The arrival of an unpublished memoir offering up a scandalous version of the hitherto blameless public life of the revered oriental scholar, Sir Edmund Backhouse, sets the author on a trail of an outrageous confidence trickster. One of the great detective stories of our age, told with a pace and an infectious delight in the process of historical research, the book would have made an outrageously imaginative work of fiction but for the fact that it is all true. The author unearths scholars with bizarre sexual fantasies, eunuchs, rare manuscripts and a malicious dowager Queen, and sets them all against the backdrop of a decadent and intrigue ridden Imperial Court.
The trail of discovery began when Hugh Trevor-Roper received in somewhat unusual circumstances the voluminous memoirs of Sir Edmund Backhouse, the celebrated Chinese scholar and co-author of two standard works on Chinese history. The memoirs describe a very different person from the one who had apparently lived such a respectable life until his death in 1944. Backhouse claimed that he had been intimate with many notable characters including Verlaine and Lord Rosebery, and that his many lovers (of both sexes) had included the Dowager Empress of China. It gradually became clear that the detailed, plausible and very obscene memoirs were a work of fantasy - yet a fantasy interwoven with detailed fact. Intrigued, Hugh Trevor-Roper set out to discover as much as he could about Sir Edmund Backhouse, and unearthed the story of one of the most outrageous confidence tricksters of this century.… (more)