Read Oscar Wilde's Last Stand: Decadence, Conspiracy, and the Most Outrageous Trial of the Century by Philip Hoare Online


The first production of Oscar Wilde's Salome in 1918 touched off a firestorm in London when the play's lead, exotic dancer Maud Allan, was denounced as belonging to the Cult of the Clitoris -- a feminine variation on the Cult of Wilde, the mark of degeneracy and perversion. The ensuing libel trial, brought to life in this authoritative, spellbinding book, raised the specteThe first production of Oscar Wilde's Salome in 1918 touched off a firestorm in London when the play's lead, exotic dancer Maud Allan, was denounced as belonging to the Cult of the Clitoris -- a feminine variation on the Cult of Wilde, the mark of degeneracy and perversion. The ensuing libel trial, brought to life in this authoritative, spellbinding book, raised the specters of hysteria, homophobia, and paranoia that, like Wilde himself, have haunted our century....

Title : Oscar Wilde's Last Stand: Decadence, Conspiracy, and the Most Outrageous Trial of the Century
Author :
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ISBN : 9781559704724
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 256 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Oscar Wilde's Last Stand: Decadence, Conspiracy, and the Most Outrageous Trial of the Century Reviews

  • Sketchbook
    2018-12-11 18:07

    Hedline, London, 1918: "The Cult of the Clitoris" -- Hmm, whaaat? Most readers had never heard of the clit; an old duffer burped, "Who's this Greek chap, Clitoris, they're all talking about?" Radical right-wing MP, Noel Billing, ran the hedline (& story) in his newspaper, claiming that 47,000 Brit perverts were listed in a German Black Book, and were conspiring to keep Brit from winning W1, along w German-born Jews who also lived in the UK. Billing had burst a vessel because the beautiful American dancer, Maude Allan, who'd been performing her Salome "dance" for a dozen years around the world -- she was as famous as Loie Fuller & Isadora Duncan -- was planning to expand her career and appear in Wilde's play, "Salome," w the help of drama critic J.T. Grein, who also produced new plays. Noel Billing suggested that Maude Allan was a lewd woman and lesbian. Only muff divers, he implied, knew how to give other women pleasure. And why was she always with the PMs wife Margot Asquith, surely among the 47,000 in the secret Black Book. (It never existed: it was fake news, which gives this vastly entertaining slice of forgotten or unknown history a topicality).Maude certainly had some posh lovers. Sticking to facts at hand, author Hoare can only refer to some of her social outings. She was, however, haunted by the execution of her brother who murdered 2 women in a Baptist Church in San Francisco, which he attended -- personal bio later introduced in the most frivolous trial ever held.....Sex, drugs, history (W1), sociology, sex, political manipulation, and a court-room trial will keep you glued to this story, which seems like a Monty Python/ Carry On comedy until lives are ruined. Maude Allan unwisely sued MP Noel Billing for libel.We've been here before!Invoking the name of Wilde, who'd died 20 years earlier, Billing said his play (which Allan performed once) was about "the physical orgasm" and animal lust. The production was part of a German conspiracy to corrupt Brits and lose the war, he added. War hysteria reigned ! Billing fueled homophobia & anti-semitism. In the 19-teens there was plenty of worldliness in London; it just didnt "pop" w the 20s, postwar. London had seen Nancy Cunard in men's clothes, Bakst's designs for the Russian Ballet, Nijinsky's narcissistic sexuality, Beardsley's illustrations, Cubism, Vorticism, the author reports, and, further there was an "illicitness of desire" in clubs and private rooms - that added to the excitement. Billing concocted the 47,000 (fake names) and sought to save British morality w Maude Allan /Oscar Wilde as figures who could not be endured. He smeared Maude with leaks about her long dead brother, and called her a genetically sick performer for her interest in the beheaded John the Baptist. The middle-classes, per usual, cheered him.Early summer, 1918, last months of a preposterous war, Maude's libel suit went to trial. Allan (1873-1956) is actually a minor player in a big all-star cast. Lord Alfred Douglas was a star witness for Billing. The little prick, who'd married briefly, said OW was a moral and sexual pervert. "He had a diabolical influence on everyone he met. He was the greatest force of evil...he was the agent of the devil in every possible way..." Most healthy people would be "disgusted" by OWs "Salome." Later in the trial he began shouting, waving his arms and had to be ejected while the gallery applauded him.The trial, writes Hoare, became a medieval inquisition w Maude Allan as a modern witch. Maude lost the libel suit. Billing went on to other mishmash ventures. Critic Grein had a breakdown and lost his job. Maude's career vaporized, but she was helped by Friends in High Places, it seems. The author wonders, discreetly, if Maude had been set up by the government to take down or embarrass Billing. Was she part of a political conspiracy -- had she been encouraged to sue for libel?This saga is, yes, "outrageous," as the title says. By the 40s, Allan was in LA working briefly for the Douglas Aircraft Company. UCLA didnt need her on the performing arts staff. C 1912 Maude Allan statuettes had been sold in Bond Street, her Salome sandals and costume jewelry were copied for society ladies. Her performance was said to be so hypnotic that many viewers insisted she danced naked. In sum, she was an Edwardian sex symbol. She died in obscurity in Los Angeles.I keep thinking: this trial could only have happened in Britain.

