Wilde, Jane Francesca Agnes (‘Speranza’) (1821?–1896), poet, nationalist, and feminist, was probably born 27 December 1821 in Dublin, to Charles Elgee (1783–1824), son of Archdeacon John Elgee of Wexford, and his wife Sarah (d. 1851), daughter of Thomas Kingsbury, commissioner of bankruptcy, and sister of Henrietta, wife of the Rev. Charles Robert Maturin (qv). Jane would contribute introductory material to a new edition (1892) of Maturin's Gothic masterpiece Melmoth the wanderer (1820). Elgee, a solicitor, lived at 6 Leeson St. in 1821; fourth and last of the children, Jane was probably named Frances after the third child – who died at three months – and translated it in homage to Italy, also present in her poetic pseudonym (and she claimed kinship to Dante). She has also been credited with a third name, ‘Agnes’, which she never used; it may have originated with her son William.
Charles Elgee died in Bangalore, south India, in 1824. Jane may have been domiciled with her father's military or clerical brothers, which (in reaction) could have assisted her adult enthusiasm for Young Ireland nationalism, and Roman catholicism (in which she would rebaptise her sons, though not herself). Her education is unknown but she became polyglot, publishing in her twenties translations from the German (J. W. Meinhold (1797–1851), Sidonia the sorceress (1849)) and French (Lamartine, Pictures of the first French revolution (1850) and The wanderer and his home (1851), and Dumas père, The glacier land (1852)). Her other tongues probably included Italian, Spanish, Polish and Russian, as well as classical Latin and Greek; and certainly Irish Gaelic.
From 1846 she began to contribute prose (as ‘John Fanshawe Ellis’) and verse (as ‘Speranza’) to the Nation, where on 23 January 1847 her poem ‘The stricken land’ (retitled ‘The famine year’) was the great famine's first major poetic response. It indicted her own Anglo-Irish landlord class in terms used in Longfellow's anti-slavery poems:
Her three children, William Charles Kingsbury (qv), Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie (qv), and Isola Francesca Emily (1857–67) absorbed her time, but she built up a large literary circle around her married homes, 21 Westland Row and (from 1855) 1 Merrion Square. Their friendships crossed barriers of religion, politics, class, country, profession, including William Carleton (qv), Aubrey de Vere (qv), Samuel Ferguson (qv), J. P. Mahaffy (qv), and T. D. Sullivan (qv). She returned to verse to mourn the death of Carleton in 1869: ‘No hand like his can wake them now, for he/Sprang from amidst the people: bathed his soul/In their strong passions, stormy as the sea,/And wild as skies before the thunder-roll.’ Her Poems were collected for publication by the Nation’s publisher, James Duffy (qv), in 1864 and augmented for the Glasgow publishers Cameron & Ferguson in 1871. Her husband was knighted in 1864.
In 1864 also, Jane Wilde was sued for libel by a probable mistress of her husband, Mary Josephine Travers (1835?–1919). Travers embarked on a campaign denouncing Wilde for alleged seduction (at a date beyond which she maintained friendly if not intimate relations), but her real (presumably jealous) animus was against Jane, whose pen-name ‘Speranza’ she used for signature of a scurrilous pamphlet. She hounded Jane and her children when they were on holiday in Bray, with newsboys flaunting placards about the Wildes, and tried to sue Jane for larceny when she confiscated placard and pamphlet from a boy who had forced his way into the house, alarming Isola. Jane's protest to Travers's father, Professor Robert Travers (qv), alleging the campaign was an attempt at financial extortion and serving him notice it would not succeed, resulted in the suit for libel. Travers won damages of a farthing and costs, but public and press sympathy was with the Wildes, apart from some criticism of Sir William for shirking the witness box where his wife gave evidence seeking to exonerate him. They weathered that storm: but neither parent ever recovered from Isola's unexpected death from fever on 23 February 1867.
Jane followed her sons to England after Sir William's death in 1876. But first she completed his memoir of the Dutch-born Gabriel Beranger (qv), who drew many sketches of Irish ruins, some of which no longer exist, before his death in 1817. Her son Oscar may have silently aided this and other work of his mother, but she now blossomed as a prose writer, first in Irish magazines and then by book publication after she settled in London on 7 May 1879. Her Dublin pamphlet The American Irish (1878) impressively foresaw the vital role that ethnic group would play in the ensuing decade. Driftwood from Scandinavia (1884), based on old friendships with Swedes and her voyages to Sweden with Sir William in 1858, included much of value on Scandinavian sociology and German romanticism. Her seminal folklore volumes followed, and she reworked earlier essays in Notes on men, women, and books (1891) and Social studies (1893), both of which included work of lasting value such as the former's ‘Daniel O'Connell’ (possibly the most generous Young Ireland estimate of the leader they lost) and the latter's use of Carleton as source (‘The poet as teacher’) and of Shakespearean performance for enhancement of interpretation (‘Charles Kean as Richard III’). Her value as a tutor is evident to students of her son Oscar's works who pursue origins in her texts.
She lived in London for three years in 1 Ovington Square, Chelsea, thence in 116 Park St., and from October 1888 146 Oakley St., with her elder son Willie, save for his brief wealthy marriage to Mrs Frank Leslie. ‘Sperenza’ still maintained a literary salon, which played an unobtrusive part in the evangelisation of the Celtic literary spirit, rapidly infectious by the 1890s. But her dwindling financial resources led to poverty when financial assistance from Oscar ended with his imprisonment and bankruptcy, and the semi-alcoholic Willie, his second wife Lily, and child depended on her.
She died of sub-acute bronchitis on 3 February 1896. The funeral to Kensal Green cemetery was made possible by funds provided for the imprisoned Oscar by friends. She had received a grant of £100 from the Royal Literary Fund in 1888, but the rents from her Irish property in Galway had collapsed with the land war; nevertheless she and her sons remained devout Parnellites. But she had repudiated violence as a nationalist resource since 1849. Some of her papers are in the Wilde collection, William Andrews Clark Library, Los Angeles; in the NLI; in the University of Reading; and in the Berg collection, New York Public Library.