WILDE, Oscar (1854-1900). Autograph manuscript signed (on the last page, 'Oscar Wilde') of 'The Soul of Man under Socialism', n.p. [Tite Street, London], n.d. [December 1890 January1891], including numerous corrections, cancellations and emendations, written on lined paper on rectos, on pages numbered 1a-40, 42-50 and 56-65 (lacking 6 pages), 59 pages, 4to, a few annotations in pencil by the publisher (including on the first page, Wilde's name and address, 'Proofs Editor' and 'Read'), the leaves tipped on guards into an album, green morocco gilt, spine lettered in gilt, upper board with gilt facsimile of Wilde's signature (spine and small areas of boards lightly faded, upper joints split, flyleaves detached). Provenance: Alfred S. Austrian (bookplate) -- John Batterson Stetson Jr (1884-1932) (bookplate) -- purchased Parke-Bernet, New York, 8 February 1940, lot 623, $220.
The manuscript of the famously provocative political article in which Oscar Wilde reconsidered his aestheticism, taking account of social and political ideas, and attacking the assumptions of Victorian society. 'The chief advantage that would result from the establishment of Socialism is, undoubtedly, the fact that Socialism would relieve us from that sordid necessity of living for others which, in the present condition of things, presses so hardly upon almost everybody'. Wilde continues his discussion of the autonomy of the artist, the self-suffiency of art and its relation to society, which may be transformed by socialism. His utopian vision is based on a paradox - that we must not waste energy in sympathising with those who suffer needlessly, and that only socialism can free us to cultivate our personalities (Richard Ellmann, Oscar Wilde, 1988, pp.309-310), and is quite distinct from the Fabian Society's carefully worked out plans for reform.
The article discusses many aspects of the contemporary world of the arts, including theatre, and contains Wilde's definitions of 'morbid' and 'unhealthy' art: 'What is morbidity but a mood of emotion or a mode of thought that one cannot express? The public are all morbid, because the public can never find expression for anything. The artist is never morbid. He expresses everything. He stands outside his subject ... An unhealthy work of art ... is a work whose style is obvious, old-fashioned and common, and whose subject is deliberately chosen, not because the artist has any pleasure in it, but because he thinks that the public will pay him for it. In fact the popular novel that the public call healthy is always a thoroughly unhealthy production: and what the public call an unhealthy novel is always a beautiful and healthy work of art'. The article was first published in the Fortnightly Review for February, 1891, edited by Frank Harris, and published by Chapman and Hall. In this annus mirabilis he also published Lady Windermere's Fan, wrote most of Salome, and completed two volumes of stories and one of critical essays.