One of the most famous love affairs in literary history is that of Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas. When it became public, it cost Wilde everything. Merlin Holland has discovered the original courtroom transcript of the trial which led to his grandfather’s tragedy. Here at last is the true record, without the distortions of previous accounts. On 18 February 1895 Bosie’s father, the Marquess of Queensberry, delivered a note to the Albemarle Club addressed to ‘Oscar Wilde posing as 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 centre of the greatest scandal of his time. Wilde’s fall from grace was swift: his case lost, prosecution by the Crown soon followed, ending in the imprisonment that destroyed his health – even as his art, as Wilde put it, improved through ‘suffering’. In this remarkable book we witness Wilde’s confidence ebbing under the relentless questioning and see him lose track of the witty lines for which he was famous. Ultimately, it was his wit that betrayed him.
Reviews of Irish Peacock and Scarlet Marquess
- ‘The most sensational trial of the 19th century. Merlin Holland has produced a gripping and fascinating volume that entirely supersedes previous accounts of the Queensberry trial. Along with a number of unfamiliar biographical details and intriguing glimpses into his private life, it gives us, for the first time, a real sense of how Wilde actually spoke in conversation. As a work of dramatic legal literature it ranks with Plato’s account of the trial of Socrates. While Wilde failed to make life conform to the laws of his own writing, he did at least succeed in turning one of the most important episodes in his biography into a kind of art.’ Daily Telegraph
- ‘We can now watch the drama unfold, as the prosecution of Queensberry is aborted and Wilde becomes the figure under pressure, his clever replies and elegant evasions proving no match for the terrier-like persistence of Edward Henry Carson QC.’ Independent
- ‘Wilde seems to have run into the arms of his own destruction. He had tasted fame, and success, and wealth. He wanted the complete life, which would encompass shame and infamy as well as glory and applause. They may all be discovered in this book.’ The Times