In 1895 Oscar Wilde brought his infamous defamation lawsuit against the Marquess of Queensberry, alleging that he had been defamed by imputations of homosexuality made by the Marquess. The libel was of course true; the Marquess had taken after Wilde to deter Wilde from continuing his homosexual relationship with his son, Lord Alfred Douglas. For Wilde the lawsuit was a monumental act of self-destruction. When the Marquess proved the truth of his defamatory statements regarding Wilde, and Wilde was in turn prosecuted for sodomy, Wilde was convicted and imprisoned in Reading Gaol until 1898. He never recovered from the experience of prison and from the humiliation he had foolishly inflicted on himself. As a result of his incarceration he wrote “De Produndis,” a kind of apologia for his life, and the poem, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol,” the last worthwhile works that Wilde published.
Now comes Professor Richard Evans, professor of German history at Cambridge University, to tell the story of the second most foolish defamation lawsuit of all time: David Irving v. Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books. Professor Evans was retained as an expert witness to testify at trial on behalf of the defendants. Professor Evans has written a book, Lying About Hitler, recounting the story of Irving’s claims as well as Evans’s experience as a witness at the trial. The book has was published in paperback in early 2002 and makes for great summer reading. In my next post, I will discuss Evans’s account of the trial and note a couple of the interesting issues it raises.
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