Another year has gone by. Another anniversary of Lord Alfred Douglas’s birth. Time once again for the “I am the love that dares not speak its name” tweets and the blog posts about mad, bad Bosie– “Oscar Wilde’s downfall” and “the original evil queen.”
I didn’t know what to get him, especially as he is long gone. If he got his wish he is a child in heaven. So instead, a little something for you. An excerpt from a French interview conducted by George Docquois published in Le Journal the day before Wilde and Alfred Taylor were found guilty of gross indecency. It is one of those sources that annoyingly comes up after you’ve put a book to bed.
Some of the language here is a bit clunky. This is because it is Lord Alfred Douglas speaking in French, which is probably imperfect, and this author translates it back into English. (Consult the part of Oscar’s Ghost that talks about Douglas’s translation of Salome for more on this sort of thing.)
Docquois spoke to the young exile at the Hotel de La Poste. He was 25 years old, but appeared to the reporter to be about twenty. “He is tall,” Docquois wrote, “At first sight, from head to toe, he appears to me to be blond: blond of hair, blond of skin, blond of habits. Very much in harmony with this general blond impression, three soft hues: the celestial blue of his eyes, the pink in the thread of his linen tie, the mauve of a small, fine handkerchief at the edge of his jacket pocket.”
One of the most notable parts of Docquois’ description of Douglas, is that the writer was most impressed by his “gentleness and sense of absolute calm.” With the exception of his nose, which made his face appear long, his face was “that of a mystic.” Something that didn’t quite go with “the ecstasy of his eyes.”
Douglas told Doquois that he had been in Paris for three days, and had been trying to avoid journalists, although he had just published a letter in the Temps the previous day. It is interesting that he told Doquois that he’d come to Paris because Wilde’s lawyers had told him he might be called to testify and he didn’t want to do that. (Everything I came across in my research seemed to suggest that he made a nuisance of himself insisting he be given the chance to testify, which the lawyers were against.)
Much of the interview was taken up with questions about Douglas’s relationship with his father. “You are ignoring what an entirely abominable man the Marquis of Queensberry is,” he said. He said that until the age of 12 he’d seen his father maybe 20 times, and from what he observed of his manners towards his son, he wondered if he was his son at all. (He and his father often grumbled that they could not be related to each other, no one else in the world had any doubt.) He corrected by saying that of course he knew he was his son, as his mother was a saint. After more of the familiar complaints, he looped his brother Percy into the argument: “My brother detests the marquis as much as I do.” Douquis tried to find a way to broach the sensitive subject of the young man’s relationship with Oscar Wilde.
Douglas said that Wilde did not have the “anti-physical passions” that people believed. “It is only that he is an original being and a fantastic artist. He is always searching out emotions but it is only for ‘moral singularity.’* So he would love to chat with an assassin and would happily invite him to dine in his room. This would involve danger. He believes this would be truly fun.”
Asked whether The Picture of Dorian Grey proved that Wilde engaged in “unnatural acts” he replied that Balzac had described in Un Passion du Desert the love of a soldier for a panther. “And I don’t believe that Balzac has ever slept with a panther.”
(This observation pre-dates Wilde’s famous line about “feasting with panthers” from De Profundis.)
Finally, Douglas was asked to describe his friendship with Wilde from his perspective. At this Douglas became suddenly animated. “I am not saying that it did not have an exceptional dimension. I admit the affection I have for him is extraordinary. Let’s call it romantic. There is no greater joy for me than dining with Oscar Wilde when he is in good form. Our two souls truly communicate it is like something extra-terrestrial. Here, that might seem suspicious, but it is nothing but angelic. And it is now, as we have suffered for one another, that we are most determined not to be separated from one another. Before, I was connected to him for a kind of unique pleasure of a dilettante. Now I am tied to him even more by the persecution.”
*This is a literal translation of the text, and I’m sure there must be a better expression, but I couldn’t come up with it in the moment.