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Thread: An infamous poofter revisited

  1. #1
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    An infamous poofter revisited

    I have just been reading 'Bosie: the tragic life of Lord Alfred Douglas' by Douglas Murray. It was first published, to much acclaim, in 2000 when the author, astonishingly, was only 19. I read the 2020 edition with revised foreword. It is indeed a well-researched, balanced piece of work, with the author in full and confident control of his material.

    I've read several books on the life of Oscar Wilde and on the scandal that engulfed him in 1895 when, hounded by Bosie's dreadful father, the Marquis of Queensberry, he ended up imprisoned for 'gross indecency' with rent boys and served two years with hard labour, which broke his health. After a largely unhappy and impecunious period in exile, his career in ruins, he died at the early age of 46 in a down-at-heel Parisian hotel in 1900.

    Based on that reading and on two excellent movies in recent years ('Wilde' starring Stephen Fry and Jude Law and 'The Happy Prince' starring Rupert Everett and Colin Morgan), I've always assumed that Bosie, with his selfishness, hatred of his father and temper tantrums, was the real villain of the piece and that Wilde showed about as much judgment in becoming emotionally entangled with him as the most starry-eyed and deluded of gay farangs in Thailand's bar scene. I've never really bothered to investigate what happened to Bosie in the rest of his life.

    Well, he outlived Wilde by a good many years, dying in 1945 at the age of 75. I had vaguely assumed that he spent most of those post-scandal years abroad, fiddling about with street boys, but no, he returned to England, became a Catholic, married and renounced his earlier homosexuality. He turned against Wilde when he finally got to read Wilde's strongly-worded criticisms of him in his long, prison-written letter De Profundis. Like his father, he became extremely litigious and saw enemies round every corner ('like father, like son' - four of the most blood-chilling words in the English language). A couple of examples of the tone in which he conducted his feuds: he addressed Robert Ross, whom he particularly despised as the guardian of Wilde's literary estate, as 'you filthy bugger and blackmailer.' Of Andre Gide he said, 'Gide is a shit! Like a person who has an abscess on his bottom and continuously displays it to the world' ('bottom' strikes me as laughably overpolite in this context). Later he made the serious mistake of libelling Winston Churchill and that cost him a six-month prison sentence in 1923.

    I already knew that Bosie had dabbled in poetry while he was with Wilde, but I hadn't realised how seriously he took it and how highly he was rated by respected literary figures of the day. Writing poems, mainly sonnets, was what brought him the most pleasure in the post-scandal years and he published several collections. He wrote and spoke intelligently about poetry in general. Is he rated as highly now as in his lifetime? Probably not (while Wilde's literary reputation, on the other hand, has made a full recovery).

    The Douglas family fortunes had been in decline for a long time and by the 1930s Bosie was forced to rent a basement flat in a very ordinary block in Hove, where he spent the rest of his days. He was reduced to applying for a civil list pension for services to literature, his list of sponsors including John Gielgud, Evelyn Waugh and Virginia Woolf. When this was rejected, he wrote with typical self-pity 'I have been badly treated all my life.' He then added, in a masterpiece of understatement, 'though I don't deny that it is partly my own fault.'

    In his last few years the combination of poverty and getting old seemed to mellow him somewhat. Wilde was restored to his pedestal and he 'forgave' some of his enemies, including his long-dead father. He still had friends who visited him and they would comment favourably on his old-fashioned gentlemanly good manners, his flashes of wit and his little acts of kindness. There continued to be little eruptions of anger if certain names were mentioned, but the maniacal energy with which he would formerly pursue vendettas had faded. Physically he was stooped and beaky-nosed, any resemblance to the celebrated beauty of his youth impossible to detect.

    Not surprisingly, many people, often strangers, would seek him out to hear him reminisce about Wilde which, depending on his mood, he was sometimes willing to do. To one enquirer he admitted that there were quarrels, 'but we were laughing most of the time - often at one another. There were whole days we laughed our way through.' He added that Wilde had the gift of being able to make all people laugh, from the simplest to the most sophisticated. This was true even of the rent boys, some of whom testified against him in court: 'Far more than cigarette-cases and meals at Kettner's. He made the dullest of them gay and amusing. He brought out oddity and humour in them which they never knew they possessed.' This seems to me to be a very perceptive observation, highlighting Wilde's innate gaiety of soul which even prison and exile failed to extinguish completely. Someone asked Bosie what he thought of Frank Harris's comment in his garbled biography of Wilde that he was 'heartless': ''He was the kindest chap,' said Douglas, 'the kindest chap'.'

