Interview With Natalie Barney

The woman Oscar Wilde met as a girl in 1882 who became the lover of his niece and had an affair with his own lover’s future wife.

Confused? Then to understand the full intrigue you should read my post A Scene at Long Beach and learn how the story began with Natalie Barney as a little girl. Then return to this article which features a rare interview with her in her 90th year.

Natalie Barney was a playwright, poet and novelist resident in Paris, during which time she served on committees “that commemorated both [Wilde’s] birth and death.”. As early as 1900, she was openly lesbian and published love poems to women under her own name, before going on to found a salon of decadent Modernists on the Left Bank for more than 60 years.

Within this clique Natalie Barney conducted many non-monogamous relationships, and at least two of her lovers had Wildean connections.

The first was a brief affair with Olive Custance, the future wife of Wilde’s own lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, whom Douglas had conveniently married after Wilde’s death.

Through this relationship Natalie came to know Douglas quite well, befriending him during his visit to Washington DC, and later becoming godparent to Douglas’ and Olive’s only child, Raymond.

Natalie Barney, Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

The second was Dorothy Ierne Wilde, the only daughter of Oscar’s brother Willie Wilde from his second marriage, known as Dolly Wilde: Oscar’s only niece. The relationship was a passionate one for both Natalie and Dolly and continued until the latter’s death in 1941.


In this little known video in which she recounts her life in her 90th year, still she does not forget her “first adventure” as she called it in her memoir: the joy of meeting Oscar Wilde as child; and she also has a word about the the difficulties of knowing Alfred Douglas in later years.

This is worth noting because in all the contentious commentary about Wilde and Douglas in print, this is possibly a unique example of a firsthand account on film from someone who knew them both.

The Pavillon at 20, Rue Jacob where Natalie Barney’s held her salon for 60 years.


Natalie Clifford Barney (Wikipedia)

Published by

John Cooper

John Cooper is a independent scholar who has spent 30 years in the study of Oscar Wilde. He is a long-standing member of the Oscar Wilde Society, a founding member of the Oscar Wilde Society of America, and a former manager of the Victorian Society In America. For the last 20 years Cooper has specialised in Wilde’s 1882 lecture tour becoming a consultant on Wilde’s American experience to biographers and the wider media. Cooper lectures on Wilde and has conducted new and unique research into Oscar Wilde visits to New York culminating in a guided walking tour. Online he is a popular blogger and the creator of the noncommercial archive 'Oscar Wilde in America’ which incorporates his work on the Sarony photographs, and a detailed documentary verification of Wilde’s American lecture tour. In 2012 Cooper rediscovered Wilde's essay The Philosophy Of Dress that forms the centerpiece to his book Oscar Wilde On Dress (2013).

2 thoughts on “Interview With Natalie Barney”

  1. Interesting. But Miss Barney was quite wrong to state that Raymond Douglas committed suicide. Raymond Douglas did nothing of the kind.


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