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STOKER, Bram.

Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving.

London: William Heinemann, 1906 Stock Code: 144090
£2,750.00
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Inscribed in Florence to the author of the Blackmailer's Charter that doomed Oscar Wilde

First edition, first impression, inscribed by the author "Right Hon. Henry Labouchere, P.C. with the love and respect of his old friend Bram Stoker 4.5.09".

A resonant association copy: the radical MP Henry Labouchère was the author of the 1885 Labouchère Amendment (known by its critics as the Blackmailer's Charter), which newly classified "acts of gross indecency" between men as "misdemeanours" punishable by up to one year in prison with or without hard labour. Sodomy had been a capital offence from 1583, but at a stroke the Labouchère Amendment outlawed all male homosexual activity of any kind, both public and private. A decade after the bill was passed, it was employed in the successful prosecution of Oscar Wilde. Labouchère expressed regret that Wilde's two-year sentence was so short, and would have preferred the seven-year term he had originally proposed in the Amendment.

In the post-Labouchère era, hidden and not so hidden expressions of dangerous homosexual desire found outlets in contemporary gothic novels like Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), and Stoker's Dracula (1897).

Bram Stoker's shared history and interests with Oscar Wilde, as well as his intense adoration of Walt Whitman, Henry Irving, and Hall Caine, have built something approaching a scholarly consensus that he was a repressed homosexual. His almost sexless marriage to the notable society beauty, Florence Balcombe, whom he courted under Wilde's nose, and his flirtatious but safe friendship with Irving's exuberant mistress Ellen Terry are of a piece with that. Talia Schaffer notes that Stoker began writing Dracula one month after Wilde's conviction, and asserts that the book "explores Stoker's fear and anxiety as a closeted homosexual man during Oscar Wilde's trial."

Labouchère (known to one and all as Labby) might have been surprised to find his name mentioned only once in the book, at vol. I, p. 318, although he counted Irving as a close friend and he and Stoker were well known to each other through the theatre world. Labouchère had been involved with Irving's career in his former guise as a theatrical producer when, in 1867, he and his partners founded Queen's Theatre, Long Acre. A new company of players was formed, including Irving, Ellen Terry, Charles Wyndham, the diminutive comedian J. L. Toole, and Henrietta Hodson, whom Labouchère ran off with and much later married. But the episode predated Stoker's involvement with Irving and so presumably did not count as a "personal reminiscence".

The inscription dates from Labouchère's retirement, hurt not to be offered political office when the Liberal party took power in December 1905. He retired from parliament the following month, choosing not to stand at the 1906 general election, though he was given some political reward in the form of the privy councillorship politely noted in Stoker's inscription. Enormously rich, he retired to a villa near Florence, where presumably the book was inscribed, as Stoker was an occasional visitor to that city, and this copy has remained in Italy until now.

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Description

2 volumes, octavo. Original red cloth, titles and decoration to front boards and spines gilt, all edges untrimmed, some gatherings unopened.

Illustrations

Frontispieces (that to vol. I in colour) and 34 plates.

Condition

Boards affecting by damp to lower edges on vol. I and fore edges on vol. II, some silverfishing to spines, but the case bindings firm and square, the contents clean and unaffected by damp except for a small corner of dye-transfer at the end of the index; despite the unalluring outward appearance, still a good copy.

Bibliography

Talia Schaffer, "'A Wilde Desire Took Me': The Homoerotic History of Dracula", ELH, vol. 61, no. 2, 1994, pp. 381–425.

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