Real Trial of Oscar Wilde: The First Uncensored Transcript of The Trial of Oscar Wilde vs. John Douglas (Marquess of Queensberry), 1895

Overview

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, ...

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2003-11-04 Hardcover New New book for a reasonable and competitive price. I will ship promptly with FREE delivery/tracking confirmation. Why wait, for a few dollars more choose ... expedited shipping and receive your order in a couple of days. Read more Show Less

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United Kingdom 2003 Hardcover 1st Edition New in New jacket 1st Printing. No Flaws or Blemishes; Gift Quality, First Edition; First Printing; Dust jacket in protective Mylar ... sleeve. 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. Read more Show Less

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Overview

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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Editorial Reviews

The Observer
“An essential for aficionados...at times it is easy to forget that this is not one of Wilde’s own playscripts.”
Daily Telegraph (London) on The Wilde Album
“Sharp, unillusioned and free from family piety.”
London Times on The Wilde Album
“Touching … sharp, unsentimental … an expectedly vivid portrait.”
New York Times Book Review on The Wilde Album
“This narrative remind[s] us what an extraordinary man his grandfather was—and how much he influenced the 20th century.”
Seattle Weekly
“Brilliant.”
New York Times
“Inordinately gripping.”
Los Angeles Times
“Tantalizing.”
Legal Times
“A fascinating document for anyone interested in the law or literature…as compelling as a Shakespearean tragedy.”
The Independent on The Wilde Album
“Marvellous … a feast.”
Sunday Boston Globe on The Wilde Album
“The author has a wry lucid style that moves along briskly...an excellent little book.”
Daily Telegraph (London)
“A gripping and fascinating volume [that]...ranks with the Apology, Plato’s account of the trial of Socrates.”
The New York Times
The story of [Wilde's] collapse is an occasion "to see how little has changed over a century whenever fame, sex, pride and libel are shaken up into their intoxicating cocktail of human weakness," Merlin Holland, Wilde's only grandson, writes in The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde. "The outcome is as predictably fascinating for the onlookers as it is invariably disastrous for the participants." And it prompts Mr. Holland to ask what any reader of this transfixing, better-than-Court-TV transcript will also wonder, "Why on earth did you do it?" Why did Wilde set in motion his own downfall? — Janet Maslin
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. (Nov.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Over 100 years after the event, Oscar Wilde's grandson Holland (who also is sole executor of Wilde's estate) reprints an essential Victorian document deemed "unfit for publication" in the British Central Criminal Court Sessions Papers-the uncensored transcript of the trial that shook England and practically ended the career of a preeminent writer. Earlier transcript editions are significantly shorter than Holland's 85,000-word version, reproduced from a longhand copy presented for exhibition at the British Library in 2000, and some sections appear for the first time before the general public. Simply providing the full transcript makes this a major literary event, but Holland also includes his own 25-page introduction, 13 illustrations (including the infamous calling card), excellent footnotes, a brief bibliography, and two appendixes. An essential addition to all literary, gay studies, and cultural history collections.-Anthony J. Adam, Prairie View A&M Univ., TX Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780007156641
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/4/2003
  • Edition description: First U.S. Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.21 (d)

Meet the Author

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.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix
Foreword xi
Introduction xv
The First Magistrates' Court Proceedings 2nd March 1895 1
The Second Magistrates' Court Proceedings 9th March 1895 7
Regina (Oscar Wilde) v. John Douglas 3rd-5th April 1895 25
Wednesday Morning 3rd April
Sir Edward Clarke's Opening Speech for the Prosecution 26
Evidence of Sidney Wright 43
Evidence of Oscar Wilde 45
Edward Carson's Cross-examination of Oscar Wilde 64
On Lord Alfred Douglas 64
On The Chameleon 66
On The Picture of Dorian Gray 77
Wednesday Afternoon 3rd April
On The Picture of Dorian Gray (cont.) 80
On the Stolen Letters 103
On Alfred Wood 111
On William Allen 126
On Robert Cliburn 128
On Edward Shelley 134
On Alfonso Conway 143
Thursday Morning 4th April
Edward Carson's Cross-examination of Oscar Wilde (cont.)
On Alfred Taylor 152
On Charles Parker 162
On Frederick Atkins 182
On Ernest Scarfe 197
On Sydney Mavor 200
On Walter Grainger 206
Sir Edward Clarke's Re-examination of Oscar Wilde
On Lord Queensberry's Letters 213
On Edward Shelley 227
Thursday Afternoon 4th April
On Edward Shelley (cont.) 230
On the Other Young Men 237
On Lord Queensberry 242
Edward Carson's Opening Speech for the Defence 249
Friday Morning 5th April
Edward Carson's Opening Speech for the Defence (cont.) 273
The Withdrawal of the Prosecution 280
Appendix A 285
Appendix B 294
Notes 298
Bibliography and Manuscript Sources 327
Acknowledgements 332
Index 335
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First Chapter

The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde
The First Uncensored Transcript of The Trial of Oscar Wilde vs. John Douglas (Marquess of Queensberry), 1895

Foreword

Libel actions are meant to be cases for re-establishing reputations, confounding malicious gossip and allowing the litigant to emerge in a state of unblemished purity. Anyone contemplating such litigation should be warned that those who start libel actions often emerge with their reputations in tatters and, on two notable occasions, end up in prison. Lord Jeffrey Archer and most famous of them all, Oscar Wilde found the entrance to the libel court a direct path to gaol.