  • Dee Arr
    2018-11-23 20:24

    I found this slice of history from the early twentieth century interesting on many levels. There are quirky events that occur throughout time, and this certainly qualifies as one of them. I spent the better part of a Saturday starting and finishing this book.This is a story that builds over several decades, culminating in a trial that seems to be part witch hunt, part circus. Oscar Wilde, despite being dead for fifteen years, is accused both directly and indirectly throughout the court proceedings. Noel Pemberton Billing printed an article that publicly trashed actress Maud Allen, who played the part of Salome in an Oscar Wilde play. She sued Billing, and the rest, as they say, is history.Author Philip Hoare has done an outstanding job of thoroughly researching this subject and then presenting it in a way that captivates the reader. The first few chapters concern the main players in the court case, and Mr. Hoare paints detailed pictures of everyone involved. Once the courtroom drama is reached, readers do not have to endure the normal boring transcripts where we see the person’s name and what was said. The author provides us with most of the dialogue and continues to present the drama in story form, thus ensuring that the book remains interesting.Politics and WWI also figure heavily into this story, and Mr. Hoare makes sure we are provided with all the facts of the accusations, sniping, and outright lies. It is amazing to see that what we might consider ho-hum today was considered vile and trashy 100 years ago. I was totally unaware of this case, and thus was able to experience it as if I had been in the courtroom. This is a fantastic read and I highly recommend it. Five stars.

  • Charles Dee Mitchell
    2018-11-27 01:19

    Noel Pemberton Billing was a right-wing populist who held much wider influence that you would have thought possible in WWI era London. He was obsessed by the decadence of the upper classes and the prospect that there might be a peace deal struck with Germany. (Well, judging from this book there was a pretty decadent set among the aristos and that possible peace deal was under review.) To stir things up he created a spurious account of a Black Book, a list compiled by Germany that named 47,000 British citizens who could be blackmailed for sexual perversity. His final target was the American dancer Maud Allan and a proposed production of Oscar Wilde's stilled banned Salome. What landed him in court was the libelous assertion that The Cult of the Clitoris was working its evil influence through the production. (Introducing the word "clitoris" to the newspaper-reading public of 1918 might have been his most notable accomplishment.)I will not fall into the trap of making contemporary comparisons to this book, but one of Billing's more successful talking points was the proposed incarceration of all enemy nationals in Great Britain. Failing that, he suggested they be made to wear patches on their clothing identifying their country of origin.