    I finished Murray's book with a more nuanced view of Bosie. In some ways the course of his life was predictable based on what I already knew, in other ways quite surprising and even poignant. His behaviour certainly helped to bring catastrophe upon Wilde, but I remind myself that Wilde's love of 'feasting with panthers', as he called his reckless dalliances with rent boys, might well have brought him down in the end anyway. His early death, tragic as it was, was perhaps preferable to Bosie's long life, from which his infamous past was never far way, closing many doors to him, driving him to fits of self-destructive behaviour and generally weighing him down to the end.

  2. 7 Users gave Like to post:

    Armando (June 29th, 2021), Brad the Impala (June 29th, 2021), Jellybean (June 29th, 2021), Khor tose (July 4th, 2021), poshglasgow (July 1st, 2021), Ruthrieston (June 30th, 2021), Zebedee (June 30th, 2021)

  3. #2
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    Re: An infamous poofter revisited

    I was prompted to look up Bosie's Wikipedia entry regarding his marriage. His wife was bisexual; one of her female lovers became godmother to the only child of the marriage. The marriage lasted barely 10 years until Bosie converted to Catholicism.

    Bisexuality is far more common than the gay lobby are prepared to admit. I suspect the pressures of monogamy force an artificial choice on many people.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_A...uglas#Marriage

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    Re: An infamous poofter revisited

    Quote Originally Posted by snotface View Post

    Well, he outlived Wilde by a good many years, dying in 1945 at the age of 75. I had vaguely assumed that he spent most of those post-scandal years abroad, fiddling about with street boys, but no, he returned to England, became a Catholic, married and renounced his earlier homosexuality. He turned against Wilde when he finally got to read Wilde's strongly-worded criticisms of him in his long, prison-written letter De Profundis.
    A fair summary but it's unlikely that Bosie ever read the prison letter: De Profundis.

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    Re: An infamous poofter revisited

    There is speculation, but no proof, that Bosie might not have completely renounced his homosexuality after his marriage. Not terribly surprising if true. The son by the marriage developed mental problems and spent years in a hospital for treatment. Bosie himself was of course a little bit mad - it ran in the family. Apparently, even after the separation from his wife, and a period of feuding between them (near-compulsory for Bosie), they became close friends and that was one of his few consolations in the hard-pressed Hove years.

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    Re: An infamous poofter revisited

    Quote Originally Posted by mr giggles View Post
    A fair summary but it's unlikely that Bosie ever read the prison letter: De Profundis.
    Well, Murray says he did and I agree with him. It's what turned him against Wilde for a period of years.

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    Re: An infamous poofter revisited

    A fascinating post, thank you. I knew little about Bosie's life after Wilde and on the basis of Douglas Murray's book he seems to have both changed and mellowed.

    I wonder what it says of his times with Wilde. We know from other sources that his father was an arrogant, dreadful and much disliked man. Although elected to parliament he did not take his seat because as an atheist he refused to take the oath of allegiance to the Queen. We also know that he was brimming with fury at the allegations, probably true, that his eldest son and heir was almost certainly homosexual and had had an affair with the bisexual Prime Minister Lord Rosebery with whom he had obtained a position in the government. When his heir was mysteriously killed with a bullet to his head (thought at one time to have been suicide) he then went after his youngest son and especially Wilde. That Bosie was also homosexual merely added to his fury.

    Yet was it not Robert Ross, the teenage openly gay Canadian determined to meet Wilde, who basically turned him away from his wife and two sons and into his first homosexual relationship? I always thought that was relatively monogamous until Wilde met and became infatuated with the wild youth Bosie. For a while Wilde, Ross and Bosie hung out together. Wasn't it Bosie who then introduced him to the rent boys and male brothels that Queensberry's lawyers brought up in the second law suit? And wasn't it Bosie who basically encouraged Wilde to sue his father for libel in the first suit? Had Wilde not been such vain man, he might had realised the almost inevitable outcome when going against a total bigot like Queensberry.

    Then wasn't Bosie's wife herself bisexual? He seems to have been a man with little joy in his life.

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    Re: An infamous poofter revisited

    Quote Originally Posted by Armando View Post
    We know from other sources that his father was an arrogant, dreadful and much disliked man. Although elected to parliament he did not take his seat because as an atheist he refused to take the oath of allegiance to the Queen.
    Bosie's father, John Sholto, 9th Marquess of Queensberry was a peer for Scotland in the House of Lords - not elected. Yes, he was excluded as an atheist.

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    Re: An infamous poofter revisited

    Quote Originally Posted by Armando View Post

    Yet was it not Robert Ross, the teenage openly gay Canadian determined to meet Wilde, who basically turned him away from his wife and two sons and into his first homosexual relationship?
    Is life that simple?

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    Re: An infamous poofter revisited

    Quote Originally Posted by snotface View Post
    Well, Murray says he did and I agree with him. It's what turned him against Wilde for a period of years.
    Bosie turned against everyone at one time or another.

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    Re: An infamous poofter revisited

    Thank you Snotface for a genuinely interesting and informative post...until it was highjacked by others!

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