Hester Dowden (1868–1949), or Hester Travers Smith, was an Irish spiritualist medium who is most notable for having claimed to contact the spirits of Oscar Wilde, William Shakespeare and other writers. Dowden was the daughter of the Irish literary scholar Edward Dowden. She used both her maiden name and her married name Hester Travers Smith.
Dowden was closely linked to the Irish literary world through her father, knowing, among others W.B. Yeats and Bram Stoker. She was probably the model for the medium in Yeats's play, The Words upon the Window Pane. Her daughter married the playwright Lennox Robinson.
Though she wrote only two books under her own name, her spirit-communications provided the basis for approximately twelve books published by other authors.
Dowden published her conversations with Oscar Wilde in 1923. Wilde revealed that he was unable to read in the spirit world and had to see through the eyes of living people, "Over the whole world have I wandered, looking for eyes by which I might see. . . . Through the eyes out of the dusky face of a Tamal girl I have looked on the tea fields of Ceylon, and through the eyes of a wandering Kurd I have seen Ararat and the Yezedes. . . It may surprise you to learn that in this way I have dipped into the works of some of your modern novelists."
He also gave his views on the work of these recent writers, including George Bernard Shaw, of whom Wilde said "I have a very great respect for his work. After all, he is my fellow-countryman. We share the same misfortune in that matter. I think Shaw may be called the true type of pleb. He is so anxious to prove himself honest and outspoken that he utters a great deal more than he is able to think. He is ever ready to call upon his audience to admire his work, and his audience admires it from sheer sympathy with his delight." He opined that John Galsworthy was the best modern dramatist. He dismissed Thomas Hardy as a "harmless rustic" but admired George Meredith for his appreciation of beauty. He loathed James Joyce's novel Ulysses, which was a "great bulk of filth" and "heated vomit".
Wilde also demonstrated that he had no homosexual inclinations, but instead revealed his utter adoration of womankind, "My sensations were so varied with regard to your sex, dear lady, that you would find painted on my heart - that internal organ so often quoted by the vulgar - you would find every shade of desire there, and even more... Women were ever to me a cluster of stars. They contained for me all, and more than all, that God has created." Dowden also received a new play, entitled Is it a Forgery?, from Wilde, which was written in the spirit world.
James Joyce read the book and parodied the conversations with Wilde in Finnegans Wake, in which Wilde spouts gibberish to a medium, "Tell the woyld I have lived true thousand hells. Pity, please, lady, for poor O.W. in this profundust snobbing I have caught. Nine dirty years mine age, hairs hoar, mummeries failend, snowdrift to my elpow, deff as Adder. I askt you, dear lady, to judge on my tree by our fruits. I gave you of the tree."
Dowden was consulted by Alfred Dodd, a writer who wanted to prove that Francis Bacon was the true author of the works attributed to William Shakespeare. Dowden communicated with Bacon via her spirit-guide "Johannes". The spirits confirmed Dodd's theory, which he published in 1943.
Dowden was later contacted by Percy Allen who wanted to prove that Shakespeare's works were written by Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, not Bacon. On this occasion the spirits confirmed Allen's views. It was revealed that Oxford was the leader of a collaborative effort among poets and scholars to create the works. It was also revealed that Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream was a portrait of Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, who was in fact the illegitimate son of Oxford and Queen Elizabeth I.
The spirit of Bacon told Allen that he had been misquoted when Dowden had received the messages she passed on to Dodd, but that Dowden was not to blame because another spirit had garbled the message on that occasion.
Dowden's biographer Edmund Bentley later confirmed that Allen's was the final and true revelation, that from his teenage years Allen had been destined to be the bearer of the ultimate truth: "a plan had been worked out by spirit people interested in his earthly life that he should be the means of finally unravelling the great mystery of Shakespeare's origin and work." These events forced Allen to stand down as president of the Oxfordian organisation the Shakespeare Fellowship.