Wyndham.
Chatto, 205 pp., £15, February 1991, 0 7011 3726 6
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... variety: from P.J. Proby (little did he know who he was talking to) to Wyndham’s grandmother, Ada Leverson, to the Krays. His fascination with the Krays was partly because of their mother, who had made them feel ‘special’, and partly because then desire to be famous contained the seeds of their own destruction – a destruction which the glamour ...


Lidija Haas: Candia McWilliam, 6 January 2011

What to Look for in Winter: A Memoir in Blindness 
by Candia McWilliam.
Cape, 482 pp., £18.99, August 2010, 978 0 224 08898 5
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... Rosa was very young’; that her father was a ‘competent painter’ and a distant relative of ‘Ada Leverson, Oscar Wilde’s Sphinx’ and published several books, ‘including a tribute to his labrador, Pindar: A Dog to Remember’; that Rosa’s husband, Robin, had already lost one wife to cancer; that a different man had once sent Rosa ‘an entire ...

On Some Days of the Week

Colm Tóibín: Mrs Oscar Wilde, 10 May 2012

Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs Oscar Wilde 
by Franny Moyle.
John Murray, 374 pp., £9.99, February 2012, 978 1 84854 164 1
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The Picture of Dorian Gray: An Annotated, Uncensored Edition 
by Oscar Wilde, edited by Nicholas Frankel.
Harvard, 295 pp., £25.95, April 2011, 978 0 674 05792 0
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... happiest and busiest couple in London. Their two sons were born in 1885 and 1886. Wilde’s friend Ada Leverson, however, in a book published in 1930, wrote about an episode that occurred not long after Wilde was married. He had taken Constance shopping: He waited for her outside Swan and Edgar’s while she made some long and tedious purchases. As he ...
... for absolutely ages. AH: How literary was your family? FW: Well, my mother was the daughter of Ada Leverson, who was a friend of Oscar Wilde: he called her the Sphinx. She was very literary. I don’t think my mother would have said she was literary herself, though she did later write books, which were published. My father was much older than my ...

Love in a Dark Time

Colm Tóibín: Oscar Wilde, 19 April 2001

The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde 
edited by Merlin Holland and Rupert Hart-Davis.
Fourth Estate, 1270 pp., £35, November 2000, 1 85702 781 7
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... me stay to rehearse, but so beautiful is his nature that he declined at once,’ Wilde wrote to Ada Leverson. Douglas stayed in Algiers until 18 February, and so missed the opening night of The Importance of Being Earnest. His father had planned to be there, however. ‘Bosie’s father is going to make a scene tonight,’ Wilde wrote. ‘I am going to ...

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