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Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Book Review: Wilde's Last Stand by Philip Hoare

I was lucky enough to win this book as part of the LGBT Book Challenge 2011, courtesy of Duckworth Publishers and Book After Book. Since I probably wouldn't have found this book on my own I'm extremely grateful to them for an enjoyable and informative read.

Wilde's Last Stand documents a trial in 1918 which, although taking place eighteen years after his death, was intrinsically linked with the decadence and so-called deviance inspired by Oscar Wilde in the late 19th century. In short, the situation was this: a newspaper claimed that the German Secret Service had a list of 47,000 names of the British Establishment who were sexual deviants and were compromising the war effort because they were being blackmailed. The paper was then sued for libel. Hoare covers the events leading up to the trial and gives biographies of the main players where necessary. The result is a story that resonates with a modern reader, not least because we can be proud of the progress made in the last ninety years.

A key thing to remember when reading this book is the clash between decadence and the ordinary citizen; how much of a chasm there was between the two sides. Although Edwardian society doesn't feel altogether far away, the differences between now and then are truly huge. Hoare doesn't shy away from depicting the underground aspects of London and there are numerous titbits in this book that serve as eye-openers about parts of Edwardian Britain that perhaps were unknown to the reader.

The tone of the book is just right I feel. While it is obviously easy for the modern reader (and author) to look back at the events with a disbelieving and somewhat condescending attitude, Hoare does a good job of illuminating the characters of the people on the 'wrong' side of the argument. I would advise anybody to read the short introduction though. While some introductions fail to help you read the book, this one certainly assists.

If I had a few criticisms I can easily explain why the 'problems' occurred. It felt as though it took quite a long time to get to the trial portion of the book. However, the build-up was necessary and served to explain the themes and reasons behind the libel trial. Also, sometimes the potted biographies of major players seemed to be slotted into the middle of the narrative, jarring on the reader a little. However, they were introduced when they were needed and certainly a list of biographies at the beginning would've made for boring reading. So, with all that said, I think the choices Hoare made for the layout and organisation of his book were justifiable.

Hoare's fluid narrative style go a long way to making this book readable; his subject matter does the rest. It's spurred me on to investigate and read more around this period of which I know very little and to read more of Hoare's work. All in all, I'm exceptionally grateful for having the opportunity to read this book.

I read this as part of the LGBT Book Challenge 2011 (see sidebar for details).

1 comment:

Juliet Wilson said...

sounds like an interesting book, I'll look out for it!