After the Fall: Oscar Wilde's Only Grandson, Merlin Holland, Wants to Shed Light on the Years That Followed His Grandfather's Infamous Imprisonment

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AS OSCAR WILDE'S ONLY GRANDSON and the executor of his literary estate, a position he's since 1977, Merlin Holland started research on Wilde in the mid 1980s. At 62, the accomplished writer is an expert on his grandfather, and though he is heterosexual, he remains outspoken against homophobia. His works include The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde; The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde, which contains the first uncensored transcript of the event that led to Wilde's imprisonment for homosexuality; and The Wilde Album. His 2007 release, Coffee With Oscar Wilde, is a time-travel biography that brings the witty Irishman to life in a fictional interview. He is presently writing a book about a period in their family history neglected by scholars, the years following Wilde's death in 1900.

Constance Lloyd, your grandmother, was quite conservative compared to your grandfather. Why do you think he married her? Because he loved her.

They did love each other romantically? What is love other than romantic? I don't think he loved her money. He didn't need a smoke screen at that stage. The law against relations between men in the 1885 Criminal Law Amendment hadn't been passed by the time they got married. The fact that he finally realized that he was more attracted to men than he was to women and became an out-and-out homosexual from probably the early 1890s onward, nobody's going to dispute. Just give him the benefit of having loved his wife when he married her.

So you wouldn't think that references to his romantic involvements with women, particularly when he was young, are just to veil his true identity? I'm not whitewashing anything. People love things to be pigeonholed, put into compartments, black-and-white. He was. He wasn't. History tells us that it has happened to many people in the same way, and I don't think it makes him any the less interesting. He is the most wonderful gay icon, but he's flawed. There are some people who don't really like that. It's uncomfortable. It's not a perfect gay icon. He's a man who discovered his true nature and then made no bones about it and indulged in his homosexuality completely, which is obviously what got him put into prison.

Your grandmother was so embarrassed by the scandal that she changed the family name to Holland. She wasn't so embarrassed by the scandal that she changed the family name. …