Mabel Cosgrove Wodehouse Pearse

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Mabel Cosgrove Wodehouse Pearse, also known as Mabel Cosgrove and as Mrs. or Princess Chantoon, was an Irish writer who married Mr Chantoon, a son of a rich Arakanese businessman Ray Kyaw Thu. But she oftentimes claimed her husband to be a certain Prince Chantoon, or a nephew of the King of Burma or a son of a heredity king of Arakan. She is known for her novels about Burma, particularly A Marriage in Burmah, and for a controversy surrounding the authorship of For Love of the King, a play that she claimed had been written by the Irish playwright Oscar Wilde.


Mrs. Chan-Toon, born Mary Mabel Cosgrove on May 12, 1873, in Cork, Ireland, had a number of things in common with Oscar Wilde: she was drawn to read and write literature at a young age, she lived life as if it were itself an artwork, she lived with a grave secret, and she endured misery and poverty upon the revelation of that secret. Wilde’s secret, of course, was his sexuality, the public discovery of which resulted in his imprisonment and later exile in Paris. Chan-Toon’s secret (after her first marriage) was the whole of her identity, which as soon as it was partly revealed, she hid again by moving to a new place and assuming a new name—once in Scotland, again in Mexico, and again in Paris—preventing her from making a place in society. Her names changed twice by marriage, the first in 1893 when she became the bride of U Chan-Toon, a Burmese barrister at Rangoon (present-day Yangon, Myanmar), who died of heart failure 11 years later; the second in 1911 when she wed Armine Wodehouse Pearse, who died 7 years later in the first World War.

She was also known to have presented herself on various occasions as “Princess Chantoon,” “Princess Araken,” “Princess Orloff,” and before becoming Mrs. Chan-Toon, she employed the literary pseudonym, “Mimosa.” In the 1920s, when she began peddling For Love of the King and other forgeries, Chan-Toon was occasionally seen in Paris and London wearing a black cloak, suitable for attending the opera, if it were not for the fact that the shoulder was soiled by the dung of her pet parrot who perched there. Co-Co, the green-plumaged parrot, remained in its place wherever Chan-Toon went, with the help of a string that connected a leg of the bird to one of Chan-Toon’s buttons.

Publishing For Love of the King

In October 1921, Mrs. Chan-Toon persuaded Hutchinson’s Magazine to publish For Love of the King, a “Remarkable Literary Discovery: New Unpublished Work by Oscar Wilde,” and two months later, The Century Magazine also accepted from her what it took to be Wilde’s story, publishing it as “A Burmese Masque in Three Acts & Nine Scenes: For Love of the King.” The remarks introducing the story in Hutchinson’s Magazine demonstrate how the editors were taken in: Chan-Toon claimed that her parents were close friends of Wilde’s parents, that she grew up with the Wilde family, nearly marrying Oscar’s brother Willie, instead settling down with a nephew of the King of Burma, Mr. Chan-Toon. The fact of the marriage could be confirmed, but the delicious details about the relationships between Mr. Chan-Toon and the King, and between the parents of Mrs. Chan-Toon and the Wildes, was not so readily established, partly because the relevant members of the Wilde family had been dead by the time Oscar passed away in 1900 and Mr. Chan-Toon died four years later.

What probably clinched the deal for Hutchinson’s was the letter that Mrs. Chan-Toon (or rather her agent, Henry Noble Hall) presented to them, which they reprinted in the introduction to the story, apparently written from Oscar Wilde to Mrs. Chan-Toon. In the letter, Wilde thanked her for the gift of her story entitled Told on the Pagoda (which it could be conformed was the title of a work by Mrs. Chan-Toon), described how Wilde had come to write For Love of the King after spending time with Mr. Chan-Toon, and stated that the typescript of the story was his gift to her. The letter, presumably bearing Wilde’s signature forged by Chan-Toon, was never released by Methuen. Chan-Toon’s clever weaving of truth and lies handily explained why a previously unknown work by Wilde made a sudden appearance after the author’s death.

Perhaps it did not require much to persuade Hutchinson’s Magazine of the authorship of For Love of the King, since the sensation that publishing it promised to produce was a powerful temptation to overlook the gaps in the evidence. Regardless of how lax their fact-checking, that Hutchinson’s published it engendered an aura of authenticity around the work, which was enhanced after The Century followed suit. Then, in 1922, Mrs. Chan-Toon (or her agent) approached Methuen & Company, the same publishers to whom Wilde’s literary executor, Robert Ross, had turned in order to issue in 1908 the First Collected Edition of the Works of Oscar Wilde. In October following Chan-Toon’s first contact, Methuen published For Love of the King as a supplement to the Collected Works.

