I’m presently doing a bit of tour guiding at Jersey’s Mont Orgueil (Gorey Castle). In the interests of engaging with a group I’ll often ask them ‘Who was Jersey’s most famous man?’ ‘Bergerac’ is the usual answer. (Correct answer, subjective or not, is George Carteret who at least has a connection with the castle.)

Most famous woman? A few guess Lillie Langtry, and this time they’d be correct. I’ve blogged about the Jersey Lily before. I recently read about Lillie’s friendship with Oscar Wilde, and in particular Wilde’s infatuation with her, and his poems dedicated to her.

Oscar Wilde Lillie Langtry

Wilde right centre with top hat, the Lily in white next to him. Pic credit Jerripedia.

WHERE hast thou been since round the walls of Troy
The sons of God fought in that great emprise?
Why dost thou walk our common earth again?
Hast thou forgotten that impassioned boy,
His purple galley, and his Tyrian men,
And treacherous Aphrodite’s mocking eyes?
For surely it was thou, who, like a star
Hung in the silver silence of the night,
Didst lure the Old World’s chivalry and might
Into the clamorous crimson waves of war!
(from The New Helen)

Celebrated in London’s high society, Lillie was introduced to Wilde in 1877. She was 24 and he was a year younger. They became friends and associates and remained so for many years.

I remember we used to meet
By an ivied seat,
And you warbled each pretty word
With the air of a bird
(From To L.L.)

The indications are that the flamboyant Wilde was far more attracted physically to Mrs Langtry than the other way around. However, in later life, Lillie was said to always have a place laid at dinner in honour of him. (Did they ever sleep together? We can always ponder.)

And your eyes, they were green and grey
Like an April day,
But lit into amethyst
When I stooped and kissed
(From To L.L.)

Wilde wrote the classically-styled The New Helen in Lillie’s honour in 1879, and later, another entitled To L.L. The latter is rarely listed in a list of Wilde’s poetry. I’m not surprised, in fact it might have been wrongly attributed, but personally I like it better.

You were always afraid of a shower,
Just like a flower:
I remember you started and ran
When the rain began
(From To L.L.)