Jane Francesca Wilde, also known as Speranza, was born Jane Frances Agnes Elgee, in Dublin, probably in 1821. She witnessed the funeral of Thomas Davis in 1845 and subsequently read his poetry, which awakened her to Irish nationalism. Her grandfather, Archdeacon Elgee, rector of Wexford, was so popular that he was left in peace by the rebels in 1798, but Jane grew up in a deeply conservative family. Her mother, Sara Kingsbury, was the daughter of Dr Thomas Kingsbury, Commissioner of Bankrupts. Her uncle, Charles Ormsby, Baronet, was a member of the Irish Parliament (which was abolished in 1801). Sir Robert McClure, a cousin, was the discoverer of the North-West Passage. Her only brother, Judge Elgee, was one of the most distinguished members of the American bar.
A gifted linguist, she published several translations of French and German works, including Wilhelm Meinhold’s gothic horror novel Sidonia the Sorcess, in 1849, which was reprinted in America; a philosophical novel from the German, The First Temptation, or Eritia sient Deus (in three volumes); Lamartine’s History of the Girondins, as Pictures of the First French Revolution (1850); Lamartine’s Nouvelles Confidences, as The Wanderer and his Home (1851); and Alexander Dumas’s Impression de Voyage en Suisse, as The Glacier Land (1852). Her first volume of poetry also contained translations from several European languages.
After Thomas Davis’s funeral, she began contributing poetry to The Nation under the pseudonym of John Fanshaw Ellis, and published her poem The Stricken Land in the Nation in 1847, at the height of the famine. She became editor of the Nation in July 1848. Although she was thought to disdain marriage, she married the eminent eye surgeon William Wilde in 1851, and settled at Westland Row. She had three children, including Oscar Wilde, but her daughter Isola Emily Francesca died suddenly from a fever at the age of ten. The family moved to 1, Merrion Sqare, opposite which there is now a statue of Oscar Wilde, in 1858.
After the death of Sir William Wilde, she was in reduced circumstances, and moved to London where she was supported in her later years by her son Willie and the gifts of admirers.
Her main works include Poems (Dublin, James Duffy 1864); Poems (Glasgow, Cameron & Ferguson, 1871); Memoir Of Gabriel Beranger ([with Sir William Wilde] Dublin, Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 1880); Driftwood From Scandinavia (1884); Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland. With Sketches of the Irish Past… to which is added a chapter on “The Ancient Race of Ireland” by the late Sir William Wilde (London, Ward and Downey,1888); Social Studies (Ward & Downey, 1893); and Notes On Men, Women, And Books (Ward & Downey, 1891].
When her son Oscar Wilde sued the Marquess of Queensbury for publicly calling him a homosexual, Lady Jane advised him to stay and fight it, rather than fleeing the country, as others had advised. He took her advice and lost his case, suffering imprisonment as a consequence. Speranza died, at her home in London, of bronchitis, on February 3, 1896, while Oscar was still in prison.
Speranza at Mr Oscar Wilde.de