  • Dottie
    2018-11-25 21:22

    "The fear of decadence is the fear - and fascination - of the other. It is a fantasy fear of letting go, of the abandonment of principle. In that it is an essentially middle-class fear, for the upper classes with their privilege - literally, private law - were answerable to no one, while the working class were both expendable and by trdaition prone to vice. Billing represented the voice of the outraged British middle class, the defining voice of our era, the voice that calls for punitive measures against anything that threatens its own status quo. In the history of the Billing affair is reflected the sway of middle-class sensibility, and all the safety, reason, and stability that it represents. On the other side is chaos, libertinism, vice, danger and the unknown. and the unknown will always remain so to those who do not choose to explore it."Sums things up nicely, I believe. The book redeemed itself somewhat in the end and so I wound up appreciating it more than I might have done -- not for e veryone as it's a bit uneven in many regards but I overlooked that as I got to the final bits.

  • M2
    2018-12-08 21:08

    Wilde's Last Stand tells the story of McCarthy-like British MP, Noel Billing, who asserted that 47,000 members of the British establishment were sex perverts under threat of blackmail from the Germans at the end of WWI. This bizarre, nearly forgotten tale pits aesthetes against admirals as they seem to vie for the soul of an empire.

  • Rose
    2018-12-10 23:23

    I kept going back and forth on how to rate this book... On the one hand, the topic was fascinating, and well researched. On the other hand, the author's prose is hard to follow, and muddled the absolutely fascinating information. Whenever he was focusing on the history of just one person or one event, the story was captivating. Whenever he tried to explain the (admittedly tangled) relationships between the people, it was difficult to follow. I still don't understand the militaristic conspiracy behind the trial, and who was set to gain from it. I was wishing at one point for a "cast of characters" guide, as I kept having to look up the individual people described in the book.

  • Manray9
    2018-12-13 23:04

    A story of an era of "hysteria, homophobia, and paranoia." Gee, it sounds just like the USA in 2012! Just stir in the threat of sharia, add a hefty dash of racism, and mix in some firearms and it would be a cinch.

  • Cecilia Jones
    2018-12-08 19:03

    DifficultI wanted so badly to enjoy this book but found it laborious to read. What might usually take 2 maybe 3 days of a few hours each day to complete took weeks. I would put it down and pick up another book and then come back to it. Sadly, if I have started a book I feel obligated to finish it. Yes, I realize I'm throwing time away that I could be using g on a hobby or book I do enjoy. If you are looking for a book on Oscar Wilde this is not the book for you. It is on the years following the death of Wilde and the slow grinding of WW 1 and British society decline. If you want a book about the Maud Allan case and trial against Noel Pemberton Billing and the Justice on the case, Justice Darling, this is the book for you. This is more about Billings that Wilde. Perhaps I'm just a simpleton but the author seems to out of his way to use words that you would be advised to keep a dictionary nearby.

  • Thomas Mackan
    2018-11-18 02:25

    Don't "not" read this book. I didn't quite finish it myself. It's a massive undertaking by a first rate journalist whose research of this subject is mammoth in scope, in detail, in understanding. The effect of Oscar Wilde on the evolution of society morally, politically, culturally in the tumultuous years spanning the 19th and 20th centuries is laid out with a barely concealed sense of accomplishment and enjoyment. Words, detail and organization are the brickwork of the tome. I got to the ante-penultimate chapters however, quite exhausted, and with what I hope was enough understanding of the crises involved and felt I could take no more. Relevance was bothering me. I seriously felt that the scandal of the Billings trial was not affecting the work already done in setting the scene, and as an octogenarian who has lived most of the 20th century in the wash of the events, I left it... rather I leave it, to you. Enjoy some fine documentary writing.

  • Eugenea Pollock
    2018-11-14 21:11

    I learned a great deal of social history surrounding the period of WWI in Great Britain, and "the most outrageous trial of the century" was indeed outrageous. But I did not enjoy the author's literary writing style. Though the facts demanded that I finish the book, it was, paradoxically, almost dull to read--as if I were slogging through molasses.

