Holland is the son of the author Vyvyan Holland and his second wife, Thelma Besant, and is the only grandchild of Oscar Wilde. Although he is a direct male-line descendent of Oscar Wilde, his last name is Holland because Wilde's wife, Constance, changed her children's surname to Holland, an old family name on her side to avoid shame after Wilde's trial for gross indecency, and subsequent imprisonment and fall from grace.
For the last 30 years Holland has studied and researched Wilde's life. He is the co-editor, with Rupert Hart-Davis, of The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde, and the editor of Irish Peacock and Scarlet Marquess, the first uncensored version of his grandfather's 1895 trials, (also titled The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde for release in the US). Holland has criticized Richard Ellmann's 1989 biography, Oscar Wilde, as inaccurate, particularly the claim of syphilis. According to The Guardian, Holland has also "unearthed medical evidence within private family letters, which has enabled a doctor to determine the likely cause of Constance’s demise. The letters reveal symptoms nowadays associated with multiple sclerosis but apparently wrongly diagnosed by her two doctors. One [an unnamed German 'nerve doctor'] resorted to dubious remedies and the other [Luigi Maria Bossi] conducted a botched operation that days later claimed her life."
Holland has also written The Wilde Album, a small volume that included hitherto unpublished photographs of Wilde. The book focuses on how the scandal caused by Wilde's trials affected his family, most notably his wife, Constance, and their children, Cyril and Vyvyan. In 2006, his book Oscar Wilde: A Life in Letters was published, and his volume Coffee with Oscar Wilde, an imagined conversation with Oscar, was released in the autumn of 2007. Holland also wrote A Portrait of Oscar Wilde (2008), which reveals Wilde through manuscripts and letters from the Lucia Moreira Salles collection, located at the The Morgan Library & Museum in New York City.
In addition, Holland has also worked as a wine writer and occasionally written features for Country Life, and The Oldie. Holland briefly toyed with the idea of changing his name back to Wilde: He told The New York Times in 1998, “But if I did it, it would have to be not just for Oscar, but for his father and mother, too, for the whole family. It was an extraordinary family before he came along, so if I put the family name back on the map for the right reasons, then it's all right.”
In July 2013, Holland gave the keynote address for a symposium on Oscar Wilde presented by The Santa Fe Opera. The address surveyed the popular and critical attitudes towards Wilde and his work from the end of his life to the present day. The symposium was given in conjunction with the opera company's world premiere presentations of Oscar, which was composed by Theodore Morrison from a libretto written by John Cox and the composer.
Holland's play The Trials of Oscar Wilde, co-authored with John O'Connor and re-enacting the 1895 trials of Lord Queensberry for libel and Oscar Wilde for gross indecency, toured the United Kingdom in 2014 in a production by the European Arts Company.
Holland lives in Burgundy, France with his partner. His son, Lucian Holland (born 1979), Oscar Wilde's only great-grandchild, studied classics at Magdalen College, and is a computer programmer, living in London. Both were present, along with Stephen Fry, a notable fan of Wilde's works, who played the author in the eponymous 1997 film, at the unveiling of a statue commemorating Wilde. Lucian was given rooms in Magdalen College which Wilde had once occupied.
- 1998 - The Wilde Album
- 2003 - Irish Peacock and Scarlet Marquess: The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde
- 2004 - The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde
- "McFarlin Fellows welcome author Merlin Holland". University of Tulsa. 5 April 2011. Retrieved 13 June 2011.
- Wheatcroft, Geoffrey (24 November 2000). "The importance of being Merlin". The Guardian.
- "Merlin Holland". Henry Holt and Company. Retrieved 13 June 2011.
- "Irish Peacock and Scarlet Marquess: The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde". HarperCollins. Retrieved 13 June 2011.
- Holland, Merlin (7 May 2003). "The 10 most popular misconceptions about Oscar Wilde". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 June 2011.
- Dalya Alberge. "Letters unravel mystery of the death of Oscar Wilde’s wife". the Guardian.
- Owens, Mitchell (28 May 1998). "On Irving Place with/Merlin Holland; The Importance Of Being Honest". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 June 2011.
- "Santa Fe Opera plans symposium on Oscar Wilde" on ksn.com, 10 July 2013
- "The Trials of Oscar Wilde". The Observer Reviews. Retrieved 20 July 2014.
- Vincent Dowd (10 July 2014). "Wilde's grandson brings scandal to stage". BBC News. Retrieved 10 July 2014.
- "Merlin Holland". amazon.com. Retrieved 22 October 2015.
- Holland, Vyvyan (Merlin Holland, Ed.), Son of Oscar Wilde. London: Carroll & Graf, 1999. 2nd Edition.
- Nick Stafford (writer), David Hunter (director), The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde, based on Irish Peacock and Scarlet Marquess and broadcast for the first time on BBC Radio 4 as a Saturday Drama on 28 June 2014.
- Moss, Stephen, "The importance of being Merlin", The Guardian (London), 24 November 2000. (Profile of Holland on the publication of the new edition of Wilde's letters)
- Wheatcroft, Geoffrey, "The Picture of Dorian Gray is complete tosh", The Guardian (London), 24 November 2000. (Commentary on Wilde's importance)