5 December 2008
WILDE, Oscar (1854-1900). The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People. London: Leonard Smithers and Co., 1899.
4o (220 x 180 mm). Original lilac cloth, gilt designed by Charles Shannon, uncut (spine lightly sunned, free endpapers browned). Red cloth slipcase.
"THAT WE SHOULD TREAT ALL TRIVIAL THINGS VERY SERIOUSLY, AND ALL THE SERIOUS THINGS OF LIFE WITH SINCERE AND STUDIED TRIVIALITY" (Wilde to Robert Ross, recorded by Swanick)
FIRST EDITION, LIMITED ISSUE, number 96 of 100 numbered copies on Dutch hand-made paper SIGNED "OSCAR WILDE" beneath the colophon. "HIS LAST AND GREATEST PLAY (Ellman, page 412) was the easiest to write, the pages filled with sprightly epigrams flowed from his pen. A glittering triumph on its opening night at St. James's Theatre on Valentine's Day 1895, the initial and glorious run was cut tragically short after the failure of Wilde's suit for libel against Lord Queensbury and his own subsequent arrest in April. Wilde's disgrace prevented the play from being published until 1899, and revived in the theatre until 1902. Wilde corrected Smithers' proofs from his exile in Paris: "as he corrected them he said to a friend, 'I can write, but have lost the joy of writing,' He took account of Robert Ross's praise of this play by saying, 'There are two ways of disliking my plays. One is to dislike them, the other is to like Earnest. To prove to posterity what a bad critic you are I shall dedicate the play to you.'" Ellman Oscar Wilde, chapter XI; Mason 382; Swanick I have Been Young, 1935, p. 66.
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