You can learn everything you need to know about Alfred Douglas by reading a decent biography of Oscar Wilde. Well, almost everything. From a glance at the photographs in Richard Ellmann’s book, for example, you can see that Douglas, in his twenties, had a kind of boyish, petulant prettiness. (It still isn’t immediately obvious to me what it was about his physical appearance that the playwright found quite so appealing. Is it possible the young Lord Alfred was at his most attractive with his clothes off?) Other, and weightier, minds than Caspar Wintermans’ have provided accounts of the first fatal meeting in 1891 between Wilde, then thirty-seven, and Douglas, still an undergraduate; of their subsequent passionate affair; and of how Wilde got dragged into the even more passionate feud that raged between Douglas and his whip-wielding, half-mad father, the Marquess of Queensberry, which was to lead to the playwright’s incarceration and, ultimately, death in 1900. Douglas lived on for another forty-five years. The question is: was there anything he did, or suffered, during that time which merits serious attention?
Wintermans’ answer is evidently yes. This book is neither the first homage he has paid to his lordship – he made a documentary, Two Loves, about him in 1999, and edited his wife’s diaries in 2005 – nor the most recent. It turns out that the work under review is