Lady Windermere's Fan (Presentation Copy)
London: Elkin Mathews & John Lane, 1893.
London: Elkin Mathews & John Lane, 1893. First edition. Original publisher's clothing binding with gilt to spine and boards. A Near Fine copy with the spine slightly toned. Bookplate of Governour Morris, Esquire to front pastedown. Light scattered foxing throughout. Collates: , 132, 14, : complete, including the publisher's catalogue with pages uncut. Inscribed by Wilde on the first blank to the business manager of the St. James's Theater: "R. V. Shone with the author's compliments and sincere thanks. Nov. 93." Under the management of George Alexander and R. V. Shone, The St. James's Theater staged Lady Windermere's Fan, Wilde's first produced play, in 1892 the year before the book was released.
First editions signed by Wilde are scarce on the market, with Lady Windermere being particularly rare as only 500 copies of the first edition were printed (Mason). Auction records show that the six known association copies of this play were all signed trade editions, as the run of 50 large paper copies came out after. The most recent presentation copy of Lady Windermere, also presented to someone involved in the production, sold in 2018 at Leslie Hindman for $40,000. An exceptional example of Oscar Wilde presenting a first edition of his first produced play, with "sincere thanks" to the theatre manager who throughout his career would assist Wilde in dodging scandal and bad publicity.
Critics and scholars consider Lady Windermere's Fan to be Wilde's "first successful dramatic production" as well as an enduring masterpiece (Mendelssohn). Its success not only relied on his update to French comic models and tropes (including blackmail, revenge attempts, and the discovery of a lost child); success also came as a result of Wilde's own management of the premier. "What we want to do is to have all the real conditions of a success on our hands...Success is a science; if you have the right conditions, you get the result" he informed one of the actors (Mendelssohn). In addition to pulling on popular stars to perform, Wilde had the young men of his entourage arrive at the premier wearing green carnations in their buttonholes -- something that scandalized attendees when, in a metatheatrical moment, one of the characters onstage appeared with one as well, referencing its cost and symbolism for decadent immorality. Prim attendees were, in fact, surrounded by a generation of young men devoted to such aesthetic ideals and wearing the same flower. This very symbol born out of Lady Windermere would lead to a strong and important professional relationship between Wilde and this book's recipient, R.V. Shone, the business manager at the St. James.
In 1894, an anonymously published novel The Green Carnation exposed the sexual relationship between Wilde and Bosie, son to the Marquess of Queensbury -- a man who would become Wilde's nemesis to the end of his life. Though Wilde sought to dodge Queensbury socially, the marquess was roiling for public confrontation. "There was one place and time where he could be sure of seeing Wilde -- the St. James' Theatre on the opening night of The Importance of Being Earnest, when, as was his custom, he would take the stage after the performance to enjoy the acclaim of the audience. It was too good a chance to miss. Queensbury bought a ticket 'by fraud,' Wilde suggested --as orders had been given not to sell him one -- and some vegetables...His intention was to greet Oscar's appearance with a shower of vegetation and then stand up and make a public announcement" (Stratmann). Fortunately for Wilde, supporters including Shone prevented this from happening. Rumor about Queensbury's plan spread, notes were sent to Wilde, and Wilde appealed to Shone for assistance. Reaching out to Queensbury with apologies, Shone returned the marquess's money and explained that his seat had mistakenly been double-booked. Yet Shone and Wilde suspected this would not be the end, and so Shone arranged not only to refuse the marquess admission at the door, but to have police waiting at the entrance. It was this decision that prevented a disguised Queensbury and a paid prizefighter from sneaking in to pummel Wilde. Thwarted by Shone, "he contented himself with having a bouquet of vegetables, addressed to Wilde, delivered to the stage door" (Mikhail). Throughout his career staging work at St. James's, Wilde would rely on Shone's business sense to make performances a success, regardless what scandals they faced. An exceptional and rare association. Near Fine (Item #2958)