Ada Esther Leverson (née Beddington; 10 October 1862 – 30 August 1933) was a British writer who is known for her friendship with Oscar Wilde and for her work as a witty novelist of the fin-de-siècle.
Leverson was born into a Jewish family. Her father was Samuel Henry Beddington, a wool merchant, and her mother's name was Zillah. Leverson had eight younger siblings, one of whom died in infancy. The survivors were, in order of birth, Evelyn, George, Charles, Sybil, Frank, Arthur and Violet. Sybil (who later married David Seligman) had a brief affair and long friendship with Giacomo Puccini. Violet (1874–1962) turned down a marriage proposal from composer Arthur Sullivan and later married author Sydney Schiff.
At 19 Ada married Ernest Leverson (1852–1921) without her parents' consent. The marriage broke up when he moved to Canada in 1905. It has been suggested that her trilogy, The Little Ottleys, is based somewhat on her own marriage. Her daughter and biographer, Violet Leverson, married Guy Percy Wyndham in 1923 as his second wife. Her grandson is short story-writer and novelist Francis Wyndham. Ernest Leverson's cousins include actor Darrell Fancourt and, by marriage, actor-playwright Brandon Thomas.
She began writing during the 1890s, as a contributor to Black and White, Punch, The Yellow Book, St. Stephen's Review, Saturday Review, and Referee. It is unclear when, but she also worked as a drama critic. Much of her work cannot be identified because she wrote anonymously, which it can be assumed because of her friendships with the people, who she parodied or critiqued. She was a loyal friend to Oscar Wilde, who called her Sphinx. She was a wit, and a friend of Max Beerbohm; her writing has been compared to Beerbohm's, and the stories of Saki.
She was also a friend of George Moore; Osbert Sitwell in Great Morning has an anecdote in which she tries, unsuccessfully, to get Moore to see the young William Walton. Of the Sitwells' circle – Sacheverell Sitwell dedicated a poetry collection to her, while she was hopelessly in love with Osbert – she lived out her old age in the Hotel Porta Rossa in Florence, where she died of pneumonia in 1933.
After publishing Love at Second Sight, Leverson stopped writing fiction. She worked on ever smaller projects, such as writing the preface to Whom You Should Marry, a book about astrology.
Friendship with Wilde
Leverson's friendship with Wilde helped her career to flourish. Most interesting about their friendship is that separation between their personal relationship and their professional relationship never occurred. While the friends' work presented some differences, such as Leverson's having a stronger interest in human nature, the two shared many similarities, both socio-culturally and in interests such as the love of conversation and the sense of fantasy. This allowed their friendship, which lasted for only eight years, instantly to develop.
The limits of their friendship were tested when Wilde's homosexuality was exposed in his famous trials. Between his trials, Leverson and her husband invited Wilde to stay in their nursery because no hotel or inn would accept him as a guest. Wilde's and Leverson's other friendships were seriously challenged by Leverson's support, or as James Scannell calls it, the grand gesture. The grand gesture is, "the dramatic act of welcoming back an outcast."
After Wilde left the Leversons' home, the two friends never saw each other again, but the friendship continued through telegrams and letters. Charles Burkhart believes that it is most fitting for Leverson's last piece of work to be a remembrance of the friend who expanded her career.
- The Twelfth Hour (1907) 
- Love's Shadow (1908)
- The Limit (1911)
- Tenterhooks (1912)
- Bird of Paradise (1914)
- Love at Second Sight (1916)
- Letters To The Sphinx From Oscar Wilde and Reminiscences of the Author (1930)
- Little Ottleys (Virago 1982) omnibus:
- Love's Shadow (1908),
- Tenterhooks (1912),
- Love at Second Sight (1916)
Short Stories and Parodies
- "An Afternoon Party"
- "A Minx - A Poem in Prose"
- "An Overheard Fragment of Dialogue"
- “The Advisability of Not Being Brought up in a Handbag: A Trivial Tragedy for Wonderful People”
- “Claude’s Aunt”
- “In the Change of Years”
- Sixes and Sevens (2004)
Leverson’s work, though not extremely popular, has been critiqued and analyzed since the 19th century up to today. There is no agreement on which of her novels is the best, though some say it is The Limit, others think it is Tenterhooks, while others choose Love at Second Sight. Commonly, her skills at dialogue and characterization are praised, even to the point that many believe she would have excelled in theatre. It is interesting that she never acted upon this, though one would assume that writing was more of a hobby than a financial security for her. She began to write one play, but never finished it. One critic in The Bookman commented on how her lack of characterization distracted the reader from understanding what The Twelfth Hour was about. Dennis Poupard sums up her use of characterization as “some have found Leverson's characters merely vehicles for her wit, others believe she conveys accomplished characterization deftly and swiftly in the epigrammatic dialogue.” John Mason Brown recommended that Leverson’s work be read by “those who find laughter no hardship, high comedy a delight, nonsense relaxing, and who are not made uncomfortable by worldlings both comfortable and conscienceless.” Margaret Crosland summarized several critics’ feelings toward Leverson and reports that she is seen “as a distant descendent of Jane Austen, sensitive to the hidden motives of behavior, ready to laugh at vanity, understanding of married couples, parents, and children, yet seemingly preoccupied with all that was going on in the world outside.” Over the years, her work has been more appreciated, most likely because many have realized that her perspective was quite modern for her day and is more accepted in today’s society (especially since homosexuality is becoming legalized across the nation).
Portrayal in film
In the 1960 film The Trials of Oscar Wilde she is played by Maxine Audley.
In the 1997 film Wilde she is played by Zoë Wanamaker.