Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Book Review - Oscar Wilde: a summing up by Lord Alfred Douglas

Oscar Wilde: a summing up by Lord Alfred Douglas, with an introduction by Derek Hudson

London: Icon Books Limited, 1962

There's little doubt that the line of the Marquesses of Queensberry was a troubled one - suicides, depression, violence and alcohol running through the family during the Nineteenth Century. Most famously Alfred Douglas' father, John, 9th Marquess of Queensberry, was a violent abusive man, who took Oscar Wilde to court which led to Wilde's imprisonment for homosexuality and following destitution, all in an attempt to belittle his own ex-wife and son, Alfred.

The book under review was written by Alfred a few years before he died, and is an interesting snippet of Wildeiana. Alfred in many ways was like his father: passionate, disagreeable and wilful. Oscar Wilde: a summing up is Douglas scoring some final points against his enemies, and re-assessing and justifying his own actions, while also muddying the waters as to his own culpability when it comes to Wilde's downfall.

While Douglas famously repudiated Wilde after the latter's death, in this book he softens his attack on him. Having converted to the Roman Catholic faith, he naturally deprecates Wilde's sexuality, while at the same time excoriating his imprisonment for it. As Douglas reckons it, while homosexuality is a sin, it is not a crime and to treat it as such is wrong. He also claims that he himself never engaged in a homosexual relationship with Wilde, and had no idea of Wilde's "perversion" until it came out in the trials, which is very hard to believe.

Douglas gives a quick overview of Wilde's life, correcting some misinterpretations and falsehoods that had crept into the publications extant at that time, and provides some critical insight into Wilde's work. His criticisms on the whole accurately sum up the worth of Wilde's output but adds nothing new.

This is a quirky book, it reads like an old man talking over an afternoon cigar - wanting to make a point but constantly being side-tracked into explaining other things that crop up in the conversation, crusty and set in his views, and unrepentant over his role in the affair.

What Douglas does convey is the beauty of Wilde's wit and conversation, a facility that won over many of his enemies and was his ticket to fame. He was loved by no-one more than Douglas, and this book shows us that, as well as being an insight into Douglas himself.

The blurb on the back of this paperback edition states that "this book is a last word about Oscar Wilde.." and while that may be when it comes to Douglas, it is certainly not the last word on what was an amazing life and titillating scandal.

One for complete-ists only.

Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell

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