The Dead Past is the extraordinary last memoir of the oriental scholar, author and eccentric Sir Edmund Trelawny Backhouse.
Like an opium dream, it blends truth and fantasy to bring alive a youth spent in the company of the leading personalities of the fin de siècle, including Oscar Wilde, Lord Alfred Douglas, Walter Pater, Paul Verlaine, Lord Rosebery, and the courtesan La Belle Otéro, some of whom are described as his lovers.
Over 70 years after being written, this edition brings it into print for the very first time.
The latest and third edition of The Dead Past features an expanded Introduction, corrections, and more than double the number of footnotes.
More about the author and book.
Born in 1873, Sir Edmund Backhouse co-authored the books China Under The Empress Dowager (1910) and Annals And Memoirs Of The Court Of Peking (1914).
He was was born into a wealthy Quaker family: the Backhouses were bankers, missionaries and botanists, and established the Backhouse Bank which financed the world’s first passenger train service.
Despite this background, Quaker frugality was not initially part of Sir Edmund’s character. While still at Oxford he ran up extraordinary debts of £22,000. Declared bankrupt, he departed under a cloud for China in 1898.
Despite inheriting the baronetcy in 1918, Sir Edmund remained in Peking for the rest of his life, surviving on the family remittances, and caffeine crystals and sleeping pills: dignified, scholarly, curious, and enraptured by the golden silk caresses of the seductive East.
Yet the old Peking recluse in his Chinese robes had been young once, and it is this lost youth in England and France that The Dead Past summons. Sir Edmund had been very much part of the homosexual cliques of Oxford and Cambridge.
Given it has spent over seven decades cruelly locked away in the dusty shadows, we’re delighted to be able to bring Sir Edmund’s The Dead Past into the light and the living present where it belongs.