The Importance of Being Earnest, Signed by Oscar Wilde. First and Limited Edition, 1899. London: Leonard Smithers and Co, 1899.
You can view our first edition of The Importance of Being Earnest here.
Presented by Sammy Jay, Rare Books Specialist at Peter Harrington Rare Books.
Square octavo. Original pale purple cloth, gilt lettered spine, gilt floral motifs from designs by Charles Shannon on spine and covers, edges untrimmed. Housed in a custom-made green cloth solander box. Discreet book labels of Llewellyn Wright and J. O. Edwards on front pastedown; spine of box faded, spine of book sunned, one very small black blemish on back cover, front and rear free endpapers browned (as usual). A fine copy.
First and limited edition, one of 100 numbered large paper copies signed by Wilde. The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde’s last play, opened to great acclaim on Valentine’s Day 1895 but was withdrawn after Wilde’s failed libel suit against Lord Queensbury led to his arrest. The subsequent “utter social destruction of Wilde” (ODNB) meant that the play was not published in book form until February 1899, after Wilde’s release from prison. Richard Ellmann comments that Smithers’s handsome editions of Earnest and An Ideal Husband “brought Wilde a little money”. Wilde’s signature on the limitation leaf poignantly reflects his mental state after the shattering nature of his recent experiences, concluding dramatically with a firmly executed oblique downwards stroke.