The Methuen supplement had aroused the indignation of Christopher Millard, a London book and manuscript dealer who had worked with Ross and had published an extensive Wilde bibliography, since to him, there was no doubt that For Love of the King was a forgery. Millard went so far as to publish a screed against both the publisher and Chan-Toon, asserting that Methuen had swindled its customers by selling a forgery, and furthermore wrote to Wilde’s son, Vyvyan Holland, stating that “For Love of the King was not written by O[scar] W[ilde] (2) that the introductory letter . . . is a forgery and (3) that Ross [was] never asked permission to include the play in the collected works.” In 1926, Methuen then sued Millard for libel, which Millard welcomed, believing it would provide an opportunity to prove that For Love of the King was a forgery. Chan-Toon was unavailable to testify in the trial, because she was serving a 6-month prison sentence for having stolen £240 from an elderly woman in London. Even if she had testified, it likely would have made no difference, since the legal details of the case did not depend upon the authenticity of the work Methuen published. In the end, the verdict went against Millard, who was sentenced to pay £100 in damages as well as court costs.

Beautiful Untrue Things: Forging Oscar Wilde’s Extraordinary Afterlife

In his book about forgeries of Oscar Wilde’s works, University of British Columbia English Literature associate professor Gregory Mackie wrote about forgers including Mrs Chantoon.

Mrs. Chan-Toon, went so far as to forge a play she claimed Wilde had written for her as a gift. The play was even published, and in the fraudulent introductory letter from Wilde to Chan-Toon, he writes of a dalliance with a Swedish baron. The baron never existed, but the inclusion of Wilde’s sexuality reinforced the readers’ will to believe that new secrets about Wilde were being revealed, new secrets about his sex life and about people that he was in love with. “Queerness is the ultimate authenticator,” Mackie explains, “the ultimate core, secret truth that is being revealed. The forgers are cannily aware that the ‘thing’ that is the most repressed and the most shameful at the time is also the most valuable because it is the most true, but of course, it’s a lie.”

Chan-Toon is one of Mackie’s favourites. The process of researching Wilde’s afterlife has spanned more than a decade of his own life, and he’s been working with Chan-Toon for a long time. “She has a lengthy, legitimate bibliography of books that are so vanishingly rare that most of them only exist as deposit copies in the British Library. I don’t think anyone’s ever read them because they’re quite bad, but she did have a whole literary career.” But then that career collapsed, and she turned to a life of zany adventures and crime. She travelled the world; she did a speaking tour in the United States wearing a giant fur coat and loudly proclaiming that she weighed 250 pounds. She was arrested in Mexico for blackmail and claimed to have been in prison with Pancho Villa, the revolutionary. She wore a sweeping black opera cloak and had a parrot called Co-co perched on her shoulder at all times. “This parrot crapped all over it,” Mackie says. “She even went to court with the parrot when she was tried for theft in 1926, and there was all this media stuff about the parrot in court.

“Before that, though, she was desperate. So she made up this fake play and claimed to have known Wilde and claimed to have been at one point engaged to his brother. All lies, all fantastic lies. But people bought it. People were willing to believe these things about Oscar Wilde.”



  • What Was the Verdict? (as Mabel Cosgrove). Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co., 1892.
  • Under Eastern Skies. Rangoon, Hanthawaddy Press, 1901.
  • A Marriage in Burmah. London, Greening & Co., 1905.
  • Leper and Millionaire. London, Greening & Co., 1910.
  • Helen Wyverne’s Marriage. London, Digby, Long & Co., 1912
  • Love Letters of an English Peeress to an Indian Prince. London, Digby, Long & Co., 1912.
  • A Shadow of Burmah. London, Digby, Long & Co., 1914.


  • Told on the Pagoda: Tales of Burmah. (by Mimosa). London, T. Fisher Unwin, 1895.
  • The Triumph of Love, and other stories. London, Greening & Co., 1906.
  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. Jump up to:a b c “Wilde manuscript is a mystery” (PDF). The New York Times. 19 December 1926.
  4. ^ “Princess in Mexico Prison” (PDF). The New York Times. 8 June 1908.
  5. ^ “Sue to vindicate Oscar Wilde” (PDF). The New York Times. 10 November 1926.

End Notes / External Links

Mrs. Chan-Toon with Co-Co, 1926; William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, University of California, Los Angeles.

A Marriage In Burmah

From “For Love of the King: A Burmese Masque in Three Acts & Nine Scenes,” Century Magazine 103, no. 2 (December 1921): 228.

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