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Bosie: A Biography of Lord Alfred Douglas Hardcover – June 28, 2000
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Almost everyone knows what Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas meant by "the Love that dare not speak its name"--but what happened after that name was dragged into court? In Oscar Wilde's case, his affair with Douglas, that minor poet and major pretty boy, was as neatly resolved as the Greek tragedy it resembled. Just three years after his release from prison on charges of "gross indecency," Wilde died broken, impoverished, and alone in a Parisian hotel. But Bosie himself lived on for nearly 45 contentious years after Wilde's death: an entire lifetime, in effect, during which he married, converted to Catholicism, conducted an epic feud with Wilde's literary executor, Robert Ross, and renounced everything about his former life, including Wilde himself.
In Bosie, Douglas Murray has used previously unavailable letters and manuscripts to construct a nuanced portrait of the aesthetes' golden boy, including his second life as a devoutly undecadent squire. Born into an ancient family with a memorably lunatic streak, Lord Douglas as a young man was charming, dissolute, and almost preternaturally handsome. (Jude Law played him in the 1998 film Wilde, and the resemblance is uncanny.) Regrettably, his gift for scandal often overshadowed his other talents; Murray for one is convinced that Douglas was one of the great English poets of his time, a master of the sonnet form who has been shamefully neglected by scholars and readers alike. Here, then, is the real tragedy: if Douglas had lived less he might have been remembered more.
Yet Murray doesn't mince words about the nastier sides of Douglas's nature either: Bosie was a snob, a raving anti-Semite, and like his unbalanced father, prone to destructive rages. One might well say, as James Agate did about Douglas's Autobiography, that his life story is "a record of some pretty good quarrelling." That's characteristic English understatement for you: Douglas seems to have spent much of his life in court, either suing or being sued for libel. Wilde's trial set a pattern Bosie seemed obliged to repeat until he himself was sent to jail after yet another libel charge (instigated by Winston Churchill, of all people) finally stuck. Wormwood Scrubs in the 1920s was no picnic, and Douglas emerged a humbled man; towards the end of his life, he even achieved a measure of reconciliation with his younger self. Murray skillfully conveys the pathos of these final years--like Wilde's, lonely and poverty-stricken, but unlike Wilde's, largely forgotten. This groundbreaking biography does much to correct that historical oversight, and in doing so, provides a fascinating account of one of poetry's most complex personalities. --Mary Park
From Publishers Weekly
Lord Alfred Douglas, known as Bosie, had the face and body of a classic Greek statue, and his life, in which fate and his own hubris interacted disastrously, could constitute a Greek tragedy. One comes away from this assiduously researched and percipient biography of Oscar Wilde's notorious lover, once considered "among the foremost younger English poets," with an indelible impression of a man endowed by fortune who was destroyedAfirst by the court trial brought on by his father, Lord Queensberry, and then by his own rash behavior. First-time author Murray, who is only 23 and still an undergraduate at Oxford, is impressive in his mature assessment of Bosie's emotional instability and ruinous need for revenge, tracing much of it to the strain of insanity in the Douglas family. While his account of the infamous 1895 libel trial is mainly sourced from earlier books and records, Murray's access to the further details of Douglas's life through letters and journals in Britain and in the Berg collection here breaks new ground. Treated shamefully by Wilde after the playwright's release from prison, and then vilified by English society, Douglas developed a persecution mania that inspired many of his unhinged accusations. As Murray shows, at every point in his life Douglas made poor judgmentsAsabotaging his career as a poet and editor, resorting to libel and rushing to litigation in a clearly hostile court system, destroying a strange but loving marriage, losing his son and his social standingAand then even criminally libeling Winston Churchill. Eventually, Douglas was left penniless and alone. On the evidence Murray presents here, however, Douglas's small but eloquent poetical oeuvre should survive the sad scandal of his life. B&w photos not seen by PW. Agents, Belinda Harley and Mary Pachnos. First serial to Talk magazine. (June) FYI: Douglas's papers were embargoed by the British Home Office until 2043, but when Murray was 16 and at Eton, he persuaded the Home Office to grant him access to those papers.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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I thought to myself so why would Wilde care so deeply for such a person; and the answer is that Alfred Douglas was NOT such a person.
As Murray makes clear, of Wilde's many friends, Douglas alone stuck with Wilde during and after the trial, as well as financed Wilde's defence. He waited in exile in Europe for Wilde for the two years of Wilde's sentence, and when Wilde was released from prison, Douglas cared for Wilde and lived with him in Italy at his own expense. He left Wilde ONLY when the Douglas family threatened to cut off his allowance--the only money either he or Wilde had since Wilde had no income at all and neither man could get a job or publish anything, even OUT of homophobic England on the supposedly more liberal continent. The movie implies Bosie left Wilde at that time in an idle spat, and that is simply not true. It's a very sad story, and the truth is that Wilde is the one who proved the less loving of the two--"De Profundis" is a hateful diatribe against Bosie that Bosie did not deserve.
So if you want a thorough, beautifully researched biography of Alfred Douglas, this is the book. There are well-chosen period photographs of all the principal characters, and Murray quotes many of Douglas's poems which are often srikingly beautiful. Admittedly, Douglas later became a pretty sad figure in middle age, but his profound love for and caring treatment of Oscar Wilde as a young man deserves a much better portrait in the popular imagination than the movie "Wilde" paints; in fact, the movie is practically libellous (except that all are long dead, and Douglas cannot defend himself, and that's genuinely tragic). Murray includes one last photograph of Bosie, shortly before his death at 75--a withered, lonely, little old man--it's quite a shocking contrast for the boy who had been in his youth "the most beautiful man in England."