London and New York: A. R. Keller & Co., 1907. First edition. The first complete edition of Oscar Wilde's works. This set one of 26 lettered copies (letter "C"), with a three page autograph letter tipped into the first volume. Illustrated throughout with hand-drawn water-color illustrations. Printed illustrations in two states, generally signed by the artists. Introduction by Richard Le Galienne and signed by him. Bound in full dark blue morocco with red morocco inlays and intricate gilt floral patterns. Inner doublures full morocco with onlays to form a large white flower. Red silk moire end papers, top edge gilt, others untrimmed. Bound in 15 volumes. The only signed edition of Wilde's complete works. These 26 lettered sets sold for $1500 by subscription in 1907, a huge sum for the time. The only one of these sets ever auctioned brought 7,475 pounds at Sotheby's in 1994 (approximately $11,600). With no set auctioned in the last 20 years, it is safe to call this a very rare set.
Books are generally in Very Good to Near Fine condition. Three volumes rebacked with the original spines retained. One volume with the silk end paper replaced. Most volumes with light to moderate wear along the outer hinges, generally with the color touched up. Internal contents are in excellent condition, with lovely water-color illustrations throughout. Despite the defects a lovely and important set of Wilde's complete works. Not found in Mason, where the 1908 Methuen collected works is described as the first collected edition.
The famed Irish wit and novelist, one of the great comic playwrights of the 19th century. Wilde is known for his devotion to the philosophy of aestheticism, which he became involved in while studying classics at Trinity College, Dublin and then at Oxford, under the influence of Walter Pater and John Ruskin. Wilde would soon become a sort of spokesperson for the movement, and in fact went on an extremely popular American tour in the early 1880s. (Though as well received as he was by various intellectual sets and salons, he was often attacked by the American press for being superficial and vacuous.) Afterward, he pursued a career in journalism, becoming the editor of The Lady’s World magazine before resigning and turning to prose. He would write numerous short stories and essays and published The Picture of Dorian Grey in 1890, to mixed reviews and a great deal of controversy. Indeed, Wilde would edit the book extensively in future editions as a sort of response to his critics. In the early 1890s, Wilde turned to the theater where he would, perhaps, make his greatest mark. He wrote Lady Windermere’s Fan, A Woman of No Importance, and An Ideal Husband before completing his final, and greatest play, The Importance of Being Earnest, in 1894. Although some thought Earnest thin, more intelligent reviewers recognized its brilliance, with H.G. Wells writing "More humorous dealing with theatrical conventions it would be difficult to imagine.”
In 1895 Wilde became involved in his tragic libel suit against the Marquess of Queensbury, whose son Wilde was having an affair with. Wilde would be convicted of gross indecency and imprisoned for two years. His health never recovered, and he spent the remainder of his life in exile in France, before dying in 1900. Very Good + (Item #1772)
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