LORD ALFRED DOUGLAS by Montgomery H. Hyde


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The epigraph for this meticulous--nay, laborious--biography is taken from George Bernard Shaw: ""It is a rather humorous stroke of Fate that the son of a Marquess of Queensberry should be forced to expiate his sins by suffering a succession of blows beneath the belt."" This first authorized biography of ""Bosie""--Oscar Wilde's fatal young lover--takes a thoroughly sympathetic view of a man who, although wronged by the popular biographers following Wilde's death, is nonetheless a hard man to admire either in his heedless youth or his increasingly crotchety old age. When they met in 1891, Douglas was 21, an undergraduate poet at Oxford who was said to be the handsomest man in England. Wilde was in his 40's, a most successful playwright. Hyde convincingly argues that Wilde initiated the affair, and that the popular myth that Bosie bled Wilde for money and then abandoned him was a fabrication motivated by the jealousy of Robert Ross, Wilde's literary executor and first biographer. Until his death in 1944, Bosie was to struggle--through vituperative correspondence and numerous lawsuits--to right some of the wrongs done to his reputation. His zeal increased as he became, in his later years, conservative, Catholic, and heterosexual. Hyde, a barrister by profession, seems less daunted than the reader will be by the morass of litigation into which Bosie plunged between the two Wars. Indeed, Rosie seems to have become in middle life very much like the 9th Marquess of Queensberry, the scurrilous father that he had always detested. For fully 20 years, Bosie sued--or was sued. And just as the unsuccessful libel suit against Bosie's father had put Wilde in Pentonville Prison, so did a similar failure of law (the plaintiff was Winston Churchill, whom Bosie had accused of conspiring with Jewish bankers) put Bosie himself in Wormwood Scrubs some 25 years later. Hyde, however, is too wrapped up in his play-by-play of courtroom antics to offer much perspective on these disheartening symmetries. The best feature of this sometimes absorbing, sometimes merely dogged history is the copious documentation from Bosie's previously unpublished letters. These offer a fuller (and far more ambiguous) portrait of the man than Hyde's exposition, which is purely a brief for the defense. It is fascinating to see in the letters the growing prudery of the golden youth whom Wilde loved and whose fianc‚e always called ""Prince""; and to learn how mightily--and ineffectually--the adult Bosie struggled to escape the scandals of his youth.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Dodd, Mead