‘It is only an auctioneer who can equally and impartially admire all schools of art’
W ildean wit is much in evidence in fifteen lots as part of Sotheby’s ‘Books and Manuscripts: A Summer Miscellany’ auction.
We are delighted to present the Oscar Wilde collection of the distinguished actor Steven Berkoff who directed and starred in the highly acclaimed production of Salomé between the late 1980s and early 1990s. A highlight of his collection is Wilde’s entry in Mental Photographs, providing some early Wildean epigrams as the author confesses his ‘tastes, habits and convictions’. Stating his idea of misery, for example, Wilde writes ‘living a poor and respectable life in an obscure village’. With a somewhat chilling premonition of his own destiny, Wilde answers the question ‘What is your aim in life?’ with the response ‘Success: fame or even notoriety’. Previously exhibited at The British Library and at the Petit Palais, this is a revealing insight into Wilde’s early presentation of himself.
Other highlights from Steven Berkoff’s collection include a copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray, number 114 of 250 copies and also the first English edition of Salomé, one of 500 copies, with the first appearance of Aubrey Beardsley’s famous illustrations
The sale also includes a highly important 16 page autograph letter signed to George Alexander, the manager of St James’s Theatre, in which Wilde outlines the plot of The Importance of Being Earnest. This letter comprises the first scenario for the play and provides a remarkable insight into the early development of Wilde’s final comic masterpiece. It clearly shows how the core plot and structure were already formed before Wilde began the first draft and provides a remarkable early view of the play. Wilde describes a first act, for example, in which Bertram Ashton (Jack/Earnest Worthing) admits his double life to his friend Lord Alfred Rufford (Algernon Moncrieff): ‘he has a ward etc., very young and pretty. That in the country he has to be serious etc. That he comes to town to enjoy himself, and has invented a fictitious younger brother of the name of George - to whom all his misdeeds are set down.’
An inscribed presentation copy of the play comprises lot 170. This copy of The Importance of Being Earnest is number 11 (of 100 large paper copies) and is inscribed for the author’s supportive and trusted friend Reginald Turner (1869-1938).
Turner was described by Wilde as ‘the Boy-Snatcher of Clements Inn’ in 1897. He was one of the few who did not renounce his friendship with Wilde and would later nurse him during his final illness.