Lord Alfred Douglas - otherwise known as Bosie - was the youth who brought about the downfall of Oscar Wilde.
In his heyday Bosie was famous as the most beautiful undergraduate in Oxford. He had golden hair and rather calculating eyes and it is difficult to believe when you look at him in his student days, that he contained within him the seeds which flowered into a personality that left him as one of the most notorious figures in literary history.
But in this fascinating and long awaited biography of Bosie, Douglas Murray sorts out the contradictions, the facts and the fictions which have always enveloped Wilde's lover, and in the process has come up with a fine study of a man who was at once bewitching and frighteningly manipulative.
Bosie left Oxford at the end of the summer term, 1893, having done little to avoid academic catastrophe. He left without a degree but the university authorities offered to allow him to sit a private examination. Bosie declined. The distractions were too attractive - he was staying for the summer with Wilde at Goring-on-Thames.
Bosie's father was the notorious Marquess of Queensberry who himself had little cause to complain over Bosie's academic failure, since he himself came down from Oxford without a degree, a thing he spoke of contemptuously as 'not worth tuppence to anybody'.
Bosie wrote some pretty verses, which Oscar ostentatiously approved of, and flirted away the summer relying on the financial indulgence of his family.
Wilde worked meanwhile on An Ideal Husband while Bosie attempted to translate Salome from Wilde's original French - and failed. There were scenes of a violent nature on the croquet lawn (where else?) and a reconciliation followed with Wilde, Robert Ross, Bosie and Aubrey Beardsley camping it up around the foyers of the Haymarket theatre (where Wilde's A Woman of No Importance was drawing the town). All of these friends had vine leaves in their hair as they tottered around, full, no doubt, of champagne. The spectacle shocked some people and repelled others.
Significantly, Wilde knew of the hatred which existed between Bosie and his father the Marquess and Queensberry's response to this outrage was ominous. In a note to Bosie he wrote: 'If I catch you again with that man, I will make a public scandal in a way you little dream of.'
What ensued is well known and arose in part as a vendetta, not against Wilde especially, but, one suspects, against Bosie, who Queensberry was determined to bring down.
Yet his other son apparently committed suicide in a shooting accident, possibly because of a homosexual affair with Lord Rosebery.
And now here was Bosie flaunting yet another affair with Oscar Wilde. Queensberry libelled Wilde, Wilde took action and the trial ensued. Bosie tried to get into the witness box to testify against his father, but evidence of that nature was disallowed by the judge.
Nearly 30 years later Douglas wrote of visiting Wilde every day while he was held in Holloway Prison. The visitors sat in boxes and the prisoners sat opposite with three feet of space between them and a warder who walked up and down continually between the two people. It was pandemonium apparently, with the visitor and the prisoner screaming to be heard above the din of voices.
'Nothing more revolting and deliberately malignant could be devised by human ingenuity,' wrote Bosie. …