London, 1914. A killer is at liberty in the dark alleys of the city. The cadavers of his victims…
Genre : Thriller
London, 1914. A killer is at liberty in the dark alleys of the city. The cadavers of his victims all have one thing in common: there is no blood in their bodies. As the Exsanguinist’s reign of terror continues, Detective Silas Quinn finds his suspicions focussing on the members of an exclusive gentleman’s club…
Atmospheric and macabre, The Exsanguinist takes the reader on an inexorable voyage into horror.
The World of Gentlemen’s Clubs
In the late 19th century, one of the marks of any man who considered himself to be a gentleman was that he was the member of a London club. The oldest of these is White’s on St. James’s Street, which first opened in 1693. While much of The Exsanguinist takes place in the fictional Panther Club, it mentions a genuine club called Boodle’s (founded in 1762 and so called because its original head waiter was called Edward Boodle).
A club was a place for upper class males to socialise, gamble (illegal outside private clubs), eat, drink and, in certain cases, live when they were in the city. The original clubs were (and generally still are) highly exclusive, each new member having to be proposed and voted for by the other members. In the case of a candidate being rejected (known as ‘blackballing’), the member responsible for proposing him was also supposed to resign his own membership of the club.
During the 18th century, as successive political reforms increased the number of men eligible to vote in elections, one of the first things the newly-enfranchised middle class males wanted to do was join a gentlemen’s club. This led to an explosion in the number of clubs, there being over 400 of them by the early 20th century. As the number of clubs increased, their memberships began to reflect specific areas of life: some were political, others artistic, military, sporting, or connected by a particular interest such as automobiles, yachts or travel.
Today, around 25 of the original gentlemen’s clubs remain, most of them still as exclusive as ever. Even now, most do not accept women as members. Meanwhile, a new generation of clubs such as Groucho’s and Soho House have modernised the tradition, being the favourite drinking places of numerous celebrities.
The Scandalous Life of Oscar Wilde
« I have nothing to declare except my genius. » Oscar Wilde informed the Customs Officer when he arrived in New York for a lecture tour in 1882. Modesty was never his style.
By then, at the age of 27, Wilde was famous across Europe and America – less as a writer at this point than as the living symbol of the Aesthetic Movement (which took as its motto ‘Art for art’s sake’). He divided opinion: some people considering his flamboyant style of dress and effeminate manner to be a simple act of provocation, a cry for attention rather than a genuine aesthetic statement.
Wilde, who tried to make his whole life a work of art, would probably have said there was no difference.
Over the next decade, his writing would become increasingly popular, especially in the London theatre with a series of hit comedies such as The Importance of Being Earnest and An Ideal Husband. But then, at the height of his fame and success, his life would be destroyed by a sex scandal.
In many ways, modern-day Britain seems to start with Oscar Wilde. He was a precursor of today’s celebrity-centred culture: a man who was as famous for being himself as he was for his art. And over a century after he died, ruined and ostractised in a Paris hotel room, he continues to divide opinion.
Some would say he was a genius and a martyr: a gay literary aesthete who challenged conservative society and was brutally punished as a result. To others, he remains a clever but superficial writer whose true talent was for self-promotion, and who was ultimately a victim of his own provocative manner.
The cause of Wilde’s downfall was his relationship with a young artistocrat named Lord Arthur Douglas. Although Douglas insisted in later life that ‘sodomy never took place between us, nor was it attempted or dreamed of’, the romantic nature of their relationship outraged Douglas’ father, the Marquess of Queensberry, who publicly accused Wilde of sodomy – a criminal act at the time.
Wilde took the Marquess to court for defamation, and the case was a media sensation. It turned to disaster for the famous dramatist when he learned that the Marquess’ lawyers planned to produce as witnesses a number of male prostitutes Wilde had consorted with over the years (something he later referred to as ‘feasting with panthers’, a quote that appears in The Exsanguinist). He dropped his action against the Marquess of Queensberry, but it was too late – the question of Wilde’s homosexuality was now such public knowledge that the police had no choice other than to arrest him for ‘Gross Indecency’. Had Wilde chosen to do so, the police left him enough time in which to escape to the Continent, but he failed to take the opportunity.
Arrested at the Cadogan Hotel in Knightsbridge (where part of The Exsanguinist takes place), he was convicted as a homosexual and sentenced to two years hard labour. On his release, a broken man, he left England for France.
While in prison, Wilde wrote a long letter of recrimination to Lord Alfred Douglas that was later published (initially in a heavily censored form) as De Profundis. It is pages from this letter that The Exsanguinist leaves on his victims’ bodies in the story by Roger Morris. The full text of De Profundis was not published until 1962.
Ruined and rejected, he died in a Paris hotel (the Hotel d’Alsace on rue des Beaux-Arts, now simply called L’Hotel) three years after his release from prison, on 30 November 1900, at the age of 44. His tomb is in Père Lachaise Cemetery, underneath a sculpture of an angel. At some point, the angel’s genitals were broken off and are rumoured to be have been kept as a paper-weight by the Cemetery guardians.
« Voulez-vous savoir le grand drame de ma vie ? » Wilde once confessed to the French writer, André Gide, « C’est que j’ai mis mon génie dans ma vie; je n’ai mis que mon talent dans mes oeuvres. »
Oscar Wilde Quotes
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