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The Jonathan Aitken File: Going in the footsteps of genius Oscar Wilde.

Rescuing the reputation of Oscar Wilde has taken more than a century, helped by the fact the Dublin-born writer was a literary genius.

Whether Jonathan Aitken's genius will survive him is open to question, but there is no doubt the pair share the same ignominy.

Wilde, a swaggering fop set foot on a slippery slope to disaster in 1895, just days after the triumphant opening of his comic masterpiece, The Importance of Being Earnest.

The Marquis of Queensberry, furious over the affair which his son Lord Alfred Douglas was having with Wilde, handed in a card at the playwright's club on which he had written: "To Oscar Wilde, posing as a sodomite."

Wilde filed a libel suit but tripped himself up during the trial with his own wit and repartee.

Asked if he had ever kissed a young man who served at Douglas's table, he replied: "Certainly not! The poor lad was so ugly!" He withdrew the suit, but refused to flee England and was prosecuted for committing acts of gross indecency.

He was handed down the harshest sentence permitted under an 1885 law, two years hard labour.

Society was shocked at the affair, Wilde's name was removed from posters advertising his plays and even his wife changed the family name of their two children.

The public disgrace and the hardship of prison broke Wilde "body and soul". He wrote little after his ordeal.

In 1897 he moved to France under a false name. Three years later, penniless and alone, he died of syphilis in a small hotel on the Left Bank in Paris.
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Author:Lynch, Finola
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 9, 1999
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