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Oscar Wilde's Last Stand: Decadence, Conspiracy, and the Most Outrageous Trial of the Century Hardcover – April 1, 1998

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Arcade Publishing; 1st North American ed edition (April 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1559704233
  • ISBN-13: 978-1559704236
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,306,143 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Even though Oscar Wilde--playwright, wit, critic, and convicted sodomite--died exiled and disgraced in 1900, his memory and influence remain central to British culture. In 1918 the specter of Wilde manifested itself in what social historian Philip Hoare calls "the trial of the century." This shocking libel case was brought by American actress Maud Allan, who had just appeared in a production of Wilde's Salome, against Noel Pemberton Billing, an arch-conservative M.P., who accused her of being a member of "the cult of the clitoris": his catch phase for a sexual and social degeneracy that he saw as destroying England. Billing also claimed that the German government (with whom, you will recall, England was at war) had "a black book" containing the names of 47,000 prominent members of the British society who were "in the cult of Wilde"--a euphemism for quot;degenerate" homosexuals--and who were potential blackmailees, subversives, and traitors. As in the Wilde trials 23 years earlier, the real issue here was an attack by conservatives and moralists against social and sexual freedom.

As in his earlier work, Serious Pleasures: The Life of Stephen Tennant and Noel Coward: A Biography, Hoare proves himself to be an incisive social critic and a vigorous historian who illuminates the paradoxes of the recent past with insight and passion. But the real power of Oscar Wilde's Last Stand (that Hoare makes clear again and again) is its understanding that Wilde--social rebel and martyr to artistic and sexual freedom--remains, in so many ways, under attack by conservative social forces even today. --Michael Bronski END

From Kirkus Reviews

Even in death Oscar Wilde could still provoke upright society, as this lively and revealing history of a bizarre 1918 libel trial in London, concerning a play by Wilde, demonstrates. Focusing on the scandal surrounding the first British performance of Wilde's last play, Salom, Hoare, the biographer of Stephen Tennant (1991) and Nol Coward (1996), wonders what Wilde would have made of the early 20th century. A byword for unnameable perversity to the Edwardian middle class, Wilde had become a martyr figure for the decadent underground, which continued with desperate hedonism during WW I. The headline-making trial that Salom touched off suggests that, even in 1918, public opinion would still not have been friendly to Wilde. Noel Pembleton Billing, the right-wing publisher of the yellow journals the Imperialist and the Vigilante, and a loose-cannon member of Parliament, needed to maintain his maverick political career, even through proto-McCarthyite tactics. He had already claimed that the Germans had a list of 47,000 high-ranking members of the government, the military, the aristocracy, and society (all of them secret homosexuals) who were being blackmailed into sabotaging the war effort. Why not suggest that a new production of Salom, starring the scantily clad dancer Maud Allan, was a Hunnish effort to undermine public morality? When he ran a ferocious attack on the play headlined ``The Cult of the Clitoris'' (not a term many readers knew), the producers took legal action. The ensuing circus of a court case, with Billing conducting his own manic defense, dug up Wilde for public obloquy again, this time with Lord Alfred Douglas leading the attack on his former lover. It also revealed that mainstream attitudes toward homosexuality, morality, and aestheticism had changed little since Wilde's death in 1900. Expanding an unlikely historical footnote, this account of Wilde's posthumous last trial and its wider significance is sensational in more than just the journalistic sense of the word. (For more Wilde-iana, see Merlin Holland, The Wilde Album, p. 259.) (24 pages b&w illustrations, not seen) -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

More About the Author

Philip Hoare is the author of several books, including 'Serious Pleasures: The Life of Stephen Tennant'; 'Noel Coward: A Biography'; 'Oscar Wilde's Last Stand'; 'Spike Island' and 'England's Lost Eden'. He lives in Hoxton, London, and Southampton, and each summer visits Cape Cod, where, as a member of the Center for Coastal Studies, he undertakes twice-daily expeditions to watch its whales.

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 19, 1999
Format: Hardcover
There are a number of ways to count the trials of Oscar Wilde, but what's becoming widely known as the "fourth" Oscar Wilde trial is a fascinating incident which occurred after his death. It is certainly must reading for anyone wanting to be acquainted with the Wilde story; especially if you're American. Maud Allen, the Canadian-American who brought about the libel action which initiated the trial, is familar to Canadians and some Americans since Felix Cherniavsky's 1991 book "The Salome Dancer" was published and mentioned this incident. And now Philip Hoare, a Briton, provides us with a fuller treatment of the trial's flow. Hoare's book is nicely written and has some stunning photographs of Maud Allan performing on stage. My only criticism is that Mr. Hoare says Ms. Allan's opponent, Noel Pemberton Billing, was "Mosley Before His Time." He refers to Sir Oswald Mosley, a later leader of the British fascists. If Mr. Hoare really knew his fascists, rather than his sterotypes, he would know that Mosley affiliated with the left wing tradition as a moderate member of parliment. Mosley continued to advocate those economic remedies as a fascist, continued his interest and associations with Britains's cultural vanguard, and was remarkably tolerant about homosexuals. In fact, it's no secret that Mosley's son by a first marriage, Nicolas, was homosexual, and to that son Mosley left the papers detailing his long, extraordinary, and tragic career. Today Nickolas is a prominent and respected liberal novelist, and his books about his father, Rules of the Game and Beyond the Pale, indicate that respect was mutual.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 30, 1998
Format: Hardcover
This is how history should be written: exhaustively researched, well organized, good command of the language. This book goes way beyond what the title promises, giving us an encompassing social history of the "upper classes" of Britain from 1900 to 1918. Many surprises here, all of them believable. The only request: to give us, in an appendix, a more thorough vitae of the players.
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