  • Sharon Terry
    2018-11-25 23:01

    First World War Gay Blackmail HysteriaIn January 1918, the Imperialist, a far-right-wing polemical newspaper published by the MP Noel Pemberton Billing, made the startling allegation that a German prince had a black book which named 47,000 members of the British establishment as "sexual perverts" (read: homosexuals), ripe for ongoing blackmail by Germany. At this time Britain seemed to be losing the war and many believed the prevailing social "decadence" to be the cause; Germany's blackmailing of homosexuals, if true, would deliver a fatal, weakening, blow to the country's war effort.Billing was a clever campaigner. To draw even more attention to his scare-mongering, he published a libel of the exotic dancer, Maud Allan, alleging she was a figurehead of the "Cult of the Clitoris" - adding a lesbian overtone to the homophobic campaign. The socially well-connected Allan had become famous for her performance of an adaptation of Oscar Wilde's play, Salome. This play had long caused controversy and brought the ghost of Oscar Wilde (whose trial was only 23 years in the past) to public consciousness. Maud Allan and her theatre manager sued Pemberton Billing, who conducted his own defence. It was a sensational trial, played to a packed gallery. Billing eventually won and Maud Allan's career never recovered.But, there's more! Allan's past held a dark secret: born in America, she had a brother, once a fine upstanding lad, who became mentally disturbed and was finally convicted of the murder of two women, with the suggestion that he and the rest of the family possibly suffered from an hereditary type of mental affliction. This would soon tell against Allan.In addition, two men with "history" - Robert Ross and Lord Alfred Douglas - became involved. Ross was one of Wilde's most faithful friends and Douglas his former lover. the pair were sworn enemies, with Douglas constantly trying to make Ross's life a misery. Douglas had turned viciously against Wilde's memory and even against homosexuality, despite his past and Billings' newspaper, now called the Vigilante, made use of his homophobic rants. Ross and Douglas seemed to be in the background to much of the trial, though, with all the detailed passages in the book, it becomes hard to recall and hard to trace exactly why. The index isn't much help here, either.This brings up, for me, one of the real difficulties of the book: its denseness! It is absolutely packed with almost gossipy details about prominent people of the time - H.H. Asquith, the former Liberal prime minister, and his social circle, in particular. But the prose style could be improved as could the presentation and organisation of information. However, it is excellent reading for anyone interested in wartime/postwar Britain and the hysteria surrounding homosexuality in those days.

  • Laurie Frost
    2018-12-09 23:58

    A very timely and thoroughly researched account of a despicable man who did irreparable harm to those he deemed indecent or decadent. The trial the title referred to was a libel prosecution against lying politico Noel Pemberton Billing by Maud Allan, dancer, who objected to his depiction of her private performance of the dance of Wilde's Salome as a production of "The Cult of the Clitorsis" and accusation that those in her audience were among 47,000 listed in a non-existent book of names of those that were German sympathizers or at risk of blackmail by the Germans. Wilde was long dead by the time of this 1918 trial, but his executor referred to it as "kicking the corpse of Oscar Wilde."

  • Richard
    2018-11-15 20:25

    An interesting story, and one pretty much completely unknown to me, but not so interestingly told. Tells of a 1918 libel trial that was a sensation in England, and of right-wing crusaders who, as World War I raged, feared the Germans primarily because of the perception that they had a corrupting homosexual agenda. I'm glad I know this story now, but it was a bit of a difficult read. Probably because it was meant for British readers who would have an easier time relating to the cultural and historical references that weren't explained as well as this American reader would have liked.

  • Sharon
    2018-11-19 17:56

    Convoluted, pedestrian prose. Tells the history of the Billings libel trial and the associated attack on gay and decadent culture. This should be a fascinating and compelling piece of history but I really struggled with this book, maybe I was just not in the right frame of mind but I found it really dragged along. I will come back and give this book another go in the future. An interesting study on homophobia, it should have been a more compelling read.

  • Mark Dunn
    2018-12-08 01:09

    I often wondered why did the empire fall? When your leadership is evil so goes your nation.

  • Pearl Yusuf
    2018-11-20 19:23

    Short story way too long

  • skein
    2018-11-30 02:13

    note - i actually want 'leviathan: or the whale'.