New and interesting territory for me as I read Alfred Douglas: A Poet's Life and His Finest Work by Caspar Wintermans and published by Peter Owen.This a very readable account of the infamous but lesser known life of Bosie, the cause of all Oscar Wilde's troubles.Oscar's revenge came in the shape of De Profundis and by this was Bosie judged for ever more.
Much maligned and scorned for a great deal of his life poor Bosie took to litigation for redress more times than was good for him. Bruised and battered after dragging Arthur Ransome unsuccessfully through the courts, Bosie then found himself mixing with the big league.To my complete surprise it was no less than a litigious encounter with Winston Churchill that finally sent Bosie the way of Oscar and a term in prison disentangling some oakum of his own.
Caspar Wintermans sets out to revoke the considered opinion of Bosie as "the most complete cad in history" and to a large extent I think he succeeds.
Two sides to every story and like many I only knew one and that was Stephen Fry's.It's years since I read Richard Ellman's biography.
Tragically Bosie's early life of beauty and privilege as the son of the Marquis of Queensbury did not endow him with many coping mechanisms.It was prison that reformed him by all accounts and he emerged a changed man, though he still aroused a great deal of suspicion and animosity.
When John Betjeman's mother discovered her son's correspondence with Bosie you can only begin to imagine the scene. John was ordered by his father "to concentrate on outdoor athletic activities rather than reading decadent verse".John resumed his friendship with Bosie and his wife Olive some years later and found Bosie to be "a gentleman with beautiful manners"
Which brings me nicely onto Bosie's poetry contained in its entirety in this volume.
It had little impact on me before I'd read the biography but following on afterwards and with an impression and a context now firmly established there are moments of real poignancy to be found.
The poems mirror the events of Bosie's life much as a diary might have done.
It's impossible to read the sonnet Behold, Your House is Left Unto You Desolate without picturing the distraught Bosie sitting in his empty house after his wife has left him and his soul-searching admission in another poem entitled To Olive
"I have been profligate of happiness
And reckless of the world's hostility,
The blessed part has not been given to me
Gladly to suffer fools, I do confess
I have enticed and merited distress,
By this, that I have never bowed the knee
Before the shrine of wise Hypocrisy,
Nor worn self-righteous anger like a dress"
The notes that accompany the poems are something I would usually skip but therein some nuggets of new knowledge for me.
I now know what a St Martin's Summer is and how exactly Edward II may have been tortured and susequently died.
A St Martin's Summer that period around his feast day on November 11th often characterized by a period of mild weather in England apparently.
Regarding the fate of Edward II, well, astounding.No plans to elaborate here, you'll have to research that for yourselves but I recounted it at the dinner table and there were groans all round.
Moving very swiftly on before I'm compelled to talk about the fate of the Plantagenet intrailes...
All a completely enjoyable, unusual and interesting read.Once I'd read the biography and then the poems I found myself in complete agreement with George Bernard Shaw to whom Bosie sent his collected poems in 1936
"For this be all thy sins forgiven thee".