Bosie: A Biography of Lord Alfred Douglas

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9780786866533: Bosie: A Biography of Lord Alfred Douglas
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Lord Alfred Douglas, or 'Bosie' as he was known , is destined to be remembered as the lover of Oscar Wilde. Dissolute, well-born and beautiful as a young man, his role in the events that led to Oscar Wilde's trial and imprisonment determined the strange celebrity which haunted him until his death. Biographies of Wilde generally give only a cursory account of what happened to Douglas after Wilde's death, but Bosie recounts the full and absorbing story of his complex life. A successful though now obscure poet, he renounced homosexuality after converting to Roman Catholicism and embarked on an ill-fated marriage to Olive Custance. Lord Alfred's time was largely consumed by his growing interest in religion and costly feuds - he was imprisoned for libeling Winston Churchill - and he died a neglected and lonely figure in 1945.

Douglas Murray has had unprecedented access to many letters and key literary manuscripts, and presents evidence which casts a new light on the relationship between Wilde and Bosie. Indeed, Murray has succeeded where Bosie himself failed in securing the release of a British government file which was to be sealed until 2043. The result is a genuinely groundbreaking biography, and the definitive account of a fascinating life.

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Review:

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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9780340767719: Bosie : Biography of Lord Alfred Douglas

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ISBN 10:  0340767715 ISBN 13:  9780340767719
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton, 2001
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