In the summer of 1894 Oscar Wilde spent eight weeks in Worthing, and it was during this family holiday that he wrote his masterpiece, The Importance of Being Earnest. The Worthing holiday was a microcosm of Wilde’s turbulent life during the three years between his falling in love with Lord Alfred Douglas in 1892 and his imprisonment in 1895. Constance Wilde, lonely and depressed, became emotionally involved with her husband’s publisher, to whom she wrote a love letter on the day he visited the Wildes in Worthing.
Meanwhile Wilde was spending much of his time with the feckless and demanding Douglas, and with three teenage boys he took out sailing, swimming and fishing. One of these boys was Alphonse Conway, with whom Wilde had a sexual relationship, and about whom he was to be questioned at length and to damaging effect in court six months later when he sued Douglas’s father, the Marquess of Queensberry, for libel.
This book tells for the first time the full story of the Worthing summer, set in the context of the three years of Wilde’s life before his downfall. In the final chapter the author reassesses the trials, offering fresh insights into Wilde’s attitude to the boys and young men with whom he had sexual relations. There are fifty-six illustrations, over thirty of which are photographs of Worthing as it was in Wilde’s time, and three contemporary maps of the town.