London's Central Criminal Court Sessions Papers for April 1895 were blunt, declaring that "the details of this case are unfit for publication." The case was Oscar Wilde's first trial, a libel action brought against the Marquess of Queensberry for publicly calling him a homosexual. What unfolded in the court was one of Victorian London's most infamous scandals: the great, doomed love affair between Wilde and Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas, the Marquess's son. When it became public, it cost Wilde everything.
Merlin Holland, Wilde's grandson and a noted researcher and archivist, has discovered the original transcript of the trial that led to his grandfather's tragedy. Here for the first time is the true, uncensored record, free of the distortions and censorship of previous accounts.
On 18 February 1895, Bosie's father delivered a note to the Albemarle Club addressed to "Oscar Wilde posing as a somdomite [sic]." With Bosie's encouragement, Wilde decided to sue the Marquess for libel. As soon as the trial opened, London's literary darling was at the center of the greatest scandal of his time.
Wilde's fall from grace was swift: having lost this case, he was in turn prosecuted and later imprisoned. Bankrupted, he fled to Paris never to see his family again. Within five years he was dead, his health never having recovered from the years in Reading gaol.
This remarkable book reveals Wilde on trial for his life, though he did not know it -- his confidence ebbing under the relentless cross-questioning, the wit for which he was so celebrated gradually deserting him under the remorseless scrutiny. The tragic climax falls when Wilde is betrayed by his own cleverness, unconsciously playing into the prosecutor's hands. With that his cause is lost.
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Merlin Holland is Oscar Wilde's only grandson. He has been researching Wilde's life for the last twenty years. He is the coeditor of The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde.From Publishers Weekly:
In 1895, Oscar Wilde was sentenced to two years of hard labor for "committing acts of gross indecency with other male persons." Wilde's story became a cautionary tale for homosexuals in Victorian England; in the century since, he has come to be celebrated as a martyr of the gay struggle for recognition. This volume, with an introduction and commentary by Wilde's grandson, Holland, publishes for the first time the unabridged transcript of the first of the three infamous trials that resulted in Wilde's destruction. The irony, as Holland's introduction makes abundantly clear, is that Wilde courted his imprisonment, suing his inamorata's father, the Marquess Queensberry, John Douglass, for libel when Queensberry left a card for him at the Albemarle Club that read, "For Oscar Wilde, posing sodomite." Wilde might have been best served by tearing up the card and forgetting it; instead, he pressed charges. But Wilde's riskiest step was treating the witness stand as a theatrical stage. When a prosecutor asked him if he had kissed a certain young man, Wilde joked, "Oh no, never in my life. He was a peculiarly plain boy." With that one flippant comment, Holland's text suggests, the die was cast. But the transcript and Holland's judicious notes also reveal how ill-served Wilde was by his counsel. Some of the same letters that were later used to convict Wilde were introduced by his own lawyers in this first trial as evidence. The general reader might find a work that condenses all three trial transcripts into one narrative, such as Moises Kaufman's stage adaptation, Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, more accessible, but this volume is invaluable for the Wilde enthusiast, the legal scholar, the champion of human rights and the student of English literature.
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