Bosie: Biography of Lord Alfred Douglas

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9780340767719: Bosie: Biography of Lord Alfred Douglas

Famed as the most beautiful undergraduate in Oxford, Lord Alfred Douglas remains one of the most notorious figures in literary history. This biography explores the mass of contradictions that made up the life of Bosie, a genius yet a failure through his tormented youth.

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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

About the Author:

Douglas Murray began writing this book when he was 14 years old. He is now 20, and is an undergraduate at Magdalen College, Oxford. This is his first book.

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Murray, Douglas
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