Leverson, Ada (1862–1933)

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Leverson, Ada (1862–1933)

English novelist. Name variations: (pseudonym) Elaine. Born Ada Beddington on October 10, 1862, in London, England; died on August 30, 1933, in London, England; daughter of Samuel Beddington (a property investor) and Zillah Simon Beddington; educated at home; married Ernest Leverson (separated 1900); children: son (died in infancy); daughter, Violet Wyndham (a writer).

Selected writings:

The Twelfth Hour (1907); Love's Shadow (1908); The Limit (1911); Tenterhooks (1912); The Bird of Paradise (1914); Love at Second Sight (1916); Letters to the Sphinx from Oscar Wilde with Reminiscences of the Author (1930).

A novelist of manners and marriage, Ada Leverson was part of a circle of late-Victorian and Edwardian authors and artists which included Oscar Wilde, Aubrey Beardsley, George Moore, Edith Sitwell and her brother Osbert Sitwell, and Max Beerbohm. Born to a wealthy London family on October 10, 1862, Leverson was the daughter of Samuel Beddington, a property investor, and Zillah Simon Beddington , an amateur pianist of some talent. She was educated at home with the advantages of the upper middle class and married a gambler and speculator, Ernest Leverson, against her parents' wishes. The couple had two children, a son who died in infancy and a daughter, Violet. The marriage was never happy, but Ada Leverson was more a product of her class and times than she would allow, remaining in the marriage to avoid scandal until 1900, when her husband immigrated to Canada. He left behind a trail of bad debts and bankruptcy, and enough material for Leverson to begin her career as a novelist.

Ada Leverson first attracted the attention of Oscar Wilde in 1892, when she published "An Afternoon Party," a parody of his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, in the periodical Yellow Book. Other early works, including sketches, articles, and parodies, were published in Punch and Black and White. She was dubbed "the Sphinx" after she wrote a parody of Wilde's work of the same name in 1894, and the nickname stuck. A strong supporter of Wilde throughout the time of his trial and incarceration for homosexual "offenses," she was present to greet him upon his release from prison in 1897.

Leverson published her first novel, The Twelfth Hour, in 1907. Love's Shadow followed in 1908, along with Tenterhooks in 1912 and Love at Second Sight in 1916; comedies of manners, the latter three formed a trilogy about a married couple, Edith and Bruce Ottley. (Bruce Ottley is thought to be based upon Ernest Leverson.) The novels were republished together in 1962 under the title The Little Ottleys. Highlighting Edwardian manners of the upper middle class, her work often depicts marital strife. Her characters are filled with jealousies and tension, evidenced most notably in her use of conversation which is thought to have been influenced by the techniques of Wilde and Jane Austen . From 1903 to 1905, Leverson also wrote weekly columns for the periodical Referee under the pen name Elaine. She was noted for her ability to sum up her experience of her contemporaries using memorable phrasing, some of which is found in her memoir Letters to the Sphinx from Oscar Wilde with Reminiscences of the Author. Published in 1930, three years before her death, Letters offers a portrait of Wilde during the 1890s and a firsthand account of the opening night of his classic play The Importance of Being Earnest. As a writer and a personality, Leverson has been included in commentaries by Osbert Sitwell, V.S. Pritchett, and Charles Burkhardt. In 1963, her daughter, Violet Wyndham , published a biography entitled The Sphinx and her Circle: A Biographical Sketch of Ada Leverson 1862–1933.


Drabble, Margaret, ed. The Oxford Companion to English Literature. 5th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Shattock, Joanne. The Oxford Guide to British Women Writers. Oxford University Press, 1993.

Lolly Ockerstrom , freelance writer, Washington, D.C.

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Leverson, Ada (1862–1933)

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