Indeed, the steps that led from Wilde's charge against the Marquess of Queensberry to hard labour have a sickening inevitability about them. Wilde's conduct through the three trials that followed seems like a deliberate exercise in self-destruction. The public drama was activated by Queensberry leaving a note at the Albemarle Club addressed to 'Oscar Wilde posing somdomite [sic]'. (It is interesting to see what variations the word gained in these proceedings; Edward Carson, Wilde's cross-examiner, called Huysmans's À Rebours a 'sodomitical' book.) The reaction of any sensible man to the note would have been to take the advice of the majority of Wilde's friends, which was to tear it up and forget it. The way to disaster was to start a private prosecution for criminal libel. The charge necessarily called for the defence of justification. From then on it was Wilde, and not his enemy the Marquess of Queensberry, who was on trial, and he had laid himself open to every form of attack. There were no Queensberry Rules.

Throughout these ghastly events Oscar's wife, Constance, behaved impeccably. Wilde was a devoted and loving father, although he left his sons, Vyvyan and Cyril Holland, a lifetime of concealment and embarrassment. In a book that adds considerably to our knowledge of his grandfather's trials, Vyvyan's son, Merlin Holland, has filled in the many gaps left in Montgomery Hyde's edition in the 'Notable British Trials' series. We can now live again through the extraordinary drama of the aborted prosecution of Queensberry and watch Oscar, the great dramatist, elegant in a black frock coat, leaning across the rail of the witness box, uttering wonderful but occasionally fatal answers: even as he is earning the audience's applause for his greatest flights of fancy, he is being led inexorably by the dogged persistence of his cross-examiner, Edward Carson, towards the prison gates.

Merlin Holland has published, for the first time, further passages of the cross-examination. We now know what Carson thought of Huysmans' 'sodomitical' book, and we get a full account of the fascinating exchange. We also have a full text of the evidence in the magistrate's court and Carson's excellent opening speech for the defence. As a full record of these tragic judicial proceedings, it will not only be of use to future historians and scholars but to all of us who love, admire and are fascinated by this extraordinarily brilliant, lovable and self-destructive genius.

The Criminal Law Amendment Act that forbade indecent conduct, short of penetration between men, under which Wilde was finally convicted, had only been passed some ten years earlier and was rightly known as a 'Blackmailer's Charter'. At his subsequent trials Wilde was faced with the evidence collected by Queensberry's defence team for the first trial. This was mostly about limited sexual activity with various consenting rent boys, and a heavy cloud of blackmail hung around the proceedings. (It is now revealed that one significant blackmailing letter was, unwisely, put in evidence by Wilde's prosecuting counsel, although the defence knew nothing of it). The amount of evidence against Wilde was overwhelming, as he must have known when he first told his solicitor that there was no truth in Queensberry's claims.

That he, on that fatal afternoon, as he admitted later, sat lying to a lawyer, was a fact he tended to blame on Bosie, who had longed for a fight to the death against his savage and eccentric father. As Merlin Holland says, the question we would all have liked to ask Oscar was, 'Why on earth did you do it?' Was it another case of the destruction of an older man by an obsession with a young lover? Did he somehow feel that his huge success had become unbearable and want to destroy it? Was he attracted by the danger of lying and thought he could get away with it it? Or was he, as I believe, a confused and kindly man who did not think, as we would not think nowadays, that he had done anything wrong and that he could rely on his irresistible charm, and his talent for finding clever answers to tricky questions to see him through? If this was so, he was horribly mistaken.

There is a story about Oscar Wilde that, I think, should always be remembered. His friend Helena Sickert's father had died and her mother, grief stricken and inconsolable, had shut herself away in her room and vowed that she would see no one. Wilde called and, insisting on seeing the mother, he got her to open her door to him. An hour, two hours passed and Helena waited for the inevitable tears and demands to be left alone. Then she heard an unbelievable sound; her mother was laughing. Wilde had entertained her, had pleased her, had made her feel that life was still worth living. He showed, in that and many other cases, that charm works wonders.

It did not, in the end, work down at the Old Bailey. Perhaps it caused the jury in his first criminal trial to disagree; but then, when any merciful prosecutor or Home Secretary might have decided that he had suffered enough, it let him down badly and he was finally convicted.

Passing the ridiculous sentence of two years' hard labour, Mr Justice Wills said that men who could do as Oscar Wilde did were 'dead to all sense of shame'.

The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde
The First Uncensored Transcript of The Trial of Oscar Wilde vs. John Douglas (Marquess of Queensberry), 1895
. Copyright © by Merlin Holland. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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