- Wilde’s Last Stand: Decadence, Conspiracy and the First World War by Philip Hoare
Duckworth, 250 pp, £16.95, July 1997, ISBN 0 7156 2737 6
The years between the death of Queen Victoria and the beginning of the First World War seem now to have been leisure’s golden age. Recalling the summers of 1913-14, Osbert Sitwell noted that ‘one band in a house was no longer enough, there must be two, three even.’ House parties were distinguished by an abundance of exotic flowers, and mounds of peaches, figs, nectarines and strawberries ripening in ‘steamy tents of glass’. Champagne bottles stood stacked on sideboards. Electric fans were positioned on huge blocks of ice, hidden by banks of hydrangeas. It’s hard to believe, but people were taking it in turns to recite Swinburne.